St. Pope St. John Paul II, the good shepherd

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The most beautiful and meaningful comment on the life and the legacy of Pope John Paul II was made by the famous televangelist the late Billy Graham.  In a TV Interview he said: “He lived like his Master the Good Shepherd, and he died like his Master the Good Shepherd.”  In today’s Gospel, Jesus claims that he is the Good Shepherd and explains what he does for his sheep. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Who is your shepherd?

The TV is my shepherd, I shall not want,
It makes me to lie down on the sofa.
It leads me away from the Faith,
It destroys my soul.
It leads me to the path of sex and violence for the advertiser’s sake.
Even though I walk in the shadow of Christian responsibilities,
there will be no interruption, for the TV is with me.
Its cable and remote control, they comfort me.
It prepares a commercial for me in the midst of my worldliness
And anoints my head with secular humanism and consumerism.
My covetousness runs over;
Surely ignorance and laziness shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of wretchedness watching TV forever.

(Broadcast on EWTN on March 18, 2002) Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible” 

Wind, Sand and Stars is the title of an interesting book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. One incident is especially inspiring. The author and his comrade Guillaumet were flying mail over the Andes for the government of Chile. One morning his pal took off in the face of a fierce snowstorm. Ice on his wings, the heavy snow and terrific wind kept him from rising over the mountains and forced him to land on a frozen lake. Guillaumet dug a shelter under the cockpit and surrounded himself with mailbags. . There he huddled for two days and two nights. When the storm subsided, it took him five days and four nights to find his way back to civilization, crawling on hands and knees in temperature twenty degrees below zero. How did he overcome the fatal desire to lie down and rest? He thought of his wife and sons and how they needed him. He thought of his responsibility to get the mail through. He survived although his hands and feet were so badly frozen that they had to be amputated. When Saint-Exupery described his comrade’s bitter experience and superhuman struggle to survive, he summed it all in one sentence: “To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible.”

This is what Jesus is talking about today: responsibility of the Good Shepherd for his sheep.

(Mgr. Arthur Tonne). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“I know the Psalm, but this preacher knows the Shepherd”

In London, a crowd had gathered to hear a famous Shakespearean actor recite some of Shakespeare’s dramas. The crowd was very entranced and entertained by the actor’s abilities, and they gave him frequent standing ovations. An old preacher in the audience encouraged the actor to recite the 23rd Psalm, using his Shakespearean style. The actor agreed on one condition that the preacher also should do so after he finished. The actor used much expression and voice inflection and all of his acting abilities, and when he was finished, the crowd gave a resounding standing ovation that lasted for several minutes. Then the old preacher started reciting the same Psalm. As he began, his voice was shaky because of his reverence for God’s Word. When the preacher was finished, nobody clapped. They couldn’t. There wasn’t a dry eye anywhere, and all were busy wiping their tears. The Shakespearean actor slowly stood, and he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, there is obviously a difference between this preacher and me. I know the Psalm of the Good Shepherd, but this preacher knows the Good Shepherd of the Psalm.” Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

A good shepherd-sergeant’s story

There was once a sergeant in the Marines who was the senior enlisted man in his platoon. One day his outfit was ambushed and pinned down by enemy fire. The lieutenant in command was badly wounded as were many of the men. The sergeant took over and extricated the men from the trap, though he himself was wounded twice. He carried out the wounded commanding officer by himself. Miraculously every man in the platoon survived, even the wounded lieutenant. Later the men said that if it were not for the incredible bravery of the sergeant they all would have been killed. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor but received the DFC. He never wore the medal, however, because he said the lives of his men were more important than any medal. Later when he had children of his own, he loved them almost like a mother. His wife said that during the war he had learned how to be tender. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Jesus knows his sheep by name:

There have always been people with a good memory for names: Napoleon, “who knew thousands of his soldiers by name . . .” or James A. Farley, “who claimed he knew 50,000 people by their first name . . .” or Charles Schwab, “who knew the names of all 8,000 of his employees at Homestead Mill . . .” or Charles W. Eliot, “who, during his forty years as president of Harvard, earned the reputation of knowing all the students by name each year . . .” or Harry Lorayne, “who used to amaze his audiences by being introduced to hundreds of people, one after another, then giving the name of any person who stood up and requested it.”

But can you imagine Christ knowing all his sheep by name? That’s millions and millions of people over 2,000 years. No wonder we call him Master, Lord, Savior – watching over his flock, calling each by name!

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Good Shepherd and the terrorists

In the film The Delta Force there is the beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd presented by a Catholic priest. A jet plane with American tourists is hijacked by Arab terrorists, and later the tourists are held hostage in the plane which was landed by force in Beirut. 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. The priest courageously walks into the compartment where he is disdainfully met by the leading terrorist. The terrorist asks what his name is and the priest 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, a Jew, he too is Jewish. “If you take one, you have to take us all,” answers the priest who willingly accompanies the Jewish hostages. At the end of the story we find Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris lead an elite team of U.S. Special Forces that rescues the endangered travelers.  “I am the Good Shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“I’d like to preserve my integrity and credibility”

About 4 years ago, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, offered WGN Chicago Radio sports-talk host David Kaplan $50,000 to change his name legally to “Dallas Maverick.” When Kaplan politely declined, Cuban sweetened the offer. Cuban would pay Kaplan $100,000 and donate $100,000 to Kaplan’s favorite charity if he took the name for one year. After some soul searching and being bombarded by e-mails from listeners who said he was crazy to turn down the money, Kaplan held firm and told Cuban no. Kaplan explained: “I’d be saying I’d do anything for money, and that bothers me. My name is my birthright. I’d like to preserve my integrity and credibility.” [Skip Bayless]

The name “Christian” is our birthright. From the moment of our Baptism and our birth into the Kingdom of God, we are the sheep of the Good Shepherd Who promises to lead us to green pastures and beside the still waters. The Voice of the Shepherd protects us.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“May I see your driver’s license?”

Everyone, it seems, is interested in my numbers. I go to the grocery store to buy some groceries. After the checkout woman rings up my bill, I pull out my checkbook and write out the check. She takes it from me. She looks at the information. Numbers tell her where I live. Numbers tell her how to reach me on the telephone. “Is this information correct?” she asks.” “Yes, it is,” I reply. “May I see your driver’s license?” she asks. She looks at my driver’s license and writes some more numbers on my check. Finally, I am approved. The numbers are all there. I can eat for another week. One could wish it were a bit more human and personal. So, the IRS knows me by my tax number. My state knows me by my driver’s license number. My bank knows me by my bank account number. My employer knows me by my social security number. On and on it goes for you, for me, for everybody. Everybody knows my numbers. I am not sure that anyone knows me!

The numbers game that is played in our culture is one symptom of loneliness and alienation that surrounds us today. “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” That is a refrain from “Eleanor Rigby,” the 1966 Beatles’ song (Google, https://genius.com). Loneliness. Isolation. Alienation. These are the realities of contemporary civilized life. “I am the Good Shepherd.” These are Jesus’ words in our reading from John’s Gospel text for this sermon. “I am the Good Shepherd; I know My own and my own know Me …” Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus knows us personally and loves us.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

His master’s voice

If you have seen the RCA Victor trademark, then you have seen Francis Barraud’s 1898 painting, His Master’s Voice. The painting shows a dog, Nipper, looking with a cocked head, at an old gramophone. (Google, Wikipedia).

The picture can also serve as a symbol of what Jesus is saying to us. “The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“Then we FLEECE them!

Two televangelists were talking. One was explaining how he was seeking to be the ideal shepherd to his television flock. “There are three ways I seek to do that,” he said. “What three ways do you mean?” asked the other evangelist. “Well” he explained, “First, we FIND them. Every year we find new stations to carry our ministry. Then we FEED them. I give them the plain unvarnished word of God.” “But what’s the third thing?” asked the second evangelist. “Well,” he answered, “Once we’ve found them and fed them, then we FLEECE them!”

Some TV evangelists have become quite proficient at fleecing their flock. I hope you understand that nothing could be farther from the example of Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep . . .” Fleecing the flock is a long way from laying down your life for them.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“But I never jumped”

A paratrooper who had recently resigned from the military was asked how many times he had jumped out of an airplane. He said, “None.” A friend of his asked, “What do you mean, ‘none?’ I thought you were a paratrooper!” He said, “I was, but I never jumped. I was pushed several times . . . but I never jumped.”

The hired hand never jumps. He has to be pushed. Churches often have hired hands in them. Not our Church, of course. But other Churches are full of people who have to be pushed to do what they know they ought to do. Jesus did not have to be pushed.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“I give my life for my sheep”

We applaud when a man or woman gives his or her life for another. Such instances do come along from time to time. “Former NFL football player Jerry Anderson,” read the Murfreesboro, Tennessee. May 28, 1989, newspaper account, “died Saturday after pulling two young boys out of a rain-swollen river about 40 miles southeast of Nashville. Witnesses said Anderson saw two boys, thought to be 11 or 12 years old, attempting to cross a dam spanning the river. One or both boys fell into the water. According to Officer Bill Todd, ‘Mr. Anderson jumped in the water and managed to get the little boys out, but witnesses said he went under two or three times and about the fourth time, he didn’t come back up.’” He gave his life to rescue two small boys. Of course, you don’t have to be an American or a football player for such heroic actions. In a Middle school in the Ukrainian village of Ivanichi a young teacher died sometime back. He absorbed the blast of a hand grenade to protect his pupils. What was a grenade doing in a middle school? According to the London Times, the teacher, a graduate of the KGB border guard college, had been delivering the military instruction that is a compulsory part of the curriculum for Soviet children. He was teaching them how to handle what should have been an unarmed grenade. When he pulled the pin a wisp of smoke showed that a live grenade had become mixed in with demonstration grenades, and he gave his life. – You don’t have to be a man to perform such heroics. There’s a legend (untrue according to Snopes, Urban Legends, Glurge Gallery) that, many years ago a woman carrying a baby through the hills of South Wales, England, was overtaken by a blizzard. Searchers found her later frozen to death in the snow. Amazed that she had on no outer garments, they searched further and found her baby. She had wrapped them around the child, who was still alive and well. He grew up to be David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain in World War I.

Legends can point us to Reality. We need to stay near the Good Shepherd throughout our lives, for He has given His Life to bring us safely Home to Him.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Big Brother is watching us

Ever since 1984 hit the bookstores, people concerned about individual privacy and freedom have looked for signs that Big Brother is becoming a reality in our society. And it is true that more and more of our urban landscape is being observed by security cameras. But that is only one way our privacy is being invaded. There was a news report several years ago that Israeli scientists are now marketing a microchip that, implanted under the skin, will protect film stars and millionaires from kidnappers. The chip emits a signal detectable by satellite to help rescuers determine a victim’s approximate location. Originally the chip was developed to track Israeli secret-service agents abroad. The $5,000 chip doesn’t even require batteries. It runs solely on the neurophysiological energy generated within the human body. The firm which developed it, Gen-Etics, won’t reveal where the chip is inserted but said that, at that time, 43 people had had it implanted. Since this report was published there has been an explosion of interest in this technology. Farmers keep tabs on the health and safety of their cows and other livestock with such chips. But the use of such devices to monitor human beings is almost limitless. Already there is a monitoring bracelet for Alzheimer patients, so that families can use GPS systems to help find loved ones who might have wandered off. Would it be inconceivable that loving parents might want to monitor the whereabouts of their children via satellite? Why not have a chip implanted? Pet owners are already using such technology. Some cynics have suggested that some wives might want to monitor their husbands. Soon we will see signs, “Big Brother is watching.”

Here’s what’s amusing to me. There are people who have no difficulty believing that one day the government will keep track of us all, but who cannot conceive that an all-knowing God can take a personal interest in each of His children, hear each of our prayers, and be responsive to each of our individual needs.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Images are highly influential

They become emblazoned on the wall of our minds, and they evoke a wide range of responses. Millions of people will remember the fireman carrying the baby out of the ruins of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. World War II veterans, particularly the ones who served in the South Pacific, will always remember Mount Surabachi and photo of the Marines who raised an American flag at its summit, as well as the image of General MacArthur returning to the Philippines. Neil Armstrong taking that first step on the moon in the early ’70s is frozen in many memories, too. If you were old enough to watch and understand television in l963, you probably remember young John F. Kennedy, Jr., at the casket of his father Jack. Much closer to our own time, many of us will long retain the image of students running out of Columbine High School with their hands over their heads.

Some images are immensely powerful and have a tenacity that is tireless and timeless.  If there is one image associated with the Christian Faith which, more than any other, has found an enduring place within the collective life of the Christian Church, it is the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Hannah and Her Sisters

A 1986 Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters, shows how family life gives some sense of stability to life in a fractured world. The part played by Woody Allen in the movie is the part of a man who is constantly afraid that he will get some terrible disease. He is what we call a hypochondriac. As he comes into the movie, we see him on his way to the doctor. The doctor assures him that nothing seems to be terribly wrong, though some additional tests need to be made. Woody cannot calm himself over these additional tests. He is sure they will find something terrible. “What are you afraid of,” one of his friends asks him, “cancer?” “Don’t say that,” Woody responds with a look of terror. More tests are performed. A CAT scan is prescribed for his head. He is sure they will find a brain tumor. But his fears are unfounded. The doctor announces to him that all is well. In the next scene we see Woody coming out of the hospital, kicking up his heels, and running joyfully down the street. He is celebrating. But suddenly he stops. We know instinctively why he stops. He tells us in the next scene. “All this means,” he says, “is that I am all right this time. Next time it will probably be serious.”

Our lives are lived in constant danger. Woody Allen’s character overplays the danger. But the danger is there. There are all kinds of realities that imperil our lives nearly every day. Accidents might befall us. Natural disasters strike. Oppressive structures of life weigh us down. Disease stalks us and death awaits. That is the way life is. We live our lives in constant peril. Woody Allen might have exaggerated a bit, but he is right. Human life is an endangered species. Death calls a halt to every human life. “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus says. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

The Bismarck

In the beginning of World War II, the Nazis commissioned a massive battleship named the Bismarck.  It was the biggest fighting vessel the world had seen up to that time.  With the Bismarck the Germans had the opportunity to dominate the seas.  Very soon after it was commissioned, the Bismarck sank tons of Allied shipping and allied aircraft.  Its massive armor plating resulted in the boast that the Bismarck was unsinkable.  But the Bismarck was sunk.  And it was sunk due to one lone torpedo which hit the Bismarck in the rudder.  As a result, the battleship zig-zagged through the sea, unable to reach harbor.  It was only a short while before the British navy was able to overtake and destroy it.

No matter how large the battleship may be, it is doomed without a rudder to direct it. — Floundering on the open sea without a rudder, the Bismarck is a modern-day image of a world in stormy times, rudderless without the direction of Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Without the Lord, the world is headed toward chaos.  But with the Lord there is guidance, direction and purpose in life.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Alexander, the shepherd of soldiers

When the emperor Alexander the Great was crossing the Makran Desert on his way to Persia, his army ran out of water.  The soldiers were dying of thirst as they advanced under the burning sun.  A couple of Alexander’s lieutenants managed to capture some water from a passing caravan. They brought some to him in a helmet.  He asked, “Is there enough for both me and my men?” “Only you, sir,” they replied.  Alexander then lifted up the helmet as the soldiers watched.  Instead of drinking, he tipped it over and poured the water on the ground. The men let up a great shout of admiration.  They knew their general would not allow them to suffer anything he was unwilling to suffer himself. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“It will kill you if you move”

A soldier dying on a Korean battlefield asked for a priest. The Medic could not find one. A wounded man lying nearby heard the request and said, “I am a priest.” The Medic turned to the speaker and saw his condition, which was as bad as that of the other. “It will kill you if you move,” he warned. But the wounded chaplain replied. “The life of a man’s soul is worth more than a few hours of my life.” He then crawled to the dying soldier, heard his confession, gave him absolution and the two died, hand in hand. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Four clergymen

Four clergymen, taking a short break from their heavy schedules, were on a park bench, chatting and enjoying an early spring day. “You know, since all of us are such good friends,” said one, “this might be a good time to discuss personal problems.” They all agreed. “Well, I would like to share with you the fact that I drink to excess,” said one. There was a gasp from the other three. Then another spoke up. “Since you were so honest, I’d like to say that my big problem is gambling. It’s terrible, I know, but I can’t quit. I’ve even been tempted to take money from the collection plate.” Another gasp was heard, and the third clergyman spoke. “I’m really troubled, brothers, because I’m growing fond of a woman in my church — a married woman.” More gasps. But the fourth remained silent. After a few minutes the others coaxed him to open up. “The fact is,” he said, “I just don’t know how to tell you about my problem.” “It’s all right, brother. Your secret is safe with us,” said the others. “Well, it’s this way,” he said. “You see, I’m an incurable gossip.” –Jokes like this have shaped our views of priests as if there is no difference between the life and work of a priest and that of other Christians. Today’s Gospel tells us that priests are expected to be Good Shepherds as the picture given by Jesus. (Fr. Munacci). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

The Unknown Soldier

The Unknown Citizen” is a parody of the “The Unknown Soldier,” a term used to recognize people whose bodies are found after a battle but cannot be identified. The U.S. Army uses metal “dog tags” to identify soldiers who are killed in action, but these tags can be lost or melted, and sometimes it’s just impossible to locate or identify a person’s remains. In this case, many countries use the concept of the “Unknown Soldier” to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers who die anonymously. France placed a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris; England has one in Westminster Abbey; and the United States has one in Arlington National Cemetery.

But for Jesus everyone is precious. He knows them by name. (Fr. Bobby Jose).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Good shepherd stories

In a Middle school in the Ukrainian village of Ivanichi a young teacher died sometime back. He absorbed the blast of a hand grenade to protect his pupils. Many years ago a woman carrying a baby through the hills of South Wales, England, was overtaken by a blizzard. Searchers found her later frozen to death in the snow. Amazed that she had on no outer garments, they searched further and found her baby. She had wrapped them around the child, who was still alive and well. He grew up to be David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

When the Good Shepherd is even ready to give up his life, as good sheep, we should stay close to the Shepherd so as to be defended by him. (Fr. Bobby Jose).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

One flock one shepherd

One of the great expressions of this universality is the Church’s tradition of encouraging the arts. The beauty of great art has a universal appeal, as is evidenced, for example, by the millions of non-Catholic tourists who visit the basilicas of Rome each year. Pope Pius IX once had a chance encounter that wonderfully expresses this unity and universality of Christ’s one flock. One day he was walking alone through the Vatican galleries. He came upon a young Englishman who was gazing rapturously at one of Raphael’s paintings. The Holy Father watched him from a distance, and then went up to him, saying, “I assume you are an artist, my son?” The young man admitted that he had come to Rome to study painting but didn’t have enough money to pay for instruction at the Academy. Pope Pius generously offered to give him a scholarship. “But, your Holiness,” exclaimed the British youth, “I’m not even Catholic!” “Don’t worry,” the Holy Father answered with a smile, “Admission to the studios will not be denied you on that account.”– Christ’s flock is one, but it is also universal, called to draw all people into the arms of the good shepherd. [Adapted from Msgr. Arthur Tonne’s Stories for Sermons]. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Trust in the Good Shepherd

It’s not always easy to trust in God, but it is always possible. We have been given the gift of Faith; we just have to have the courage to use it. In the 1920s, a Franciscan missionary priest was captured by Chinese bandits and kept as a hostage for 23 days. Afterwards, he explained how he kept up his courage during his frightening imprisonment. He said that he kept reminding himself: “I am in the hands of the bandits, but the bandits are in the hands of God. They will not harm me unless God permits them, and if He does, God’s will be done.” That’s a good example of the old saying, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” After he had been elected Pope, Pius XI made his way to the study of his saintly predecessor, Pope Benedict XV, who had tried so valiantly to put an end to World War I. As the many events of his predecessor’s pontificate flashed through his mind, Pope Pius began to feel the crushing burden of his office. He fell to his knees in prayer. When he looked up, he saw on the desk a framed picture of Our Lord quieting the storm at sea and uttering the encouraging words: “Peace, be still.” From that time on the new Pope kept that picture on his desk.

We should do our best to keep it in our hearts. St Paul of the Cross, known in the 1700’s as “God’s Hunter of Souls,” wrote: “Stop listening to your fears. God is your guide and your Father, Teacher, and Spouse. Abandon yourself into the Divine bosom of His most holy good pleasure. Keep up your spiritual exercises and be faithful in prayer.” Christ our Good Shepherd deserves nothing less than that.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

A Missionary Gets Muddy

The Eucharist is one of the great proofs of God’s trustworthiness – Christ faithfully present through the ups and downs of twenty centuries. A true story about a missionary illustrates this well. Fr. Meehus was working in a small village in rural China during the Sino-Japanese war. As Japanese soldiers neared the village, the priest led his congregation of orphans into hiding in the nearby hills. Safe in a cave, he counted eighty children – everyone was there. Then one of the boys spoke up, “Father, someone is missing.” They counted again – still 80. But the boy insisted. The priest asked, “Who is it, who’s missing?” The boy answered, ” We left Jesus in the tabernacle.” Father moaned – in his rushed escape, he had forgotten to bring the Blessed Sacrament. He made a quick decision. He had the children smear him with mud, telling them that he was going to be a commando (which they thought was fun). Then he went out, slipped through enemy lines, crept to the Church, and tip-toed up to the tabernacle, praying in the silence of his heart: “Jesus, I’m sorry I have to come for You this way; You might not recognize me with all this mud… I am in disguise now, but this is really and truly the one who has held you in his hands many mornings at Mass.” And in his heart, the priest heard God answering him: “Of course I recognize you… I am in disguise too. A lot of people don’t recognize Me either; but in spite of appearances, I am Jesus, your Friend, and I hold you in My hands from morning until night.” When the soldiers left, the priest and his congregation carried Jesus in a triumphant procession back to the tabernacle.

When trusting God is hard, a glance at the Eucharist – the sign of God’s faithfulness – can make all the difference. [Adapted from Msgr. Arthur Tonne’s Stories for Sermons]. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Good Shepherds 

In San Salvador on March 24, 1980, an assassin killed Archbishop Oscar Romero with a single shot to the heart while he was saying Mass. Only a few minutes before, Archbishop Romero had finished a hope-filled homily in which he urged the people to serve one another. Since Archbishop Romero was demanding human rights for his people under oppression, he knew that his life was in danger. Still he persisted in speaking out against tyranny and for freedom. He once told newspapermen that even if his enemies killed him, he would rise again among his people.

Today, good shepherds who lay down their lives include husbands and wives who can’t do enough for each other to demonstrate their commitment to each other; parents who make countless sacrifices for the good of their children; teachers who spend untold hours instructing the weak students; doctors and nurses who work untiringly to show they care for their patients; employers who share profits with their workers; politicians who unselfishly promote the common good of their voters, and parishioners who generously support their parish community. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Being the Good Shepherd is strenuous work

After a particularly brilliant concert, Beethoven was in the centre of congratulating friends and admirers, who praised his piano magic. One unusually enthusiastic woman exclaimed: “Oh, sir, if God had only given me the gift of genius!” “It is not genius, madam,” replied Beethoven. “Nor magic. All you have to do is practice on your piano eight hours a day for forty years and you’ll be as good as I am.”

We Christians have a leading role to play in redeeming the world, being porters of Jesus the Good Shepherd. That demands strenuous work, persistence and perseverance in doing good. Beethoven was able to perform great things because of his patience and perseverance. Any leadership implies that quality. (Anthony Kolencherry in Living the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

True Shepherd or hireling 

I remember a story of an atheistic journalist who, on one occasion, was visiting a leprosarium run by a group of religious sisters. When he entered a certain ward, he noticed a sister moving from one patient to another, cheerfully attending to each one with a nurturing love that was absolutely admirable. Unable to restrain his curiosity, he walked up to the religious and said, “Sister, I wouldn’t do this job even if you gave me a million dollars.” The sister smiled and replied, “Neither would I my friend,” and with that she continued tending to her patients. The journalist was absolutely dumbfounded. There and then he rejected his atheism. To quote his very own words, “A God who can inspire a human being to such dedicated and selfless service, in such revolting circumstances and with such good cheer cannot but be true. I believe in God.”

Such is the radical difference between a Good Shepherd and a hireling. One does his work because he wants to, the other does it because he has to; one has his heart in it, the other does not. (James Valladares in Your Words O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

A Good Shepherd lays down his life

Saint Maximilian Kolbe is the patron of families, drug addicts, prisoners, journalists, and the pro-life movement. He is known for founding the Immaculata Movement and producing the Knight of the Immaculata magazine. During World War II, Saint Maximilian housed over 3000 Polish refugees at his monastery. He was eventually imprisoned and sent to Auschwitz, where he experienced constant beatings and hard labour. St. Maximilian died in the place of a man with young children, who was chosen by the guards for the firing squad. Kolbe is considered a good shepherd. He laid down his life for his sheep.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, a good time to pray for the good shepherds as well as the bad ones; and a good time to realize that the Good Shepherd still walks with us. (John Payappilly in The Table of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Knowing His sheep

One of the memories I have of the home of my birth was a dog we had, called Roxy. We lived on a fairly quiet road, but as the years went by, the number of cars increased. Irrespective of how many passed by, Roxy was quite indifferent. Then suddenly, the ears were at full stretch, up he sprang, and raced at full speed along the road. There was no sign of anything coming, but we all knew that my mother was on her way, driving back from town, and was probably several hundred yards away. With all the cars, this was the sound that Roxy recognized from a distance. By the time he met the car, my mother had rolled down the window on the passenger side, slowed down slightly and with the car still moving, Roxy sprang right into the front seat and accompanied her on the latter part of the journey. I’m sure most of us have known unique relationships between animals and humans. (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Baghdad Bakery

A news report by Matthew Schofield in The Fresno Bee (Tuesday, April 22, 2003) gives us a tender-hearted picture of postwar Iraq. Here is the account. Across town, by 10 a.m., the line outside Baghdad Bakery had grown to 1,000 people … People were leaving the bakery with bread, 20 long rolls for 500 dinars, or about 18 cents. Before the war, this couldn’t have happened. Baghdad Bakery made bread only for Saddam Hussein’s Special Republican Guard. Now, the bread was for the city’s poor. Amera Ibraheem counted the baked loaves and placed them in plastic bags. She’s worked for the bakery 30 years. She said people were worried about the bakery’s future. They were down to a three-day supply of flour and had no idea where to find more. But, she added, everyone was committed to keeping the bakery open. As Baghdad fell and the bakery’s Baath Party manager fled with the workers’ salaries, the employees arrived for work. They set up a system in which they would sell the bread inexpensively and share the profits. On Sunday, the manager returned to the factory, escorted by two bodyguards. He demanded all the money the bakery had earned, and the bread. He planned to sell it to the city’s wealthier residents. The workers chased the manager and his guards away, warning them not to come back. — The enterprising employees of Baghdad Bakery, who worked to ensure that the much-needed bread would reach the starving poor of the devastated city, have the heart of the Good Shepherd mentioned in the Gospel of John. Their selfless concern to help their own people contrasts with the selfish and detestable attitude of the manager who is bent on fleecing the helpless poor.

This news account from war-torn Baghdad helps us understand the relevance of the Gospel reading of this Sunday, called “the Good Shepherd Sunday,” Indeed, this Iraqi situation gives us a glimpse of the antithetical roles mentioned by John in his account: The Good Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep and the hired man who works only for pay and has no concern for the sheep. (Lectio Divina).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

The Stone Rejected

Michelangelo was perhaps the greatest sculptor the world has ever known. He had a masterly knowledge of marble, and seemed to possess “X-ray eyes” for discerning in a block of stone the image that he would bring out of it by his chisel. One day a fellow-sculptor started to carve a block of white Carrara marble into a statue. Being a third-rate artist, he bungled the task and finally gave up. Furthermore, the carving that he had done had gouged out a deep hollow of the block of stone and ruined it for further use; or at least it seemed that way. Michelangelo did not agree. His sure eye told him that this mighty slab could be salvaged. Out of it he proceeded to carve one of his masterpieces, the colossal statue of young David, poised with his sling to attack Goliath. Only on the back of the figure are some marks left from the blundering chisel of the first sculptor. — Psalm 118 says prophetically, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus applied this prophecy to Himself. Though rejected by His people, he became the keystone of the Church. There are also many other people who have been at first rejected or ignored, only to achieve triumph later on, often thanks to the loving care of some “sculptor” who brought out their potentialities. The limping Lord Byron became a noted poet; the hunchbacked Charles Steinmetz became a top-flight scientist; Helen Keller, who became at a very early age blind and deaf, became a great humanitarian leader. The same can be said even of those not gifted with genius. For example, society is inclined to reject retarded children; but how often have we heard a mother say of her “special child,” “I love Johnny best of all.” … The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done. (Psalm 118, 22, 23. Today’s Mass-psalm). (Father Robert F. McNamara). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.L/21

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