April 21, 2024 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter [Year B]

Fr. Matt Siegman

This Sunday is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” because we read a portion of the Good Shepherd narrative in St. John’s Gospel on this Sunday every year. It isn’t only the Gospel that reflects the imagery of our Lord as the Good Shepherd, though. I’d like to draw your attention to a portion of the Mass that is easy to miss: the prayer called the “Collect.” This prayer, just after the Gloria and before the readings, changes every Sunday and helps set the tone for the Mass. This Sunday, it asks for the Father to “lead us to a share in the joys of heaven, so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.”

This prayer beautifully summarizes the readings of today’s Mass and reminds us of our great call as Christians: We are called to the joys of heaven. This is not something small or insignificant. To be called to heaven means we are called to the eternal peace, happiness, joy, and fulfillment of communion with God. This is possible because, as St. John writes, “we are God’s children now.” Through the gift of the sacrament of baptism, we enter a covenant relationship with God. Specifically, we become members of the new covenant. In this new covenant, God writes his law on our hearts, fills us with his spirit, and says of us that “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33; cf. Ezekiel 36:24-28) Covenant bonds are understood to be as close or even closer than family bonds within the scriptures, and marriage is understood to be a kind of covenant agreement. When we put all this together, it means that through Baptism, we enter a family bond with our creator and are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are adopted as God’s children.

At Vatican II, the council fathers reminded us that every baptized person is called to “the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Lumen Gentium no. 40), that is, we are all called to holiness. As we strive for holiness and seek relationship with God, our lives become transformed by his grace as he continually leads us closer to himself. This is why he sent his Holy Sprit into us, to help and to guide us as we strive to become holy!

While we know the goal of our life (Holiness and Heaven!), we do not know how our lives will unfold or what that journey will look like. Whether we are currently traveling through a dark valley of suffering and pain, rejected as he was, or whether we are on a spiritual mountaintop, Christ, the Good Shepherd, is always calling our names so that we might follow him. St. John writes that, “what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” Instead of letting this unsettle us, we should see it as an incredible opportunity. We don’t know how we will get to God, but we know that we will be like him when do get there. St. John continues, “we do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

We see this so wonderfully reflected in the saints. Every one of them has such a unique story. No matter where they began their life, they were by the end of their time on this earth transformed into something greater. Fr. Kapaun, for example, was a small-town farm boy who became a priest. But by allowing the grace of God to transform him, he became a beacon of hope not only for those who knew him, but for countless others even to this day. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was spoiled as a young girl, but when Thérèse embraced her little way of prayer and suffering, God quickly transformed her before she died (at the age of 24) into a saint and a Doctor of the Church.

During the Easter Season, the Church reminds that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who calls us to himself. He shows us the way to the Father by walking that way both before us, in his Passion and Resurrection, and beside us, as the Good Shepherd who does not abandon his flock. Let us humbly follow him so that he might lead us to the joys of heaven!