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PreachApril 15, 2024
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“I think there’s a major concern for living more in harmony with creation, which is a result of conversion,” says Bishop John Stowe, O.F.M. Conv., “But I think Pope Francis is also, as our good shepherd, calling us to greater urgency to act, because time is slipping away and we haven’t done much.” 

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Bishop John Stowe is a Conventual Franciscan, the third bishop of Lexington, Kentucky and the bishop president of Pax Christi.

Listen to Bishop Stowe's homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B, on this week’s episode of “Preach.” After the homily, he shares with host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., how he connects the image of the Good Shepherd from the gospels to the climate crisis.

Scripture Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

First Reading: Acts 4:8-12
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
Second Reading: 1 Jn 3:1-2
Gospel: Jn 10:11-18

You can find the full text of the readings here.

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B by Bishop John Stowe, O.F.M. Conv.

​​The comforting image of the Good Shepherd is said to be the oldest depiction of Jesus in history. It is found on a catacomb wall, from the early years of the Church’s persecution under the Roman Empire.

The cuteness of a lamb on the shepherd’s shoulders can allow us to overlook the danger of the context and the heroism of the shepherd who is “no hired hand,” who doesn’t risk his life for the sheep because it’s his job but rather because it’s his mission, the command he receives from the Father.

Early Christians, in their sufferings and trials, needed reminders of the nearness of the Good Shepherd who would rescue them and lead them to restful waters and green pastures.

Unlike the anonymous hero who swoops in for the rescue and disappears into the sunset, the shepherd remains with the sheep, knows the sheep, loves the sheep and has great hopes for the sheep. We too live in a world filled with many dangers and with far too little concern for a gentle lamb or for a vulnerable person. The comfort of the gentle power displayed by the brave shepherd appeals to us, as it did to early Christians.

The beloved shepherd is one of many images that Jesus chooses to describe himself in the Gospel. And so much of the imagery that he uses about himself and about his Father’s kingdom is drawn from the magnificence of the created world, stuff that was quite familiar to the people of his day, who are much more connected to the earth and its elements than many of us are today. The danger of wolves, the familiarity of the shepherd’s voice, the importance of the flock remaining together for safety, for survival were all ordinary realities given extraordinary significance by the Good Shepherd, who not only risks his life for the sake of the sheep, but willingly lays down his life.

And of course the Latin word for shepherd, pastor, lends this image even more relevancy for ministry. Pastors, and those engaged in pastoral ministry, must be simultaneously strong and gentle. Hired hands should really seek better compensation elsewhere, but shepherds are called to know the sheep and their voices. And the voice of the shepherd should be heard as resounding with comfort, safety and the authenticity of one who is willing to sacrifice it all for them. The familiar voice of the shepherd provides leadership by being trustworthy.

The Good Shepherd of the Gospel speaks about sheep from other folds as well as his own, other folds that need to be led and who are meant to become part of the one flock. In the diocese where I live, Catholics are such a tiny portion of the population. We know about the need for good relations with the other sheep—especially for the sake of a credible Gospel witness.

I am frequently touched by how many of my fellow shepherds from other folds recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd in that of Pope Francis, who is called, among his other titles, the Universal Shepherd. His willingness to lay down his life is obvious, especially as he struggles with pain in his legs and with lungs prone to illness. We’ve even seen him willing to be wheeled into war zones to plead for peace, or to pray for forgiveness in the midst of Native peoples harmed by the church’s own ministers, who acted more like wolves than shepherds.

This shepherd has been calling us all to greater care for our common home, warning us about polluted waters and sterile valleys, and even using increasingly strong language to warn us stubborn sheep about the ravenous wolf of climate disaster who is coming for the sheep. Francis knows the sheep of the human family well enough to be able to call us to conversion, to call us to repentance for overusing the earth’s resources, to a more responsible shepherding of the resources entrusted to us, and to be mindful of the needs of the rest of the world and of future generations. 

There is a well-known story told about the pope’s namesake, Francis of Assisi, who was once sought by the townspeople of Gubbio being terrorized by a vicious wolf destroying their livestock and threatening their children. Francis was able to broker a deal between the people of Gubbio, who promised to feed the wolf and live in peace with him, while the wolf in turn would protect rather than threaten their children and animals. Of course, a deeper reading of this cute story would show that it has to do with relations between the powerful and the powerless in society. But it’s so consistent with Francis’ insistence about the interrelatedness of all life and the need for all creation to live in harmony.

Regretting that his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” has not led to more action on behalf of the web of life, our Good Shepherd Francis issued another teaching document late last year called “Laudate Deum.” In it, he says, “I invite everyone to accompany this pilgrimage of reconciliation with the world that is our home and to help make it more beautiful, because that commitment has to do with our personal dignity and our highest values. At the same time, I cannot deny that it is necessary to be honest and recognize that the most effective solutions will not come from individual efforts alone, but above all from major political decisions on the national and international level” (No. 69).

Our Good Shepherd, who echoes the voice of Jesus, is calling us to follow him; let us help ensure that there will always be restful waters and green pastures for all.

More: Preach / Easter

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