Sunday of the 4th Week of Easter
(Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10)
On the occasion of the death of St. John Paul II, great preachers like Billy Graham and Benny Hinn felt the loss of a great shepherd of the Church pass away. They appreciated the work the pope had done and at the same time witnessed the love he has for the Church and the people. He shepherd the Church well in his papacy. Billy Graham told Larry King that he had the opportunity to meet John Paul II many times at the Vatican. He said in that program Larry King Live, “And tonight, I have a very strange feeling of loss. I almost feel as though one of my family members has gone. I loved him very much and had the opportunity of discussing so many things with him. And we wrote each other several times during the years.” “And he was a suffering pope, too. He suffered as much as anybody you could ever imagine. His mother died when he was young. And he had that terrible assassination attack. And through it all, he taught us how to suffer. And I think in recent days he's taught us how to die.” Likewise, the Tele-evangelist Benny Hinn showed reverence and true Christian brotherhood toward the Catholic Church on the occasion of the death of John Paul II. Asked by CNN correspondent: “when you see many standing in line for 7 or 8 hours what are these people searching for?” Benny Hinn answered “well they are searching for answers, people are very hungry for God, and this is a very moving moment for me and I just attend a special service, a memorial service here at the Vatican, I was moved to tears as I saw people hungry for God.” These tele-evangelists saw how John Paul II guided God’s people and how he shepherded the Church. People look up to great leaders and pastors who are examples of God’s love. Billy Graham and Benny Hinn shepherd their own Christian communities as did John Paul II. In the Catholic Church, vocation to the priesthood is important for shepherding and today it celebrates World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It is likewise known as Good Shepherd or Vocations Sunday. The readings today reflect the character of the Shepherd.
1. The Shepherd Speaks to the sheep- A true shepherd knows his sheep because of two main sources: first, the shepherd usually brings the sheep to pasture daily and spends time for his sheep. In the evening, he brings back the sheep to the safe shelter to protect them from their enemies-the wolves and robbers. In other words, the shepherd is related to his sheep and knows when they are hungry or afraid. Second, the true shepherd knows his sheep because speaks and let the sheep hear his voice. In Israel, the shepherd usually goes ahead of the sheep and makes his voice heard by the sheep. As the shepherd listens to the sheep and knows when they are hungry, thirsty or afraid, the sheep likewise recognizes the voice of the shepherd and follows him. The voice was crucial to the sheep to follow. Peter in the first reading stood up and “raised his voice and proclaimed.” This is symbolic of leadership and shepherding. Peter stands on behalf of Christ and his voice is important for the Church to exist, to be nurtured, to be guided, and to be protected.
2. The Shepherd Suffers for the sheep-Jesus brings about the difference between a hired shepherd and a true shepherd who really owns his sheep. The hired shepherd is the one who is paid; he works for his pay, he does not work for the sheep. His life is for someone else, or for something else. His attention is not fully on the sheep while the true shepherd dedicates his life for the sheep. “The good shepherd gives up life for his sheep” and he is willing to suffer for his sheep. When Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd” he brings down the immediately the opposite of what Israel experienced in history. During the time of the prophet Ezekiel, shepherds were feeding themselves and not the sheep when they go hungry. The prophet announces judgment upon them and henceforth, God himself will become their protector and guide. As a result, God said “I will demand my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. (Ez 34:10) To feed and to protect are not easy works of the Shepherd. Wolves, snatchers and robbers would be concrete enemies of the shepherd but a true shepherd is ready to die for the sheep therefore suffering for the sheep is character of the shepherd. Peter in the second reading today says that when one suffers for what is good, it is a grace before God. We are willing to suffer because Christ suffered for us because by his wounds we are healed.
3. The Shepherd is the gate of his own sheep-Jesus pronounces Himself as the gate of the sheep. The image of a gate or door in important to the Christian faith. Jesus identified Himself as the Door or gate. A door is symbolic of the following: 1) it is the symbol of the “home.” Jesus is the home of the sheep; the place of rest, the home where the just enters (Ps 118:20) 2) it is the symbol of forgiveness. John Paul II says it evokes the passage from sin to grace. It is the door of mercy and the gate of forgiveness; 3) it is the symbol of the end of the pilgrimage. It is the entrance of believers into a new life. It symbolizes love and mercy of God and the consolation after a long journey. Only Jesus can provide the true home of the sheep because He is the Good Shepherd who leads his flock home.
Sunday of the 5th Week of Easter
(Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12)
On May 27-29, 2016 there was a gathering of permanent deacons all over the world. There were around 45,000 permanent deacons who participated in an event called the Jubilee of Deacons which was part of the celebration of the Year of Mercy. These deacons worldwide who came to converge in Rome attended a three-day celebration of prayer, talks, and the culminating mass of Pope Francis. To revisit, rediscover and celebrate the order of deacons strengthens our sense of Tradition and history in the Catholic Church. As our Church and faith are founded on the faith and mission of the apostles, we find that the institution of deacons in the community was one of the important activities of the Apostles. Deacons were chosen to serve three tables: The table of the Word, the Table of the Eucharist, and the Table of the Poor. The word deacons is rooted from the Greek word “diakonia” which means “to serve.”
1. Service emanates from the Image of Christ- The desire and the gift of service springs forth from the image of Christ. Service is not wholly and fully just a human enterprise. It is a vocation which springs from the one who calls. In this case, a deacon is one who is called by Christ to serve because it is always the desire of Christ that His ministry of service be continually extended and acted today. Every deacon or every disciple or any believer of Christ fulfills one of the major dimensions of Jesus’ ministry which is to serve. Jesus became our servant (Phil 2:7). He came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45). Pope Francis said “A disciple of Jesus cannot take a road other than that of the Master. If he wants to proclaim him, he must imitate him. Like Paul, he must strive to become a servant.” Therefore, the one who hears the Word of God follows a vocation towards service. The Word exists for us to serve. It becomes inseparable from service. This happened to the twelve apostles in the first reading today, when they chose 7 deacons to serve. They said “it is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.” Service takes different forms. Concrete examples of this are the care and love we show and give to those who are the lonely, the hungry, the sick, the dying, the poor, the abandoned, the persecuted, the misunderstood, the humiliated, the unforgiven, the helpless and the hopeless. Service that begins from the image of Christ is a service that is noble, undying and tireless. Even non-Christians have insights of the spirit of service; Mahatma Gandhi says “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
2. Service springs from meekness- True service does not emanate from pride but from meekness. It starts from realizing that service is being generous of one’s time and his own self. Service is being altruistic which makes one move in search for the other. It is a detachment of the self and embracing Christ as the Prime Mover of his life. Pope Francis said that a true servant gives his life for Christ; “each morning he trains himself to be generous with his life and to realize that the rest of the day will not be his own, but given over to others. One who serves cannot hoard his free time; he has to give up the idea of being the master of his day. He knows that his time is not his own, but a gift from God which is then offered back to him.” (Message of Pope Francis on Jubilee of Deacons, 29 May 2016) A man for Christ is a man for Charity, he strives to give Christ whom he receives as a gift. This is what Peter was speaking about in the second reading today, he reminded us that serving the Lord and doing good for Him might be misunderstood and the true servants of the Lord may suffer for the good they do yet he said “come to Him, a living stone, rejected by the human beings, but chosen and precious in the sight of God.” This is a great consolation. If we suffer for doing good, remember He first suffered from human beings, and yet it is rewarding in the sight of God. Let us suffer for Christ by doing good rather than suffer in the world just for pride, egotism and self-glorification. St. Augustine says “it was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”
3. Service Follows a Path Towards the Kingdom- Service has a path towards a goal. That path has been created by God through faith. It is faith which makes a servant meek and humble seeking renewal to himself because he finds a new way of looking at things as a result of his encounter with the Lord. He possesses a heart that conforms into Christ through a desire of openness to be shaped by the Word of God. There will be no service without the openness of the heart seeking for the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis added by saying “to be ready to serve, we need a healthy heart: a heart healed by God, one which knows forgiveness and is neither closed nor hardened. We would do well each day to pray trustingly for this, asking to be healed by Jesus, to grow more like him who “no longer calls us servants but friends” (cf. Jn 15:15). Every deacon during his ordination receives these words from the Bishop: “Believe in what you read; Preach what you believe; and practice what you preach.” This entails a heart that is already healed and shaped by the Word of God. Service through meekness of heart and the constant dialogue with God is a path toward the Kingdom of God.