The homily by Fr. John Hollowell, a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Last Saturday, August 11, it was my turn to offer reflections on the reading for Evening Prayer I at the retreat for aspirants for the diaconate for the Diocese of Knoxville. The reading was Hebrews 13:20-21, followed by my reflection:
“May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will. Through Jesus Christ may he carry out in you all that is pleasing to him. To Christ be glory forever! Amen.”
Sheep need a shepherd, for they must be led to pasture and water, and to shelter in inclement weather. Sheep also require protection against bandits and against beasts that would devour them.
The rapport between the shepherd and his sheep is a close one. The sheep come to recognize the shepherd, recognize his voice, follow his commands and no others, follow wherever he leads. The shepherd keeps the flock together, tends to the ill and injured, seeks out the lost, and returns them to the fold.
In the OT, the title of shepherd is given to the judges and the kings of Israel. Too often, however, these shepherds were unfaithful. Concerned only for their own profit and wild living, they scattered the flock rather than kept it together, they led the sheep astray, forgetting their fold.
The Lord condemns these shepherds:
“The word of the LORD came to me,” says the prophet Ezekiel, “Son of man, prophecy against the shepherds … Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD … Look! I am coming against these shepherds. I will take my sheep out of their hand and put a stop to their shepherding my flock, so that these shepherds will no longer pasture them.” Ezekiel 34:1-10
In recent weeks the Church has been rocked and pained yet again by the revelation of shepherds who failed to guide their flock faithfully. Frankly, it seems too much. How can it be that it has happened again? How can it be that those we trusted, those we looked to for leadership and guidance, failed so miserably? How can we hope to recover?
Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest and peace activist, was once asked by a journalist what gave him hope. Was it the fact that more and more young people were joining the peace movement? No, Fr. Berrigan said. The fact that more young people were joining the peace movement was good, but hope is something that keeps you going when you’re all alone. What gives you hope, then, he was asked. “Only this,” he replied, “the promises of Jesus.”
The promise of Jesus is that we will not be left alone, we will not be left a flock without a shepherd. The Lord continued to speak His word through the prophet Ezekiel, a word of hope that God would guide His flock where other shepherds had failed:
“For thus says the LORD: … I myself with pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest … The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal … Thus shall they know that I, the LORD, their God, am with them.” Ezekiel 34:15-31
In the midst of this seemingly never-ending Lent, our faith remains that the God of peace has brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep. “We are an Easter people,” St. Augustine said, “and ‘Alleluia!’ is our song!” There can be no lack of faith or hope here. Our whole faith is hope!
But, our hope is not in the capacity of men to never sin, or in the ability of shepherds to never fail. Our hope is in the promises of Jesus, or there is no hope at all. If Christ is not raised, we are the most pitiable of men. But, Christ is raised! Yes, there is darkness, but the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it! John 1:5.
Our task, then, is simply to do His will. Our prayer is simply that God may furnish us with all that is good that we may do His will. That we may be open to His grace, given to us in Christ, that He may carry out in us all that is pleasing to Him. In this, we will give glory to Christ, our Good Shepherd and Risen Lord.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.