Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fr. James's Homily

The Good Shepherd

One of my favorite movies is The Delta Force. American tourists are hijacked by Arab terrorists who hold the hostages in Beirut. Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris lead an elite team of U.S. Special Forces that rescue the endangered travelers.

At the beginning of the tragedy, the two Arab terrorists aboard the jetliner begin to separate the few Jewish tourists from the rest of the hostages. One of the most moving moments of the film is when Fr. William O’Malley, a priest from Chicago played by George Kennedy, gets up from his seat and walks into the First Class compartment where the Jews are being held. Kennedy courageously walks into the compartment where he is disdainfully met by the leading terrorist.

The terrorist asks what his name is and Kennedy responds that his name is William O’Malley. Perplexed by the situation, the terrorist asks what the priest wants. He responds that since he is a Catholic priest and a follower of Jesus Christ, that he too is Jewish. “If you take one, you have to take us all”, answers the priest who willingly accompanies the Jewish hostages.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10: 28).

The main part of the Holy Land was a large central plateau about 35 miles long. The ground was for the most part rough and rocky. It was impossible for sheep just to stay in one area for grazing. Large areas for grazing simply did not exist. Every flock had to have a shepherd who led his flock every day to places where the sheep could eat.

The life of a shepherd was very difficult. A flock of sheep never grazed without his presence and therefore, the shepherd was on duty every day of the week. Since the sheep always had to travel in order to find grass to eat, they were never left alone. Sheep could get lost, or they could be attacked by wolves or stolen by robbers.

Sheep were seldom used for regular food by the people of the Holy Land; rather sheep were cultivated for the use of their wool. Thus, the shepherd was with his sheep for a very long time. He gave each one of them a name, and they all knew his voice. In fact, it is said that each shepherd had a peculiar way of speaking to the sheep that allowed them to know that he was their shepherd.

During the warm weather, it was common for the sheep to spend the night away from the village farm. The shepherd watched over them throughout the night. In these circumstances, the sheep stayed in open areas surrounded by a low rock wall. In these areas, the sheep entered and left through an open space which had no door or gate of any kind. During the night, the shepherd would sleep stretched out within the empty space so that no sheep could get out except by crossing over his body. At the same time, a wolf or a robber could not get in, expect by crossing over his body as well. Here we can see a prime example of how the shepherd would give his life for his sheep.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Easter Season is a continual celebration of the one central mystery of Christianity; that Jesus gave his life for us by dying on the Cross. He saved us from our sins.

“For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7: 17).

Applied to our practical lives, the message is clear. Whatever our state in life may be, we are all called to shepherd the sheep that have been entrusted to our care. This is most especially true for priests, parents and grand-parents.

Shepherding a diocese, a parish, or a family is very demanding. Dedication, commitment, sacrifice and vigilance are needed every day. Just like Jesus the Good Shepherd, shepherds are called to love unconditionally.

One of the many things that I admire about my own Bishop is the fact that he is always at his post. Whenever I have a question or I need some advice or a word of encouragement, he either answers my call immediately or returns my phone call within a very short span of time. Before he ends his busy day, he gets back to me or invites me to visit with him personally in his office.

Rather than unveiling plans for massive parish closings, our diocese is creating new parish communities and even a new Catholic High School is finishing its first year which has been a great success.

Should not we be asking some vital questions? Are homes being visited? Are priests being available for their people? Can they be reached for emergencies, even throughout the night?

If the majority of people have no church home or the demographics of a particular area have changed, it may seem more economical to close parishes, but is this what a shepherd should do?

Despite the many challenges of modern life, diocesan families, parish families, and families living in neighborhoods are vibrant, healthy, happy and strong when these families are led by people who are true shepherds, shepherds who lovingly tend their sheep.

If we are going to be true disciples of the Good Shepherd, we must forget ourselves completely and be totally dedicated. Jesus calls us to love one another unconditionally.

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