This coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is also called Good Shepherd Sunday. In the Gospel, Jesus the Good Shepherd teaches us that He knows His sheep and they follow Him. And our Lord also says that He gives them eternal life and that no one can take them out of His hand. This is our conviction as followers of the Good Shepherd. We trust in the Lord who holds us in His hands, who protects us, and who gives us eternal life. He gives us His grace through Baptism and the other life-giving sacraments.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles this Sunday, we read about the dynamic missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas in the early years of the Church. They brought the word of God, the message of eternal life, to the Gentiles. The Gentiles were delighted when they heard the bold preaching of Paul and Barnabas and they glorified the word of the Lord. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that “all who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.”
It is good during the season of Easter to reflect on the life of the early Church and the spread of the Gospel in the first decades of Christianity, as we read the Acts of the Apostles.
In this Year of Faith, we are reminded that the Church is, by its very nature, missionary. The missionary dynamism of the early Church, which we read about in the Acts of the Apostles, is an example for us today. We are called to have the zeal of the first Christians in our evangelizing mission.
A truly vibrant Church, whether on the level of the diocese or parish, is one which is not turned in on itself, but one which is devoted to spreading the faith to others and dedicated to bringing others to Christ, the Good Shepherd. We strive to do this in a myriad of ways. I wish to highlight the importance of passing on the faith to our children and young people, especially by our commitment to strong Catholic schools, religious education programs, and youth ministry. It is also vitally important to have strong RCIA programs and adult faith formation. I think particularly of the hundreds of Arise groups in our diocese. These are all components of a truly evangelizing parish.
We all have the responsibility of bringing the Gospel to others, in our families and in our community. We all have a share in the task of spreading the faith by word and example. This is as important now as it was back in Saint Paul’s time. Yes, we live in a different culture, with different challenges and circumstances. Today we face the great challenge of living the faith in an increasingly secularized culture and one which is marked by increasing relativism. The early Church faced different challenges. Though the circumstances are different, the mission of the Church remains the same. The Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, continues to call disciples to follow Him. He continues, through His Body, the Church, to offer the gift of eternal life to those who would follow Him.
In our second reading this Sunday, we will hear the wonderful vision of Saint John in the book of Revelation. The victory of the Church is described by John: a great multitude of people dressed in white robes, from every nation, race, people, and language, stand before the throne of God and before the Lamb, worshipping Him day and night. These are the redeemed. They are those who had undergone many trials and who are now safe, having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. We are called to be part of this great crowd and to bring others to be a part of God’s holy people, to be purified in the blood of the Lamb, to share in eternal life.
Saint John says that the Lamb will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water. How many people in the past nearly 200 years here in our diocese have been led by Christ the Good Shepherd to the springs of life-giving water in the community of faith which is the Church! We must be committed to embrace with new vigor our evangelizing mission, to bear witness to the Good Shepherd by word and example, especially our witness to His love.
May we all one day stand before the throne and before the Lamb, worshipping Him in the eternal banquet feast of heaven! At every Mass, we anticipate and have a foretaste of that heavenly banquet when we worship the Lord in the Eucharistic sacrifice and receive from the Lord the great grace of His life-giving Body and Blood.
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