Sunday, April 26, 2015

4th Sunday of Easter - Holy Name & The Good Shepherd

In today's reading, we read of how Jesus takes care of His own.

The first reading takes place after Pentecost which we will be celebrating soon.  Peter the first Pope is filled with the Holy Spirit. This fisherman who can be called a big coward before receiving the Spirit, now has the nerve and courage to speak before a crowd and speak of Jesus.  He tells the people that the miracles they have seen are all done in the name of Jesus Christ. The name "Jesus" means savior and "Christ" means king or anointed one. It is in this name that salvation can only be reached (Acts 4:12).

This name was given by God so that all may come to Him and bend the knee asking for mercy and salvation (Philippians 2:9-11).  Using the name of someone shows that you have authority in that person. This is why the Apostles relied on Jesus' name.  It gave them credibility, power and authority (John 14:13, Acts 4:30). The name of Jesus is so powerful that even the demons of hell cry out and run in fear (Mark 16:17, Mark 3:11).  This speaks volumes especially at the time when the people rejected Christ.  The "stone rejected" did become the "cornerstone," as the reading tells us.  This name of Jesus was the Word that created the universe (John 1:3).

In the responsorial Psalm, we are reminded that the stone that was rejected became the corner stone. We recall how God's mercy endures forever.  Despite (all of us) putting Christ on the cross, God still has love and mercy for us. He welcomes us to repent and turn from our sinful ways in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38). We recall how it is better to trust in God than in men because in the end, it is God who judges us all and God is the one in control, not man (Psalm 146:3, Matthew 10:28).

The second reading tells us of something very powerful. We are told that God loves us so much that we are His children! Think about this for a minute. We are children of God - the God of the universe, the creator of all things seen and unseen!  If this does not ring of awesome, then I do not know what does.  We are the children of God and can call God, "father" because of Christ who became one of us through the womb of the Blessed Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 4:15). As children of God, we must be of the light, not darkness (1 Thessalonians 5:5). This means that we must be free from sin and live as God wants us to live (1 Peter 1:16). Jesus with His authority even taught us a prayer which begins with "Our Father" which should remind us that we are the children of God every time we recite it (Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2). Unfortunately, our friends who share our belief in the Abrahamic God (Jews, Muslims) feel that calling God "father" is blasphemous.  With all respect to them, I find this argument silly. If we are to believe that God created us. Then logically speaking, how are we not going to call God "our Father?" But clearly today's second reading tells us that the world does not "know us."  The world thinks we are crazy many times.  This is because they do not understand yet. They have not accepted God's grace which will illumine their hearts and minds to understand the reason for the faith (1 Corinthians 2:14). This is why we thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost which is coming up soon. The Holy Spirit teaches us and gives us understanding so that the "foolishness" that Christianity may come across as to those in the world can make sense to us (John 14:26, 1 John 2:27).

Finally in the Gospel, we read of the Good Shepherd.  Jesus describes Himself as this Good Shepherd who lays His life down for His sheep.  Jesus then tells His parable of a man hired who is not a shepherd. When a wolf comes, the man makes a run for it leaving the sheep at the mercy of the wolf. Jesus tells us that this hired man does this because he works for a salary and does not care for the sheep. He then proceeds to tell us that He is the good shepherd who will stick by His sheep even at the point of dying for them.  "Who is afraid of the big bad wolf?"  Well, not Jesus!  This is a very powerful parable. Here we see how God loves us so much that He is willing to go "through hell" to take us to heaven, metaphorically speaking (John 3:16, Hebrews 12:2).  Furthermore, I cannot help to reflect on our shepherds today in the Church.  It is sad that there are sometimes cardinals, bishops, and priests etc, who forsake God, the Church and the teachings for ulterior motives. They see the priesthood or religious life as a career or a step on the ladder of success and power.  Thank God Pope Francis has been addressing this strongly and condemning clericalism. It has no place in the Church or the priesthood/religious life.  Priests - all clergy - and religious must serve God and the people. They must not be in it for the money or "perks" (1 Timothy 6:11, Titus 1:7-8, 2 Timothy 2:24, 1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Peter 5:2).

Lastly, Jesus speaks of having other sheep that are not part of  this main fold. These are those outside of the Church. Those who have not become part of the Church are still the sheep of Christ. They hear His voice from a distance and reply. Christ calls out to them as well. As Catholics, we must avoid triumphalism or the idea that Catholicism is the best and other faiths are inferior.  This is a bad attitude and pride. Some in the so-called "traditionalist" faction of the Church often cite "extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" or "outside the Church there is no salvation," with the intention of shunning those outside of the Church as being condemned.  This is a complete misunderstanding of this phrase. This phrase does not mean, "hey world, we are Catholics and if you are not with us you are going to hell."  Instead, this phrase is a reminder that the Church (being the Body of Christ) is the ordinary means of salvation.  The catechism states:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. (CCC 846)

It is not meant to attack Protestants, other Christians or even non-Christians. The catechism states:

This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation. (CCC 847)

In paragraph 843, it says of the Church's respect for other faiths:

The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."332

So clearly, the Church sees the ideas of other faiths as a preparation for the Gospel. God is feeding these people "milk" before giving them the solid stuff (1 Corinthians 3:2).  Christ as the Good Shepherd is calling out to them. Since these sheep are not within His main fold, they hear Him from a distance, so the message may not get fully across which leaves them with the "shadows and images" they rely upon from which to look for God, as the above paragraph of the catechism states.

This shows the mercy of God. He is not a dictator in the sky demanding that we follow the rules or else.  He gives us many opportunities to change our ways and seek Him. We must trust in Jesus the Good Shepherd and remember that we are Catholics and live as such in His name, not our own.  We must not boast about our faith and scare others away (2 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Corinthians 9:16), nor should we believe that we are perfect, holy or "God's favorites" just because we are Catholic. Instead, we must be humble and share the faith with love; giving a reason for the hope that is in us (Philippians 1:16, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 1 Peter 3:15).  By doing this, we will win back our brother imitating the Good Shepherd and can proudly call God "Our Father" (Matthew 18:15, James 5:19). May the Holy Name of Jesus Christ be praised forever!


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