Here is a little homily, with some remarks of purely local interest…
Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (John 10:7-9)
“The Lord is my shepherd.”
Maybe these are the most famous words in the Bible. With these words, we, the Church, respond to Christ, Who declared Himself to be the divine Shepherd of souls.
Christ gave His Good Shepherd discourse in the Temple precincts of Jerusalem.
In other words, Jesus spoke about being the sheep’s gate very near the Sheep’s Gate in the Jerusalem city wall, where they led the animals for sacrifice into the Temple area.
The sheep that entered through this gate had walked through a dark valley–the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and Mt. Olivet. For these lambs, the Kidron Valley was a valley of death in more ways than one.
The valley was full of graves. Also, these sheep went in through the Sheep’s Gate in the city wall, but they never went out. Rather, the smoke of their burning flesh ascended to heaven along with the prayers begging for God’s mercy.
The people listening to Christ speak would have had in their nostrils the smell of these burning lambs.
Christ, however, declared: “I am the sheep’s gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in AND go out and find pasture.”
When we sing the 23rd Psalm to our divine Shepherd, we echo the plight of the Temple lambs, but we also trust in the Lord’s promise: “Though I walk through the dark valley, I fear no evil.”
The darkness of death awaits us all, but we believe the Good Shepherd Who told us that He will lead us into the enclosure, but then also back out again into the verdant pasture, where He gives us repose and refreshes our souls with restful waters.
What else do we sing to the divine Shepherd in the 23rd Psalm?
“He guides us in right paths.”
The divine Shepherd has guided me to you. We priests have this wonderful life: We entrust our prospects to the bishop in order to consecrate ourselves to Christ. Then, when the bishop says, “To you, Father, I assign such-and-such a parish,” we know that it is Christ our Shepherd speaking to us. Even when the bishop says, “Father, I assign you such-and-such a parish and also such-and-such another parish,” –we know that is the Good Shepherd speaking then, too.
“He guides us along right paths.” The Good Shepherd will put us all together this summer: St. Joseph, Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, my unworthy self. Two churches, two altars, four Masses every weekend; one priest; one faith, one Lord, one God and Father of all.
He leads us in; the divine Shepherd leads us in. Is He leading us into the slaughterhouse, like the poor lambs for sacrifice? Maybe it looks a little bit like He is. It is no easy thing to go from having your own priest to sharing a priest with a whole group of people you don’t even know.
But what do we say to the divine Shepherd? Yes, we sing about walking in the dark valley, but then we say: “You spread a table before me.” He spreads a table before us.
I can’t be in two places at the same time. I might not even be all that great a guy. But we can all count on this: I am a validly ordained Catholic priest. When I say, “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood,” it is the divine Shepherd Who comes in the flesh to the altar.
The Lord is our Shepherd. We have a great adventure ahead of us as a new ‘cluster.’ The prospects might be scary. But we fear no evil, because the divine Shepherd leads us on. He has promised us not only that we will have life, but that we will have more abundant life.