Here is my homily for this Good Shepherd Sunday:
Our responsorial psalm on this Fourth Sunday of Easter is a prophecy about the Messiah – “the stone rejected by…the builders, which has become the cornerstone”. Jesus, in fulfillment of this psalm, is the one who was not only rejected but put to death, and then rose again by his own power, showing himself to be Lord of all: cornerstone and foundation of the eternal Kingdom. This psalm verse, in fact, is quoted a total of six times in the New Testament, including in our first reading today where Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, preaches to the authorities, who were among those who had rejected Jesus. Not only does Peter quote the psalm but he also adds to it, saying: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved”.
Let us place ourselves in Peter’s shoes and enter into the scene. Imagine standing before a large and diverse crowd and proclaiming to them that salvation only comes through Christ – in effect, that he is their only hope. It must have taken a great deal of courage and fortitude. And we know Peter’s history: he had not always been the strongest of characters. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he could stand there and proclaim this truth, and then face the reaction that it might very well have provoked. And note well that I said that Peter proclaimed a truth: to stand before this crowd and say that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ was not a mere rhetorical device that he was using to grab their attention. No, this is what he – and we – really believe. It is what the Church has professed from the beginning. Jesus Christ is the savior of the human race; there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved.
Perhaps what would make it so difficult to stand before a similar crowd today and proclaim this message would not be so much a fear of the reaction, as a lack of our own conviction in the belief. Do we really believe that Christ is the only savior of man? After all, there are in our day millions of followers of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and of so many other non-Christian religions – or, to put it another way, millions of people who do not follow Jesus Christ. Not to mention the fact that somehow, after so many centuries of Christian missionary work, there are still places in the world where they have never heard of Jesus, or where, with the passage of time, he has been forgotten. So we hear what the scripture tells us – Christ is the only savior of man – but we also grapple with the fact that so many people do not follow him. What will happen to them? The Church does teach that they can be saved also. God is able to reach them; he is able to touch their hearts. But if they are saved, they are saved through Christ, the only savior – even if they do not realize it in advance. Jesus is the one redeemer of the human race. He died for every single human person.
In my experience, this teaching is taken by many Catholics today even to be scandalous. A teaching which used to motivate generous men and women to embark on missionary work, convicted that the gospel needed to be shared with all, has now become something of an embarrassment for many. “Indifferentism” has set in and is now quite common: one hears people say things like, “All religions are basically the same”. But this is not what we are hearing in the testimony of St. Peter. He stood before the crowd and boldly proclaimed salvation in Jesus Christ, through the Church that he established. In the process of doing so, he put his own life on the line, and indeed, he would ultimately go to his death for preaching this message.
The gospel about the Good Shepherd this Sunday adds another layer of clarity to the message. Christ himself declares: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd”. The Good Shepherd calls everyone to be part of his one flock, to be a part of his Church. This places a burden on all of us, the burden of doing what Peter did: of evangelizing, of sharing the faith – of sharing what we have received. There is no room for indifferentism here! Each and every one of us is called to share the faith. Sometimes it means drawing deeply on the help of the Holy Spirit, with whose gifts we were filled in the Sacrament of Confirmation. In a culture that combines indifferentism with an aggressive secularism; in a culture that has enshrined other gods, such as money and power; in a culture that so frequently does not respect even the most fundamental value, life itself – it can be very difficult to stand up and share the gift that we have received. But it is imperative that we do so, because the souls of many are at stake.
So I want to leave you with a question this Sunday: Whom will you invite to join the Church? Whom will you invite to join RCIA this coming August? It will be here before we know it. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, wants everyone to be saved, but not simply in some sort of passive way: no, he wants them to hear his voice, his call to be part of his one flock. Since we are all his members, we have the opportunity to be his voice, to share his love, to touch the hearts of others. Not by watering down the gift, somehow embarrassed or timid about it, but by boldly proclaiming it in all its integrity. May our encounter with the Risen Christ in this Holy Eucharist give us confidence in his power to work through us, and so help us more boldly to lead others and ourselves to life eternal in heaven. Amen.
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