Sunday, April 29, 2007

Why We Need Good Shepherds

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 29, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 10: 27-30.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2007]

I was watching a program on a cable news channel recently (the channel that has the reputation of being ‘conservative’ in its perspective). In the first segment of the show, 4 journalists were talking about the horrible murders that had taken place a few days earlier at Virginia Tech University. They expressed shock and they expressed outrage at how these 32 innocent students and faculty members had been gunned down in cold blood by a deranged individual.

And they were right in doing so!

Then they moved on to the next segment. This time the subject matter was the decision that had been handed down that day by the members of the United States Supreme Court—the decision upholding (thankfully!) the ban on partial birth abortion.

It was then that they began to talk about the procedure itself—a procedure which is incredibly gruesome, as most of you know. But what really struck me was how they discussed it; it was their tone. These were 4 journalists who have the reputation of being at least somewhat conservative, and yet they talked about the partial-birth abortion procedure like I would talk about brushing my teeth! There was no anger, and certainly no outrage. There was no outrage that this type of infanticide had been legal in our nation for many years; no outrage that the decision of the court was 5-4 and not 9-0; no outrage that some politicians—including some Catholic ones—still have the audacity to support it!

More on this in a few moments. I will come back to it.

Today the Church celebrates “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The reason for that should be obvious: In today’s Gospel reading from John 10 Jesus speaks to us as a shepherd. He says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Of course, the Lord’s sheep don’t hear his voice today in the same way that his sheep heard it 2000 years ago. That’s because the Good Shepherd ascended to heaven with his risen body 40 days after he rose from the dead. We’ll be celebrating that event in a few short weeks, on Ascension Thursday.

But the voice of the Good Shepherd is still heard today through his Church, which speaks with his authority. That’s what we believe—or at least that’s what we’re supposed to believe—as Catholics.

And yet, that’s not sufficient. The very fact that the Good Shepherd continues to speak to us through the universal Church is not enough to keep his sheep from wandering away and being eaten by the wolves.

Because the Good Shepherd isn’t present now in the exact same way that he was 2000 years ago when he walked the streets of Palestine, he needs the help of other people—other fallible human beings—in order to care for his flock. He needs other shepherds—specifically bishops and priests—who are willing to love his flock and serve his flock and be examples for his flock and instruct his flock in various places throughout the world.

So today is a day to pray that God will provide good human shepherds for his Church, who will not be afraid to teach the full, complete Gospel message of the Good Shepherd! And do we ever need them! The story I shared with you at the beginning of my homily should make that fact crystal clear. I shared it because I think it illustrates the incredible moral confusion of our generation. Here we have 4 ‘conservative’ journalists who apparently are no longer outraged by infanticide! That’s scary! To them—at least as far as I can tell—partial birth abortion is just another political issue.

Well, it’s not! It’s also a moral issue and a human rights issue! And it’s the role of the Church—speaking through her shepherds—to make that clear! It’s the role of the Church and her shepherds to speak out against this and every other kind of violence! It’s the role of the Church to speak out against hatred, racism and every form of injustice. It’s the role of the Church and her shepherds to speak out against deviant sexual and scientific activities that undermine the dignity of the human person.

This is why the world needs good, holy, intelligent, courageous priests—and why we need to pray for more of them! We’ve been blessed here in Westerly with several vocations in recent years (in fact, we have another parishioner who’s planning to enter seminary in the fall), but the Lord is calling more. He’s calling more to serve him from our community and certainly from other places.

I’m convinced of that, because the voice of a good priest who teaches in union with the Church is ultimately the voice of the Good Shepherd. And it’s only the teaching of the Good Shepherd that will save this culture of ours from self-destructing.

The journalists at the Fox News Network certainly won’t save us!

And, for that matter, neither will the ones at CNN.