May 1, 2023 // Bishop

The Good Shepherd Leads Us to the Pasture of Eternal Life

Bishop Rhoades delivered the following homily at Mass in which he received students into full communion in the Catholic Church and administered the sacrament of Confirmation on the Fourth Sunday of Easter at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame:

I have been on the Confirmation circuit since the final weeks of Lent and am very happy to be here at Notre Dame today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. At this Mass, 34 of our brothers and sisters in Christ will be confirmed, seven of whom will first be received into full communion in the Catholic Church. These candidates are here today to receive the sacrament of Confirmation because they have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and have chosen to follow Him. They know that they need the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit in their Christian discipleship.

Our candidates already entered the sheepfold of the Church when they were baptized. They entered the way of salvation through Jesus the gate. Before they are confirmed, they will renew their baptismal promises and commit themselves anew to following Jesus, the Good Shepherd who leads us to the pasture of eternal life. This is why He, the Son of God, came down from heaven and assumed our human nature: to lead us to the pasture of eternal life. Jesus reveals this purpose of His Incarnation very clearly and succinctly at the end of today’s Gospel. He says: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Jesus is referring to the new and eternal life, indeed, the very life of God. The fullness of life that Jesus came to give us far exceeds the dimensions of our earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.

Every human being yearns for an abundant life. We thirst for it. This thirst is only satisfied by the living water Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus told her: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst. The water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” This water from Jesus is the Holy Spirit, an interior source of blessing and refreshment. The Holy Spirit imparts a participation in the divine life, lifting our human existence to a level far beyond natural life. The living water, the Holy Spirit, flowed from the heart of Jesus on the cross. From this Sacred Heart, the Church was born. The water that flowed from Jesus’ heart alludes also to Baptism, our new birth as sons and daughters of God, our entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity, and into the sheepfold, the Body of Christ, the Church, where we are unfailingly nourished and led by Jesus, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.

The seven candidates for reception into full communion in the Catholic Church today have come to believe that, by Christ’s will, the Church is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion in him, and that through full communion in the Catholic Church the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. Then they will join 27 of our brothers and sisters in receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. I wish now to address our candidates for Confirmation:

Today is not the first time you will have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You became temples of the Holy Spirit when you were baptized. In Confirmation you will receive “an increase and deepening of baptismal grace,” including an increase of the gifts of the Holy Spirit within you. You will be more firmly united to Christ and His Body, the Church. And very specifically, you will receive in Confirmation the special strength of the Holy Spirit to witness to Christ through your words and deeds and the fortitude and courage to spread and defend the faith.

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard part of Saint Peter’s sermon in the streets of Jerusalem on Pentecost, right after the Holy Spirit had descended upon him and the other apostles. Notice how transformed he was. Fifty-three days earlier, he was cowering in fear in the courtyard of the high priest Caiaphas while Jesus was being tried by the Sanhedrin. Three times Peter denied that he was a disciple of Jesus — he told the servant girl that he didn’t even know Jesus. He denied his friendship with Him, a terrible betrayal. Of course, Peter repented of this terrible sin, and after the Resurrection professed to Jesus three times his love for Him. Peter’s friendship with the Lord was restored and Jesus gave him the charge to tend and feed His sheep, to lead His Church.

In the reading today, we see Peter, strengthened by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, no longer afraid. He preaches with boldness and courage. Unafraid, Peter stood up and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts tells us that when the people heard this, “they were cut to the heart.” They repented, were baptized, and received the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, the Church’s mission began. It began powerfully. Acts tells us that 3,000 accepted Peter’s message and were baptized that day, the fastest RCIA program in history!

Brothers and sisters about to be confirmed, you will be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit today, the same Holy Spirit that descended upon Peter and the apostles at Pentecost. He will strengthen you to live your Catholic faith with conviction and not in a lukewarm manner. We have enough lukewarm Catholics. The Church needs you to be bold in the profession of your faith and in your living out of that faith, like the saints whom you have chosen as your Confirmation patrons. They were men and women who lived the graces they received in Baptism and Confirmation. They lived by the Spirit. Many suffered persecution for their faith. Some even died as martyrs for Jesus and His Church. They were able to do so because they opened themselves to the gifts they received at Confirmation, especially the gift of fortitude. That’s how these ordinary human beings like us became great saints. Guided by the Spirit, they faithfully followed Jesus who was “the shepherd and guardian of their souls.”

As you know, I will be anointing you with sacred chrism when I confirm you.  Because balsam is mixed with olive oil in making chrism, it really smells great. It reminds us of the exhortation of Saint Paul to the early Christians: “You are to be the fragrance of Christ in the world.” Being confirmed with the fragrant chrism, you are to bring the beautiful aroma of Christ’s goodness and love into a world where there’s a lot of bad odor, the stench of hatred, violence, war, greed, selfishness, and other sins. It’s our Christian vocation to bring the love and goodness of Christ into the world to dissipate that bad odor. That’s what we are anointed to do. That’s what the Holy Spirit strengthens us to do. That’s what the early Christians did and that’s why the Church grew so rapidly.

The pagans admired the Christians for their amazing care of the poor and needy and their tender care for the sick and suffering. They saw that the Christians refused to take part in their disregard for human dignity on display in the violent entertainment taking place in the Roman arenas and amphitheaters and that they refused to kill their unborn babies in a culture in which abortion was common. And they saw that the Christians refused to worship the Roman gods and would only worship one God, the God the apostles preached, the God of Jesus Christ. Thousands converted to Christianity because, as they testified to each other: “see how the Christians love one another.”

At this Mass, several of our candidates will receive the Eucharist for the first time. The very act of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for us, becomes present on the altar at every Mass. That is why we call the Mass “the Eucharistic sacrifice.” The altar of sacrifice is also the table of the Eucharistic banquet. The Eucharist is inseparably the holy sacrifice of Jesus and the sacred banquet of communion with the body and blood of the Lord. It’s the greatest of all the sacraments, the sacrament of Christ’s love unto the end.

The Gospel today is a profound interpretation of what the Eucharist is. Jesus said: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Saint Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ.” Jesus Himself had said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.” To grow in the Christian life, we need the nourishment of the Holy Eucharist, the bread of life, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death. In Holy Communion, we receive the grace we need to love one another as Christ has loved us. Without love, there is no holiness, no life in abundance, no holiness.

The Eucharist is what nourished all the saints of the Church to live in Christ, to grow in holiness, through communion with Him who is true life and infinite love. When we live the Eucharist we receive, we are truly alive. We have life in abundance. And we have a taste of the glory of the saints in heaven, a foretaste of our ultimate end, eternal joy and peace at the banquet feast of heaven, communion of life and love with the Most Holy Trinity!

Let us pray that our brothers and sisters about to complete their Christian initiation will grow in holiness through the graces of these sacraments and always be faithful disciples of the Good Shepherd who leads us to the pasture of eternal life!

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