4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER - A
For the past three Sundays of Easter, we have been reflecting the resurrection stories based on the appearances of the Risen Christ to certain individuals who were given a mission to proclaim the Resurrection: Mary Magdalene, the Apostles, Thomas particularly and the two disciples of Emmaus. On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we do not have a resurrection story to proclaim but rather the proclamation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It is because the Risen Christ continues to manifest himself not just through the tales of those witnesses of the early Christian communities but also through the shepherds of the Church in the present time. Through them, the Risen Christ walks with us and we encounter him the way the early disciples encountered him in the flesh.
“I will give them shepherds after my own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15). This means that all shepherds of the Church have been formed in and after the heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd. In Christian tradition we call our priests alter Christus or “another Christ” because they act in persona Christi or in the person of Christ. In the very long seminary training of priests which usually takes eight to eleven years before they are ordained, they have been formed in all aspects of the priestly life. During their ordination through the laying on of hands of the bishop, each priest is configured to Christ so that the priest is empowered to perform the priestly duties entrusted to him by the Church. This is a great mystery because the priest, although elevated to a spiritual realm, remains a man himself with all his weaknesses and sinfulness. That is why the priest lives in two worlds: the spiritual and the material. As the representative of the Good Shepherd, the priest is a servant-leader. He is a spiritual leader who opens the doors of the sacred so that the people may experience the Divine. By the virtue of his ordination, he performs the sacraments and liturgy which sanctify the People of God. As a servant, he gives himself wholeheartedly in the service of the Church through a life-witness which is radical and unique. Being formed in and after the heart of the Good Shepherd, the priest takes on the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience and chastity which are radical expressions of his consecration. He is set aside from the rest of humanity and is consecrated with the mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. These priests are our shepherds of today! Through them, the sheep are gathered together in the sheepfold of the Church to be protected, nurtured and nourished.
As the shepherd is ready to lay down his life for the sheep, our shepherds sacrifice their lives for the sake of the sheep they serve.
In recent years, our shepherds have been under scrutiny because of scandals that wounded the sheep in the most horrible ways. They have been humiliated, scorned and even convicted because of human weaknesses. Although the dignity of the priesthood have been morally damaged by the crimes coming from the ranks nevertheless there are dedicated, saintly and true model shepherds who continue to live up to the ideal of the Good Shepherd.
The Risen Christ is the Good Shepherd who will continue to form true and genuine shepherds after his heart so that his sheep may have life and have it abundantly….