POPE BENEDICT XVI ON THE
4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER B OR GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY B.
4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER B OR GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY B
29 April 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Roman tradition of celebrating priestly ordinations on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, contains a great wealth of meaning linked to the convergence of the Word of God, the liturgical Rite and the Easter Season in which it is placed. The figure of the shepherd in particular, so important in Sacred Scripture and naturally very relevant to the definition of the priest, acquires its full truth and clarity on the face of Christ, in the light of the Mystery of his death and Resurrection. Dear Ordinands, you too will always be able to draw from these riches every day of your life, and your priesthood will thus be continuously renewed. This year the Gospel passage is the central one from Chapter 10 of John and begins precisely with Jesus’ affirmation: “I am the Good Shepherd”.
This is immediately followed by the first fundamental characteristic: “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). So, we are led straight to the centre, to the summit of the revelation of God as the Shepherd of his people; this centre and summit is Jesus, Jesus himself who dies on the cross and rises from the tomb on the third day, rises with all his humanity and thereby involves us, every man and woman, in his passage from death to life. This event — the Pasch of Christ — in which he completely and definitively fulfills the pastoral work of God, is a sacrificial event. The Good Shepherd and the High Priest therefore coincide in the person of Jesus who laid down his life for us.
But let us also briefly note the first two Readings and the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118 ). The passage from the Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12) presents to us St Peter’s testimony before the rulers of the people and the elders of Jerusalem after the miraculous healing of the cripple. Peter says with great candour: Jesus “is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner”; and he added, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (vv. 11-12). Then in the light of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, the Apostle interprets Psalm 118, in which the person praying gives thanks to God who has answered his cry for help and has saved him. This Psalm says: “the stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps 118:22-23). Jesus lived this very experience: being rejected by the leaders of his people and rehabilitated by God, placed as the foundational stone of a new temple, of a new people that was to praise the Lord with the fruits of justice (cf. Mt 21:42-43) Therefore the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm, which is the same Psalm 118, vividly evoke the paschal context and, with this image of the stone rejected and re-habilitated, draw our gaze to Jesus dead and Risen.
The Second Reading, from the First Letter of John (3:1-2), speaks to us instead of the fruit of Christ’s Pasch: our having become children of God. In John’s words you can still hear his great wonder at this gift; not only are we called children of God but “so we are” (v. 1). Indeed, man’s filial condition is the fruit of the saving work of Jesus. With his Incarnation, with his death and Resurrection and with the gift of the Holy Spirit he has inserted the human being into a new relationship with God, his own relationship with the Father. For this reason the Risen Jesus says: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17). It is a relationship that is already totally real but not yet totally revealed: it will be in the end when — if God pleases — we shall see his face without a veil (cf. v. 7).
Dear Ordinands, this is where the Good Shepherd wishes to lead us! It is here that the priest is called to lead the faithful entrusted to his care: to true life, to life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). Let us therefore return to the Gospel and to the Parable of the Good Shepherd. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). Jesus insists on this essential trait of the Good Shepherd who is he himself: that of “laying down his life”. He repeats it three times and at the end concludes with the words: “for this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:17-18).
This is clearly the qualifying feature of the shepherd, just as Jesus interprets it in the first person, in accordance with the will of the Father who sent him. The biblical figure of shepherd-king mainly involves the task of governing, keeping united and guiding the People of God. The whole of this regal role is totally fulfilled in Jesus Christ in the sacrificial dimension, in the offering of life. In a word, it is brought about in the mystery of the Cross, that is, in the supreme act of humility and oblative love. Abbot Theodore the Studite, said: “By the Cross we, the sheep of Christ, have been gathered into one flock, destined for the sheepfolds of heaven” (Discourse on the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ, PG 99, 699).
The formulas of the Rite for the Ordination of Priests that we are celebrating give us this orientation. For example, among the questions that concern the “commitments of the chosen ones”, the later, with a culminating and in a certain way concise character, says : “Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?”. The priest is in fact the one who is uniquely inserted into the mystery of Christ’s Sacrifice through a personal union with him, in order to extend his saving mission. This union, which happens in the Sacrament of Orders, seeks to become closer every day through the generous response of the priest himself. This is why, dear Ordinands, in a little while you will answer this question, saying: “I am, with the help of God”.
The celebrant then says in the explanatory Rites, at the moment of the anointing with chrism: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God”. And then in the presentation of the bread and the wine he says: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross”. It is very obvious that for the priest celebrating Holy Mass every day does not mean carrying out a ritual function but rather fulfilling a mission that involves his life entirely and profoundly in communion with the Risen Christ who continues to realize the redeeming sacrifice in his Church.
This Eucharistic and sacrificial dimension is inseparable from the pastoral dimension and constitutes the nucleus of truth and of the saving power on which the effectiveness of every activity depends. Of course, we are not speaking of effectiveness solely at the psychological or social level, but rather of the vital fruitfulness of God’s presence at the profound human level. Preaching itself, good works and the actions of various kinds that the Church carries out with her multiple initiatives would lose their salvific fruitfulness were the celebration of Christ’s Sacrifice to be lacking. And this is entrusted to ordained priests. Indeed, the priest is called to live in himself what Jesus experienced personally, that is, to give himself without reserve to preaching and to healing man of every evil of body and of spirit, and then, lastly, to sum up everything in the supreme gesture of “laying down his life”, for human beings, which finds its sacramental expression in the Eucharist, the perpetual memorial of Jesus’ Passover. It is only through this “door” of the Paschal Sacrifice that the men and women of all time can enter eternal life; it is through this “holy way” that they can undertake the exodus that leads them to the “promised land” of true freedom, to the “green pastures” of never ending peace and joy (cf. Jn 10:7,9; Ps 77:14, 20-21; Ps 23:2).
Dear Ordinands, may this word of God illuminate your entire life. And when the burden of the cross becomes heavier, know that this is the most precious time, for you and for the people entrusted to you: by renewing your “I am, with the help of God”, you will be cooperating with Christ, the High Priest and Good Shepherd, in tending his sheep — even only one stray sheep, but for which there are great festivities in heaven! May the Virgin Mary, Salus Populi Romani, always watch over each one of you and over your journey. Amen.
© Copyright 2012 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER B OR GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY B
3 May 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
According to a beautiful tradition, the Sunday of “the Good Shepherd” is when the Bishop of Rome meets with his clergy for the Ordination of new priests for the Diocese. This is a great gift from God every time; it is his grace! Therefore let a deep feeling of faith and gratitude in living today’s celebration arise in us. With this sentiment I am pleased to greet the Cardinal Vicar Agostino Vallini, the Auxiliary Bishops, the other Brothers in the episcopacy and in the priesthood, and with special affection you, dear Deacon candidates to the priesthood, with your families and friends. The word of God that we have listened to offers many points for meditation: I will choose a few to shed an indelible light on the path of your life and your ministry.
“This [Jesus] is the stone… there is no other name… given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 11-12). In the passage of the Acts of the Apostles the first reading the singular “homonymy” between Peter and Jesus strikes us and makes us reflect: Peter, who received his name from Jesus himself, here asserts that he, Jesus, is “the stone”. In fact, the only true rock is Jesus. The only name that saves is his. The apostle, and therefore the priest, receives his “name”, his very identity, from Christ. Everything he does is done in his name. His “I” becomes totally relative to the “I” of Jesus. In the name of Christ, and most certainly not in his own, the apostle may perform acts of healing for the brethren, may help the “crippled” to rise again and take their path (cf. Acts 4: 9-10). In Peter’s case, the miracle that had just occurred makes this especially evident. And even the reference to what was said in the Psalm is essential: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone” (Ps 118: 22). Jesus was “rejected”, but the Father favoured him and put him as the foundation of the Temple of the New Covenant. Thus the apostle, like the priest, experiences in turn the Cross, and only through this can he become truly useful to the building of the Church. God loves to build his Church with people who, following Jesus, place their entire trust in God, as the Psalm itself mentions: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (v. 8-9).
The disciple shares the same destiny as the Teacher, which ultimately is the destiny expressed in God the Father’s own will! Jesus confessed at the end of his life, in the great prayer called “priestly”: “O righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you” (Jn 17: 25). Even before he had asserted: “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Mt 11: 27). Jesus himself experienced the rejection of God by the world, the misunderstanding, the indifference, the disfiguration of the Face of God. And Jesus passed the “witness” on to the disciples: “I made known to them your name”, he further confides in the prayer to the Father, “and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17: 26). Therefore the disciple and especially the apostle experiences the same joy that Jesus did, in knowing the name and the Face of the Father; and also shares his suffering, seeing that God is not recognized, that his love is not returned. On one hand we joyfully exclaim, like John did with joy in his first Letter: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!”; and on the other with bitterness we observe: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 Jn 3: 1). It is true, and we priests experience this: the “world” in an acceptance of the Johannine definition of the term does not understand the Christian, does not understand the ministers of the Gospel. Somewhat because it does not know God, and somewhat because it does not want to know him. The world does not want to know God so as not to be disturbed by his will, and therefore it does not want to listen to his ministers; this could cause a crisis.
Here we must pay attention to a de facto reality: that this “world“, interpreted in the evangelical sense, also lures the Church, infecting her members and even ordained ministers. With the word “world”, St John indicates and seeks to define a mentality, a way of thinking and living that can pollute even the Church, that in fact does pollute her, thereby requiring constant vigilance and purification. Until God is fully manifest, even his sons are not yet fully “like Him” (1 Jn 3: 2). We are “in” the world, and we risk being also “of” the world, the world in the sense of this mentality. And in fact at times we are. Because of this, Jesus at the end did not pray for the world in this same sense but for his disciples, so that the Father may keep them from evil that they may be free and different from the world, while living in the world (cf. Jn 17: 9,15). At that moment, at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus raised to the Father the prayer of consecration for the apostles and for all the priests of all times, when he said: “Sanctify them in the truth” (Jn 17: 17). And he added: “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they may also be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17: 19). I emphasized these words of Jesus in the Homily of the Chrism Mass, last Holy Thursday. Today I take up this reflection referring to the Gospel of the Good Shepherd, when Jesus declared: “I give my life for the sheep” (cf. Jn 10: 15,17,18).
To become priests in the Church means to enter into this self-donation of Christ through the Sacrament of Orders and to enter with all of one’s being. Jesus gave his life for all, but in a special way he consecrated himself for those the Father had given to him, that they may be consecrated in truth, that is in him, and could speak and act in his name, represent him, continue his saving actions: breaking the Bread of life and remitting sins. Thus, the Good Shepherd offered his life for all the sheep, but he gave it and gave it in a special way for those that he himself, “with a feeling of favour”, called and calls to follow him on the path of pastoral service. Then, in a singular way, Jesus prayed for Simon Peter, and sacrificed himself for him, because he would say to him one day, on the banks of the Sea of Tiberias: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21: 16-17). In the same way, every priest is the recipient of Christ’s personal prayer, and only because of this he is able to collaborate with him in feeding the flock, which is completely and only the Lord’s.
Here I would like to touch upon a point that is particularly dear to me: the prayer and its ties with service. We have seen that to be ordained priests means to enter in a sacramental and existential way into Christ’s prayer for “his own”. From this we priests derive a particular vocation to pray in a strongly Christocentric sense: we are called, that is, to “remain” in Christ as the evangelist John likes to repeat (cf. Jn 1: 35-39; 15: 4-10) and this abiding in Christ is achieved especially through prayer. Our ministry is totally tied to this “abiding” which is equivalent to prayer, and draws from this its efficacy. In this perspective, we must think of the different forms of prayer of a priest, first of all daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive “nourishment”: the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation. All these expressions of prayer, which have their centre in the Eucharist, fulfil the words of Jesus in the priest’s day and in all his life: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10: 14-15). In fact, this “knowing” and “being known” in Christ and, through him, in the Most Holy Trinity, is none other than the most true and deep reality of prayer. The priest who prays a lot, and who prays well, is progressively drawn out of himself and evermore united to Jesus the Good Shepherd and the Servant of the Brethren. In conforming to him, even the priest “gives his life” for the sheep entrusted to him. No one takes it from him: he offers it himself, in unity with Christ the Lord, who has the power to give his life and the power to take it back not only for himself, but also for his friends, bound to him in the Sacrament of Orders. Thus the life of Christ, Lamb and Shepherd, is communicated to the whole flock, through the consecrated ministers.
Dear Deacons, may the Holy Spirit impress this divine word which I have briefly commented upon in your hearts, so that it may bear abundant and lasting fruit. We ask this through the intercession of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and St John Mary Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, to whose protection I have dedicated the next Presbyteral Year. And through the Mother of the Good Shepherd, Mary Most Holy. In every circumstance of your life, look to her, the star of your priesthood. As she said to the servants at the wedding in Cana, Mary repeats to you too: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2: 5). At the school of the Virgin, always be men of prayer and service, to become, in the faithful practice of your ministry, holy priests after God’s heart.
© Copyright 2009 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER B OR GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY B
29 April 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Eucharistic celebration during which I ordained nine new priests of the Diocese of Rome has just ended. Let us thank God for this gift, a sign of his faithful and provident love for the Church! Let us gather round these new priests in spirit and pray that they may fully receive the grace of the Sacrament which has conformed them to Jesus Christ, Priest and Shepherd. And let us pray that all young people may listen to the voice of God who speaks in the depths of their hearts and calls them to leave everything to serve him.
This is the purpose of today’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In fact, the Lord is always calling but all too often we do not listen. We are distracted by many things, by other, more superficial voices; and then we are afraid to listen to the Lord’s voice because we think he might take away our freedom.
In fact, each one of us is the fruit of love: of our parents’ love of course, but more profoundly, of God’s love. The Bible says: even if your own mother does not want you, I want you because I know and love you (cf. Is 49:15). The moment I realize this my life changes. It becomes a response to this love, greater than any other, and in this way my freedom is completely fulfilled.
The young men whom I ordained priests today are no different from other young men, except that they were deeply moved by the beauty of God’s love and could not but respond with their whole life. How did they find God’s love? They found it in Jesus Christ: in his Gospel, in the Eucharist and in the community of the Church. In the Church we discover that every person’s life is a love story. Sacred Scripture clearly shows us this and the witness borne by the saints confirms it to us.
St Augustine’s words are an example of this. Addressing God, he says in his Confessions: “Too late I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you! And behold, you were within and I abroad…. You were with me, but I was not with you… But you called and shouted and burst through my deafness” (X.27.38).
Dear friends, let us pray for the Church, for every local community, that it may be like a watered garden in which all the seeds of vocation that God scatters in abundance sprout and ripen. Let us pray that this garden may be cultivated everywhere, with the joy of feeling that we are all called, in the variety of our gifts.
May families in particular be the first environment in which we “breathe” the love of God that provides us with inner strength in the midst of the difficulties and trials of life. Those who experience God’s love in the family receive a priceless gift which, with time, bears fruit. May the Blessed Virgin Mary — a model of free and obedient acceptance of the divine call and Mother of every vocation in the Church — obtain all this for us.
See as well:
4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR B (Good Shepherd sunday B)
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