Shepherds and Saints
Homily for April 22, 2018 (4th Sunday of Easter; Good Shepherd Sunday)
Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
You have probably never heard of Dr. Liviu Librescu. But that doesn’t matter. What he did 11 years ago will be remembered by his students at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. On April 16, 2007 a mentally ill student went on a shooting rampage. He killed 32 people and wounded many others.
When Professor Librescu, a Romanian immigrant and Holocaust survivor, heard the gunman approaching his classroom, he stood in front of the door and held it shut. He stopped the gunman from entering the classroom while his students escaped through the windows. In the process, he was shot five times, including once in the head. He was 76 years old.
Professor Librescu is rightly remembered as a hero. He was also a brilliant engineer, mathematician and scholar as well as a dedicated husband and father. Today I ask you to also remember him as a good shepherd.
Our reading from the tenth chapter of St. John’s gospel is the conclusion of what scripture scholars call the Good Shepherd Discourse. In it, Jesus describes himself as the gate and the shepherd of the sheep. In today’s passage he first tells his disciples, “I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
When we hear of someone laying down their lives for others, we often think immediately of someone like Jesus or Professor Librescu who dies to save others. In the same way, when we hear the word “holiness” we automatically think of the saints. However, in his recent apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsultate (“Rejoice and be glad”), Pope Francis reminds us that the call to holiness is for all of us. Similarly, all of us at some time in our lives will be called to be good shepherds. We follow the example of Jesus.
Long before Jesus freely laid down his life on a cross for us and for the world, he laid down his life in other ways: he preached tirelessly and taught courageously; he battled demons; he healed people who were physically and spiritually sick; he risked his reputation in reaching out to people who were on the margins of society. He created a flock who knew his voice.
Have you ever considered that you are also a shepherd? Parents and spouses, big brothers and sisters, coaches and crossing guards, teachers and police officers, supervisors and team leaders, priests and bishops, catechists and ushers—anyone who cares for another person can be like a shepherd to them. Former First Lady Barbara Bush, whose children jokingly called her “the Enforcer,” was not only their mother but also their shepherd.
As St. Peter testified in Jerusalem, it is in the saving name of Jesus that we live and serve. As St. John testified many years later, it is also in Jesus that we are called children of God. Few of will ever be asked to lay down our lives as heroes, but all of us can lay down our lives as shepherds and saints. +