Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The corresponding gospel passage from JOHN is given at the end. It is also a day when we pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Here is my homily for the day.
Recently I made a pastoral visit to a family who were not just practicing Catholics but also involved in the life of the parish. I sat down in the kitchen and was treated to a big mug of tea (More Tea!) and a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich.
As we were catching up, I said something about something in the middle of the conversation. Suddenly I felt I had set off an explosion of anger and frustration in my host. The woman in question felt very strongly that there should be women priests and secondly that the Church should ‘move with the times’ and accept cohabitation and gay relationships. After all that is where many young people are at the moment and the younger generation is the future of the Church.
As all of this was pouring out, I didn’t know if I should abandon my mug of tea and sandwich and run for dear life or whether I should perhaps stand my ground and wait for the storm to pass. I did get the clear impression that the anger and frustration was with the Church rather than with me personally so I decided to wait it out.
I made the right call(!) and after things calmed down again I was able to offer a few words of explanation for the Church’s practice.
The debate on women priests is presented in the secular world as an ‘equality’ issue, which seems reasonable enough. After all, women today can be presidents, prime ministers, run multinational companies, etc. So why not be priests? Yet for us as Catholic Christians, if there is a higher good than the secular notion of ‘equality’, it is fidelity to God’s will.
Before Jesus picked the 12 Apostles, he spent the night in prayer to his Father. This was to ensure that he was fully in tune with his will – this wasn’t going to be some casual, snap decision. The following day he gathered all his disciples and picked 12 men to be his co-workers during his public ministry and then to continue his mission after his departure.
If he had picked 12 women, then only women could be priests. If he had picked a mix of men and women, then both could be priests – but he didn’t!
St John Paul II said on the issue that the Church had no authority to ordain women because Jesus had only chosen men. This was affirmed recently by Pope Francis. We can discuss another day WHY Jesus only picked men but the fact that he picked only men cannot be disputed.
The matter of who can or cannot be priests has NOTHING to do with being a first class Christian. The greatest Christian ever was a woman, Mary. It was her YES that brought the Messiah and Saviour into our world 2000 years ago. If she hadn’t given the YES, the ‘gates of heaven’ would still be shut and eternal life would be inaccessible for us. Jesus lived within his mother for 9 months and took his humanity from her. Nobody ever loved Jesus more, knew him better or followed him more perfectly that Our Lady.
The second matter raised by my host is also about obedience to God’s will. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments back in approx 1250BC, they were symbolically written in stone. This meant that they were fixed for all time. If in modern terms they were written on a blackboard with chalk or on paper with pencil, then they could be edited as values changed – but they weren’t. The Sixth Commandment – Thou shalt not commit adultery – limits the gift of sexuality to a valid marriage between a man and woman and which is open to procreation.
If we make up our own version of the Ten Commandments and move God’s goalposts according to our own choosing, then we are no longer Christians, following Jesus. We have made up our own religion.
What I’ve said so far points directly to today’s gospel and the choice given by Jesus about how we are to live. Firstly we can follow him the Good Shepherd who died for us so that we may have life and have it to the full. The other option is to follow the thief and brigand who came to steal, kill and destroy. The contrast between these life-giving and death-dealing options could not be greater! And the choice is ours.
In choosing Jesus, we have to be careful that we are always tuned into his voice rather than those of the thieves and brigands. Will our fundamental beliefs and values be determined by the teaching of the Bible and the Church or will they be formed by the politicians, the talk-show hosts, the editors of the secular press & glossy magazines and celebrity culture?
Everything that we are about as Christians is summed up in the gestures we make before the gospel is proclaimed at Mass: we make the sign of cross on our foreheads, lips and heart. By this we aspire to meditate on the Word of God, speak it and treasure it in our hearts. Being a Christian is thus about an enduring faithfulness to God’s Word and Will.
The Gospel John 10:1-10
Jesus said: ‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’
Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them. So Jesus spoke to them again:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out
and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come so that they may have life
and have it to the full.
The Gospel of the Lord.