Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A), 2020-05-03: Enter through the Only Gate and Learn to Know the Shepherd


Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter


Year A: Acts 2:14, 36-41; Ps 23; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10

St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The image of God as a shepherd is deeply rooted in the faith of Israel. In the Old Testament it represents a great hope; in itself and as contrast to various human shepherds, whom Jesus in the gospel labels as “thieves and brigands”. Thus, he echoes the Jewish prophets’ condemnation of political and religious leaders promoting personal interests above the common good, or worldly ideologies contradicting divine law. We know too well how this warning holds through the ages.

Both in our first reading from The Acts of the Apostles, and our second, from his first letter, St. Peter confirms how God in his incarnation in Jesus Christ fulfils his role as shepherd, as he, although sinless, takes on himself the ultimate punishment for sin, and goes through death to defeat it and open a path to God’s eternal love and life. We heard this was necessary because we have “gone astray like sheep”; thus, visualizing the human race, incited by original sin, our inclination to turn away from God, in a strange mix of pride and fear, running collectively towards the cliff. Unable to prevent the downfall. In need for salvation.

But God does not see us as “sheep” in this way only. In the ancient Middle East, an agricultural society, sheep represented a valuable asset. With the image of himself as shepherd, and sacrificing himself for us in Jesus Christ, God tells us how valuable we are to him. This, and no worldly ideologies or philosophies, is the true foundation of the understanding of human dignity: every human being is a loved sheep of God, whom God wants to shepherd to salvation, regardless of abilities; including the old and sick, including every unborn child.

Today’s gospel gave us the beginning of the speech where Jesus will claim to be the Good Shepherd, but starting with a different image: “I am the gate of the sheepfold”. An ancient sheepfold was a stone wall enclosure with a single entryway, used to protect flocks at night from thieves and predators. The gate provided access to the only safe haven from dangers. And so, we see a metaphor for the Church as God intended: the fold into which the Divine Shepherd gathers the faithful of all nations. With Christ as gate, i.e. as the Christian profession, faithful to Christ’s own words, says from the very beginning; the only way to salvation. For all.

Just like the sheepfold has its visible stone wall, the Church has her physical attributes. One is her seven sacraments, with baptism as the entrance ticket, all instituted by Christ himself, carrying his divine life, through matter into our matter to transform us for heaven, if we cooperate. Another visible attribute of the true Church is the Magisterium, the Teaching office of Peter and his successors, and the bishops in communion with him, as well as the priests and deacons ordained in the immutable faith from the apostles, as helpers.

The Magisterium is the gatekeeper Jesus talks about. Peter and the other apostles, i.e. the bishops in communion with the Pope and the clergy helping them out, have the function to mark the gate – i.e. to faithfully proclaim Christ and his will – and to open it – i.e. to show how he is found. All are welcome. However, not on their own terms, but on Christ’s terms, that the gate keepers are obliged to make known at all times. So that everyone is given the opportunity to affirm them. Fully free. In faith. If the gate keepers don’t do this, but rather use their positions to further own interests, even deeply twisted, sinful and criminal, or if they contradict the apostles’ teaching in the Sacred Tradition or proclaim individual doctrines, they certainly fall under Christ’s condemnation in today’s gospel.

The faithful gatekeepers also have a wider task: they share in Christ’s role as shepherd. This is explained further on in the Gospel of St. John where Jesus three times exhorts St. Peter: “Feed my sheep”. United to Christ in self-giving service, made manifest in a unique and irreplaceable way by priestly celibacy, the voice of the Magisterium of the Church in teaching the immutable and definite faith of the apostles, echoes the voice of Christ.

If we enter through the gate and participate in the Church’s sacramental life, we as sheep become parts of the Divine Shepherd’s herd and fold. Here, we are not protected from suffering, illness or physical death. No, but we “have life and have it to the full”, as our Lord put it in the gospel. I.e. we live even if we suffer and die; eternally, in Christ, with Christ, and will one day be bodily risen as Christ was. Our present, frightening times indeed remind us that we are mortal. But that isn’t the end, all it gets. No! If only we would put at least as much effort to prevent what threatens our souls, our eternal lives, as to prevent what threatens our lives here! We are meant for so much more, so much different, than this!

If we affirm that we belong to God’s fold, and embrace the truths about God, salvation and a living faith in deeds according to God’s commandments through his Church, i.e. the objective reality, each one of us stands before the personal task to cooperate for heaven, through ordering our individual lives, i.e. our subjective reality, with our free will, to align with, to express, divine truth and love. Therefore, we need to increasingly know the Shepherd and what he wants with, for and through each one of us; i.e. to better recognize his voice.

Some important ways to do this are: Personal prayer, especially silent presence before God, although short, and regular evening examination of where Christ has been present during my day. Also: following Jesus through daily gospel reading, although short, with a good Catholic commentary. Moreover: meditating on being with Christ at important points in his life, with the Rosary and in other forms. And: willingly accepting to carry the cross for truth in a world gone astray. Believe me, your knowledge of the Good Shepherd will be noted. Not for your own glory, or in the way you think. Often, not even in the way you understand. But in a way God chooses to further his glory in the world, and to move others to enter through the only gate to “life to the full”.

Perhaps will it be like for the parish somewhere in England, which invited a famous actor to come and recite some of their favourite writings. The actor recited all kinds of texts. When at the end of the evening he said he would recite just one more, they asked him to recite Psalm 23, our responsorial psalm today: “The Lord is my Shepherd”. “I will”, he said, “on one condition – that the lady over there recites it after me”. He recited it, and everyone applauded. Then she recited it, and everyone cried. “What was the difference?”, the parish priest asked him afterwards. “The difference”, the actor replied, “is that I know the psalm, but she knows the Shepherd”.



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