"Christ, the Good Shepherd" (detail) by Murillo

“Christ, the Good Shepherd” (detail) by Murillo

A Growing Concern

We live in a world that is at times dark and dangerous. In a moment all can change; our earthly lives can end. Deadly violence unlooked for, unexpected, senseless and sudden can come from natural and man-made sources. That the world is filled with sin, violence and death is mankind’s choice, not God’s will. He permits our freedom so that we might choose what is good and shun what is evil. Yet all too often we see hatred of others and the violence visited on them perpetrated by those who claim to act in the will of God.

Christians and members of other religions are under attack all around the world today; at risk from many sources in sixty-plus countries, facing anything from denial of basic human rights to outright genocide. In the United States, there is a growing concern for our religious liberty—that our freedom to practice our faith is being forced to confinement within the four walls of the church building; elsewhere lives are in danger. We become afraid when we perceive that our lives are in danger. And for all of us, we need to ask if we are ready to meet our Maker. An unexpected and unprepared for death is to be feared.

Jesus warns us specifically about what to fear and what not to fear.

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:28-33).

We are to fear those who can destroy both our earthly life and prevent our eternal life in heaven. Jesus reminds us that we can place our trust in God, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, and be assured that all will be well. We may lose our lives on earth, we may even suffer, but we will not lose the glorious and joyful end for which He has made us.

Yet—Be Not Afraid!

Throughout Sacred Scripture, we see the image of our God as the loving and caring shepherd who watches over us, His flock.

In the Gospel of John from which the gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday is taken, Jesus makes a powerful and reassuring promise to those who believe in and follow Him. No matter what may happen, if we trust Him to be our shepherd, if we do not stray from or fall away from the flock, we have nothing to fear. Evil may kill or maim the body, but nothing and no one can destroy our soul or separate us from the One who loves us perfectly.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:10-11, 27-28).

If you find yourself afraid as you hear news reports of violence and persecution of people of faith, if you have family and friends who are afraid, if you find that you need to reassure your children, remind yourself and them of God’s love and His promise.

St. Paul speaks so beautifully and with great clarity about being secure in the love of God.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39).

Let us remember those affected by religious persecution and acts of terrorism in our prayers. Let us also remember those who are suffering in any way this day and in need around the world and in our own neighborhoods. Remember them in our acts of spiritual mercy, and also remember their physical and material needs. Let us show them that there is nothing to be afraid of if they surrender to Christ the Good Shepherd.

I recall from my earliest childhood my own father reciting to me these words from John’s Gospel and the 23rd Psalm. And when I entered the turbulent teen years, he would remind me of them and taught me that I should listen for the voice of my shepherd… that I should stay close to him, hear him, follow him. It is Jesus himself who walks by and invites us to come and see… he says to us, “Come… follow me.” It is really that simple, no matter how difficult we try to make it, all we need concern ourselves with is following after Him and doing what He asks.

Into the Deep…

The Mass readings  for Good Shepherd Sunday / Fourth Sunday of Easter (B) — Acts 4:8-12; Psalms 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 21; First John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18.

Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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