A Good Shepherd

(Homily Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A)

This Sunday we continue the reading of Peter’s Easter homily. As is the case with every good homily, he calls people to repentance and participation in Christ through the sacraments. Throughout his ministry, Peter was not afraid to reiterate that call. In his First Letter, which was probably written toward the end of his life, he states: “you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” Peter represented Jesus, the Good Shepherd. In Jesus’ name he guided the flock, first in Jerusalem, then in Antioch and finally in Rome.

These past two weeks we have honored a great successor of Peter. By now all of us have probably heard and read many tributes to Pope John Paul II. This homily will one more, but before giving it, I want to say a word of caution. While it would be difficult to praise him too highly, we must avoid any “cult of personality.” For us as Catholics what matters most about the pope is that he is the successor of Peter and, as such, the Vicar of Christ.

Nevertheless, you and I have had a great opportunity: to be alive during the papacy of one of the most remarkable popes – Pope John Paul II. He came to the papacy from an extraordinary background. In his early life he faced great challenges – and tragedies. His mother died when he was only eight. Four years later his older brother died, just as he was beginning his career as a medical doctor. His father cared for the pre-teen as best he could, but as time went on, it was his dad who most needed care. In 1941, when Karol Wojtyla was twenty years old, his dad passed away. He was not at his dad’s side, a fact which filled him with sadness. It is said that the pope prostrated himself in front of his dad’s casket, praying most of the night. When he arose, he knew what he had to do.

Alone in the world, he made the resolution to give himself totally to God. He thought he would do so by studying literature, perhaps becoming an actor. But the Lord made it clear he was to become a priest. With western Poland dominated by the Nazis, he entered the underground seminary. The Gestapo executed many priests and seminarians, including his own classmates. A German army vehicle struck Karol Wojtyla and left him for dead. He survived and, after the war, was ordained. The young priest, and later the quite young bishop, led the resistance to Communist oppression. From 1963-65 he participated actively in the Second Vatican Council; as pope he implemented that vision for the renewal of Church and society.

He traveled more than any previous pope, reaching remote parts of our planet. He gave more talks, canonized more saints, wrote more encyclicals and books and addressed more people in person and through television than any other pope. Well, the list could go on. And it was not simply that he did a lot of things, but that he brought to his talks and writings a theological and philosophical depth seldom matched.

Although I followed his life and writings with interest, I had only one opportunity to concelebrate a Mass with Pope John Paul. In 1984 the pope came to Canada and offered Mass on the extensive grounds of British Columbia’s Abbotsford Airport. Before the pope arrived, they set up chairs at various spots and we priests heard confessions for several hours. It struck me that people came not looking for some novel experience, but because they desired spiritual renewal. I do not remember the specifics of the pope’s homily; nevertheless, I will not forget the way he looked at the priest concelebrants. He obviously had a great love for priests and a concern that we exercise our ministries with the zeal that comes from a deep life of prayer. His compassion and love for people, especially youth, was also most evident. That is why folks everywhere responded so eagerly to his message – even when it made them uncomfortable.

Many tributes have been written about the pope. I found a telling tribute in - of all places - The Seattle Times. Speaking about reporters covering one of the papal trips, the columnist said:

With some alarm, Victor addressed an urgent question to his colleagues. "What are we going to write about?" he asked. "There's nothing but religion here." Victor was joking not about the pope, but about journalism's foibles. All of us who covered papal journeys knew our editors were most interested in this holy man when he spoke about politics — or if he said anything even vaguely related to sex. But if John Paul had the nerve to speak "only" about religion, well, for goodness sake, that would not make any news at all. (The pope who exposed the illusion of materialism by E.J. Dionne)

The media did not understand the heart of the pope’s message. And let’s be honest, most of the rest of us tended to see only the surface. The Holy Father was above all a man of prayer. He spent an average of four hours a day in prayer. Besides the Mass and Breviary (Liturgy of Hours), he said the rosary, spent time before the Blessed Sacrament and carried out a variety of devotions, meditations and spiritual reading. On Fridays he always made the Stations of the Cross. The day before he died, the Archbishop attending him, read the Way of the Cross, and the pope made the sign of the cross after each station.

I have to confess; I rarely spend four hours a day in prayer. I tell myself I am too busy, have too many other things to do. Well, no one had more responsibility, more things to attend to than Pope John Paul. But he did find time for what matters most: communion with God in the Communion of Saints. With great confidence, we are praying that Pope John Paul might now enter that Communion. In his funeral homily, Cardinal Ratzinger expressed it beautifully:

None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing "urbi et orbi." We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Spanish Version

From Archives (Fourth Easter - Year A):

2014 Homily: Journey to Hope Week 4
2011: Open the Door
2008: Door We Never Opened
2005: A Good Shepherd
2002: Can The Church Save Itself?
2000: Jesus' Job Description
1999: Where are the Shepherds?

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies

Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Fr. Brad's Homilies: great listening - I particularly enjoyed his series on the seven sacraments

letter from Archbishop Sartain: "Stephanie gave me a medal and a necessary lesson in discipleship. With the spontaneity, freedom, and love of a child of God, she taught me something invaluable about my need for detachment. Not clinging to something precious to her, something that signaled the height of her personal accomplishments, she freely gave – and her face radiated joy. Do I so freely give of myself, so joyfully surrender my attachments?"

Bulletin (Appeal, Conclave, First Communion)

What was the document placed in the pope's coffin?

And from Liberal Larry:

While the rest of the world has learned to embrace and celebrate our differences, the Pope did nothing to make Heaven more accessible to those of us who don't necessarily follow the Ten Commandments as if they were chiseled in stone.

Mark Shea - Four Last Things

Fr. Frank Pavone reports on Terri Schiavo's last hours:

Terri's case is not about the withdrawal of life-saving medical treatment, but rather about the killing of a healthy person whose life some regarded as worthless. Terri was not dying, was not on life support, and did not have any terminal illness. Because some thought she would not want to live with her disability, they insisted on introducing the cause of death, namely, dehydration.

JPII and the alleged decline in the number of priests

Fr. Richard J Neuhaus' Rome Diary for the latest on the Conclave

Parish Picture Album

(April 2011)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album


MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru