Homilies for May 2017

The Good Shepherd by William Dyce (1806-1864)

Fourth Sunday of Easter—May 7, 2017
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042617.cfm
ACTS 2:14A, 36-41PS 23: 1-3A, 3B4, 5, 6; 1 PT 2:20B-2; JN 10:1-10

“I am the gate for the sheep.” (John 10:7).

The Poverty of the Shepherd
A Christmas favorite (I know, it’s Easter, but bear with me…) is a charming chorus from French composer Hector Berlioz’s oratorio L’Enfance du Christ (the Birth of the Christ) called “The Shepherd’s Farewell.” Berlioz wrote this piece as the song of the shepherds bidding farewell to the Holy Family in their departure for Egypt. It is a kind of benediction from the shepherds, who were themselves blessed to be the first to hear the angelic news of the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord. The second verse of this hymn addressing the infant thus:

Blessed Jesus we implore Thee
With humble love and holy fear.
In the land that lies before Thee,
Forget not us who linger here.
May the shepherd’s lowly calling
Ever to Thy heart be dear!1 

The literal translation of the last two lines from the French would read: “May the poverty of the shepherd remain always dear to his heart.”

Today, we listen to Jesus speak of “the poverty of the shepherd” which is dear to his heart. He speaks to us of the abundant life and love He gives to us all as the Shepherd who calls the sheep by name, and leads them out, whose voice his sheep recognize, and whom the sheep follow with complete trust. The poverty of the shepherd means something even more striking when Jesus refers to himself as the “gate for the sheep.” The image of the gate can be seen in this way: the sheep come in from pasture, and are brought into a makeshift pen. There is a narrow opening which can be closed by a simple gate, but, more likely, it was the shepherd who lay across the opening to keep the sheep from leaving, and to keep others from entering. The person of the shepherd is the very boundary between safety and danger, and is the source of protection as if to say to an outsider: “If you want to harm or steal any of my sheep, you have to get through me to do it!”

Today, the Risen Lord speaks to His Church, and identifies himself, for us, as the Good Shepherd AND the Gate for the Sheep. We are called to know and follow Jesus as:

  • the shepherd who knows his sheep, and calls each one of us by name;
  • the shepherd who leads his sheep to food and refreshment, to nourish our souls with his body and blood, with his grace and truth;
  • the shepherd and gate who defends and protects his sheep, who gives us his strength to grow in virtue, and to choose for life and love;
  • the shepherd and gate who lays down his life for his sheep, who sets us free from sin, suffering, and death by his death on the cross for each one of us.

The life of the shepherd is the perfection of poverty. It is the life of total self-gift that gives to others the good life, the abundant life. As the Shepherd, and as the gate for the sheep, Jesus not only gives us the means to live, he gives us Himself, his presence, and his life. He gives this to us by the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his life for us, his friends. He whose birth was first announced to the shepherds, is now the supreme Shepherd who will never cease to guard us from doubt and confusion, from fear and our own inertia, from malice and hatred.

In his risen life, he calls us to be shepherds, to imitate him by giving our lives away in self-sacrificing love. Parents are shepherds for their children. Spouses are shepherds for each other. Believers are shepherds in the midst of neighbors, looking out for one another and having each other’s back, giving courage in the face of fear, giving faith in the face of uncertainty. We exercise this call only when we entrust ourselves to the care and mercy from the Shepherd himself. We cannot lead well unless we know by whom we are truly led, the Good Shepherd and the Gate for the Sheep.

Berlioz’s shepherds recognized that the newborn Christ would be brought to a land that knew him not. Christ, the Good Shepherd, comes into our “land,” our hearts, and souls, and calls us to know him, and to be known by him. The poverty of the shepherd is dear to Christ’s heart. Even more, the poverty of the shepherd IS his heart. May we yearn for the joys of heaven so that we may “reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.”2

_________

Fifth Sunday of Easter—May 14, 2017
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051417.cfm
ACTS 6:1-7;
 PS 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 PT 2:4-9; JN 14:1-12.

On the occasion of Mother’s Day coinciding with the liturgical moment of the Fifth Sunday of Easter, I am happy to reflect on one of my favorite mother-stories. After leaving my parents’ house one Sunday evening (many years ago, long before the cell phone) to return to Erie, I was entering the NY Thruway approaching the toll booth for the ticket. The attendant, holding a phone receiver in her hand, looked at me earnestly, and asked if I was Fr. Michael. I replied in the affirmative, but quite mystified. She held up the phone receiver and said: “It’s your mother on the phone. You left your house keys at home, and won’t be able to get into the rectory when you get there.” Of course, my mother, who is such a relator with everybody, had held a longer conversation with her, about how I don’t get home much because I’m too busy, and that my left front headlight was out for two weeks, and I didn’t get it fixed yet. When I returned to my parents, Mom was out front with my set of keys. I wondered how she ever knew to find me as she did. Apparently, she saw my keys in the house, and went to the phone directory to find a number for the N.Y. Thruway, and was in luck to reach the toll booth directly. There are many stories like this where she had the quickest reaction/resolution time when it came to helping one of her children in any need. Of course, her selfless love for my Dad and us gives her strength and ability to do just about anything. Her work flows from who she is—a mother devoted to her call to love. Her works are the fruit of the love inside her that comes from the One who is Love.

So, Thomas asks Jesus a question: “How can we know the way?” Jesus answers that He is the way, and the truth, and the life. Philip then asks: “Show us the Father.” Jesus responds: “Believe in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.” Thomas and Philip are wondering how they can come to the Father when Jesus is no longer physically present among them. The Gospel of John teaches us that Jesus is ALWAYS with the Father, even when he descended to become one like us, and that we are called to be with Jesus and, thus, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus accomplishes the works of the Father; we accomplish the work of Jesus. The work of the Father is to communicate Love, thus we are created in the divine image and likeness. A beautiful hymn from Taizé says: “God can only give faithful love, tenderness and forgiveness.” The work of Jesus is to redeem and restore the relationship that was broken by our disobedience, so we may once again experience ourselves as children of God. Our work is to receive his redeeming love, and so participate in his work by offering the witness of our lives to his love in our midst.

To do this work of the Son is to become “living stones” as our second reading proclaims. The New Temple is no longer a building, but is the living presence of Christ. The disciples, who gathered around him, form the stones that make up the visible presence of the invisible God. To be a royal priesthood is not to assume a position of privilege or prestige, but to give one’s life away as an offering of love, in gratitude to the one who has “called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9) I look to people like my mother and father, and so many like them, whose examples of selfless love witness to the Love that endures, the Love of the Father revealed through the Son who assures us: “Have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

Jesus prepares us, his disciples, by calling us to faith in him and, THEN, he says we will end up doing the works that he does. In other words, he has prepared a place for us in the Father’s house, and then tells us that we will accomplish great works. We accomplish great works of love because he, who is faithful, works his will in us. We cannot do his work unless we dwell in him, and he in us. There is a subtle yet powerful danger in reversing this order, to act as if the work of love must originate in us if we are to be truly loving. We only love because we have been loved. We work great works of mercy and compassion because this work has been done in us by Christ, The Way, The Truth, and the Life.

________


Sixth Sunday of Easter—
May 21, 2017
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052117.cfm
ACTS 8:5-8, 14-17PS 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 201 PT 3:15-18JN 14:15-21.

I will not leave you orphans

Everyone Needs a Joe
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations has many of the more memorable characters developed by that great author. My personal favorite is Joe Gargery, the blacksmith who, with his wife, takes in her orphaned younger brother, Pip, the central character of the novel. Joe lacks any kind of social polish, and has no formal education (he can’t read or write), but he exhibits patience, strength, and great kindness toward Pip, becoming more of a father-figure to Pip rather than the older brother-in-law that he was. Dickens introduces no 2-dimensional character here who is merely “nice,” but a person who relates to others with humility, simplicity, and joy. After Pip enters polite London society, he becomes embarrassed of Joe’s lack of refinement, and keeps Joe at a distance. While Joe suffers this reality in silence, he never stops being there for Pip. In a dramatic moment later in the novel, Pip awakes from a long bout of an illness to find Joe at his bedside, and that he had been taking care of Pip for months. No matter how poorly Pip treated him before, Joe would always come to Pip’s side. When Pip comes out of his hallucinations and recognizes his friend, he says in remorse: “Look angry at me, Joe. Strike me, Joe. Tell me of my ingratitude. Don’t be so good to me!” Joe could not contain his joy that Pip recognized him: “…you and me was ever friends. And when you’re well enough [we’ll go] out for a ride…” Pip would discover that the greatest truth that gave meaning to his life was not the financial backing he received from an anonymous patron, not the maneuvers to win over Estella to his affections, not the protocols for advancing in high society, but the truth of a person who never left his side, and never gave up on him.

Jesus promises us the “Paraclete,” or “Advocate.” The word “Paraclete” literally means “one called alongside” indicating one who accompanies another. This can refer to a counselor who intercedes for another in a lawsuit, a helper who encourages, or a companion who gives comfort. This paraclete, or advocate, is the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his ascension, his going to the Father. He doesn’t leave his followers a detailed plan. Instead, he promises us a person, the Holy Spirit, who will never leave our side. This is why he says “I will not leave you orphans.” The Spirit is with us to open us to the fullness of the truth of Jesus’ words, and the commandment he gives to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:9)

In the Acts of the Apostles, the deacon Philip is led by the Spirit to proclaim Christ in Samaria, following the command of Jesus before his ascension: “you will be my witnesses … in Samaria.” Philip’s obedience is so powerful that he not only listens to the Spirit, he is so caught up in the Spirit that he is able to perform great signs among the people. Later in this chapter of the Acts, we can read that Philip would be so available to the Spirit that the Spirit could snatch Philip from one completed mission, and place him somewhere else where he would hit the ground running, and continue to proclaim Christ to others.

In the second reading from the first Letter of St. Peter, believers are encouraged to “give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (I Peter 3:16). The ministry of Philip in the early Church attests that the beginning of any explanation is not a set of statements or teaching, but, rather, the conviction of a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. From this conviction, Philip could teach from the scriptures and witness by words and signs. The presence of the Spirit as the Paraclete/Advocate shows us that our response to Christ is not rooted in our own subjectivity or self-assertion. Our life in Christ is definitely personal, but not subjective. We are led into the truth of Jesus Christ so that we may be caught up in the life of eternal love that is the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A Dickensian orphan comes to know the truth about life and love through the constancy of a friend named Joe, who never left him, and who did not let himself be moved by feelings but by virtue. We find our hope in the truth that we are never alone. Jesus gives us the Paraclete who is at our side, and leads us to the fullness of truth, to the life where we are loved by the Father, and by Christ, who reveals himself to us, and reveals that “we were ever friends!”

___________


Seventh Sunday of Easter—May 28,2017
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052817-seventh-sunday-easter.cfm
ACTS 1:12-14; PS 27:1, 4, 7-81 PT 4:13-16JN 17:1-11A.

During the 50 days of Easter, the Church gives priority to two books of the New Testament in the Scripture readings at Mass. 1.) The Acts of the Apostles brings us into the life of the early Church and the spread of the Good News following the Ascension of the Lord. It is more than a history or chronicle, but a testimony to the transforming power of the Risen Lord in the life of the disciples. The Church is led by the Spirit and the Risen Christ continues to be present. Beginning with Peter, the disciples lives are transformed by the Holy Spirit from a spirit of fear to a spirit “strong, loving and wise.” The disciples devote themselves “to prayer with one accord” (Acts 1:14). The Church suffers persecution and rejoices to share in the suffering of Christ. Many come to believe in Christ and accept the Holy Spirit by the witness of the disciples to the mercy of Christ and his redemption of sinners. 2.) The Gospel according to John brings us to Jesus as he speaks to his disciples before his passion. In the liturgy, these words are now the word of the Risen Lord speaking to his disciples, his Church. He tells us that he is the Good Shepherd and the gate for the sheep. He is the true vine and we are the branches nourished by that vine. He calls us to the love that “lays down one’s life for one’s friends.” He promises to send us the Advocate/Paraclete who leads us into all truth. He promises to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house which has many dwelling places.

Today, Jesus does not speak to us directly. He now addresses his Father. What a privileged moment for us. Throughout his public ministry, the disciples would find Jesus retreating to be alone in prayer. The disciples would watch but did not join him in these moments. Now, we are caught up in his prayer to the Father. We not only hear his words, but we are in the prayer, in the relationship, held between them. We are not bystanders watching an intimate relationship unfold at a distance; we are brought into that relationship of love that exists from eternity. And the love of the Father is revealed by Jesus to be such that we are the gift of the Father to the Son. Jesus prepares to be glorified, i.e., to give his life on the cross, and calls us to an amazing reality that he been glorified in us, his disciples (John 17:10). We will share in his sufferings, we will accomplish his works, we will know the “only true God, and the one he has sent, Jesus Christ.”

A university student came to me to ask for a letter attesting to his practice of the faith so he could be a godfather at the baptism of his nephew. In the interview he acknowledged that his Sunday Mass attendance was not the best. He said he would “try to do better.” I eventually wrote a letter for him to his pastor after a series of conversations with him. I told him that the “trying” would be more paralyzing than fortifying. “It’s not your work; it’s Jesus’ work,” I said. “Make it to confession and DON’T say ‘I try,’ but say, instead, ‘Lord, I need you; I need your help.’ He knows you better than you know yourself.” The young man came back to tell me he did this and went to Mass. He would find that his decision to be more faithful to Sunday Mass was not from his “working at it,” but from a growing sense of trust in the One who wants to heal him. He came back to visit after the baptism to share a profound experience. He said that as he held the infant in his arms and looked into the innocent face, he felt that the two of them were not alone. He experienced a presence that “held the two of us together.” I made a silent prayer of gratitude for the Love that was revealed to him and that he could receive it and share it with a conviction that he didn’t yet understand but knew that he wanted this to grow in him.

As we move toward the Solemnity of Pentecost, let us renew our commitment to the life of prayer and the life of service. First, we remember that prayer is not something we DO; it is the entrance into the relationship with God, into the eternal prayer of Christ before the Father. We are held in the communion of eternal love. Prayer is, therefore, a dynamism of receiving from God and offering ourselves to Him in trust. Second, our call to the humble service of love of neighbor is the fruit or our prayer and the place where we can practice AND experience our communion in the love of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, so that in the presence of the neighbor we serve we encounter the Love that “held the two of us together.”

  1. English translation by Paul England, used in most English language arrangements of the hymn.
  2. Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter.
Rev. Michael Kesicki About Rev. Michael Kesicki

Rev. Michael T. Kesicki is a priest of the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania. He was ordained in 1988 and currently serves the Diocese as Rector of St. Mark College Seminary and as Associate Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Gannon University.

Comments

  1. The homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter—May 7, 2017, includes many positive and important truths concerning Jesus our Shepherd – the Good Shepherd, the model shepherd, the perfect and ideal shepherd. However, I don’t find mention of the profound warning from Jesus that is included in this passage concerning bad shepherds. There are bad shepherds who are fearful and dangerous – even deadly – possibilities among those who minister in His name. There are counterfeits of the good shepherd, who are stage actors playing a role, who work for pay, who work for career advancement, who prey upon the innocent and unsuspecting among the sheep, who are poison to the soul of their victims.

    I think it is important to include this difficult but very important subject, in a presentation on this passage from John 10. John places this warning about men who are not shepherds but hirelings immediately after the demonstration of such pseudo-shepherds in John 9. Such men pretend to see, claim to see, claim to be religious and devout, yet are blind. The man born blind can represent every one of us – and most of us will encounter such inauthentic “religious teachers” as that man did, at one time or another, if we live long enough. Such teachers are as real a possibility now as in the days of Jesus on earth. Pharisaism remains a danger and indeed a temptation for us all, especially those who are teachers and preachers of divine truth. Such teachers can be expert at outward signs of piety, yet in the inner man can find no unction; they remain blind to the irreverence and worldliness that permeates their own witness.

    John in the Holy Spirit judged it important to follow the shocking experience of the man born blind in Jn 9, with warnings in Jn 10, lest pharisaism – thieves and robbers, hirelings and careerists who care nothing for the sheep, find acceptance and a home in His Church.

    In the Church today, many Catholics are and remain “young” in the Faith, poorly formed in the Faith at an adult level. Solid adult formation in the Faith remains, sadly, rare in the Church today. Those who are young in the Faith need and deserve both warning and guidance from real and true pastors. And they need and deserve solid formation in the Faith – they need to grow in the Faith! They need well-formed communion with Christ and His Holy Spirit in Truth – the whole Truth that Christ entrusted to His Church. Through such maturation in the Faith (“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” – Mt 28), their personal spiritual discernment will grow, helping them with confidence and surety to distinguish the good shepherds from the counterfeit, and doctrinal truth from error.

    • Fr. David Meconi, S.J. Fr. David Meconi, S.J. says:

      Very well said, Doc., and I thank you and Fr. Kesicki for my homily tonight !!
      Fr. Meconi

Trackbacks

  1. […] Blessed Jesus we implore Thee With humble love and holy fear. In the land that lies before Thee, Forget not us who linger here. May the shepherd’s lowly calling Ever to Thy heart be dear!1  […]

  2. […] Jesus prepares us, his disciples, by calling us to faith in him and, THEN, he says we will end up doing the works that he does. In other words, he has prepared a place for us in the Father’s house, and then tells us that we will accomplish great works. We accomplish great works of love because he, who is faithful, works his will in us. We cannot do his work unless we dwell in him, and he in us. There is a subtle yet powerful danger in reversing this order, to act as if the work of love must originate in us if we are to be truly loving. We only love because we have been loved. We work great works of mercy and compassion because this work has been done in us by Christ, The Way, The Truth, and the Life. – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2017/05/homilies-for-may-2017/ […]

  3. […] A Dickensian orphan comes to know the truth about life and love through the constancy of a friend named Joe, who never left him, and who did not let himself be moved by feelings but by virtue. We find our hope in the truth that we are never alone. Jesus gives us the Paraclete who is at our side, and leads us to the fullness of truth, to the life where we are loved by the Father, and by Christ, who reveals himself to us, and reveals that “we were ever friends!” – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2017/05/homilies-for-may-2017/ […]

  4. […] As we move toward the Solemnity of Pentecost, let us renew our commitment to the life of prayer and the life of service. First, we remember that prayer is not something we DO; it is the entrance into the relationship with God, into the eternal prayer of Christ before the Father. We are held in the communion of eternal love. Prayer is, therefore, a dynamism of receiving from God and offering ourselves to Him in trust. Second, our call to the humble service of love of neighbor is the fruit or our prayer and the place where we can practice AND experience our communion in the love of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, so that in the presence of the neighbor we serve we encounter the Love that “held the two of us together.” – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2017/05/homilies-for-may-2017/ […]

  5. […] As we move toward the Solemnity of Pentecost, let us renew our commitment to the life of prayer and the life of service. First, we remember that prayer is not something we DO; it is the entrance into the relationship with God, into the eternal prayer of Christ before the Father. We are held in the communion of eternal love. Prayer is, therefore, a dynamism of receiving from God and offering ourselves to Him in trust. Second, our call to the humble service of love of neighbor is the fruit or our prayer and the place where we can practice AND experience our communion in the love of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, so that in the presence of the neighbor we serve we encounter the Love that “held the two of us together.” – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2017/05/homilies-for-may-2017/ […]