Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

This icon is an excellent depiction of the depth of the love of the Good Shepherd who tells us, "I am the gate for the sheepfold." As the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep at the entrance to the sheepfold, so does Christ, the Good Shepherd, lay down his life on the Cross, shown here in the extremities of the wooden beams and the marks of the nails in his hands. The Good Shepherd is the refuge for the sheep, their Savior, and at the same time he is the Lamb of God, the Paschal Victim who was sacrificed for us. (Click on the image for a larger version of this beautiful icon!)

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 13, 2008

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 2:20b-25
John 10:1-10

When I look back on my childhood,
I see that I often took my parents’ love for granted.
I figured they were supposed to love me. And they did!
And even when they did things I wish they hadn’t done,
or failed to do things I wish they had done,
I still believed they loved me.

What I don’t think I realized at all was how much they loved me.

- I can see now that they gladly went without
so that their children could have what they needed.
- I can see now how much they spent their lives for their children.
- I can see now that my mother and father would have put themselves
between me and harm’s way - without a thought for their own welfare.

One of the reasons I see such love in my own past
is that I see it in the lives of families in our parish
and I recognize it as the kind of love I was given as a child.

Sadly, some children aren’t loved in this way.
And some times I see that, too.
And I pray that others in their lives will love them as unconditionally
as good parents love their sons and daughters.

This no-strings-attached, self-sacrificing love parents give
is just the kind of love Jesus has for each of us.

In his total surrender, Jesus put himself between us and harm’s way
when he laid down his life for us on the Cross.
And that’s what he’s trying to tell us in this gospel passage.

But you need to know a little about sheepfolds to get the message.
A sheepfold in Jesus’ time was a large enclosure
some times made of a roughly circular stone wall,
some times of thorn bushes, planted to hedge in a pen
where the sheep stayed at night.

But rather than a gate,
there would be a simple opening in the wall or hedge
through which the sheep would be herded to safety.
And once the sheep were in the sheepfold for the night,
the shepherd would lie down on the ground,
stretching across the opening so that the sheep could not stray out,
nor could wolves gain entrance under the cover of darkness.

That’s why Jesus says in the scripture here:
“I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture…”

The shepherd who becomes the sheepfold’s gate
provides a safe haven for the sheep – and – protects them from harm.

Jesus, the shepherd, loves us as a mother and father love their child.
But Jesus is not only willing to lay down his life for his beloved:
he has, indeed, done that.

Perhaps another reason I missed the depths of my parents love
was that they provided so well for me, protected me so safely,
that I never knew that harm might come to me.

I failed to see how much I was loved
because I didn’t see ho much I needed to be loved, to be protected.

Sometimes I’m like that with the Lord’s love, too.
I might not believe that evil, like a thief, waits to rob me, even now,
of what innocence I have left,
what honesty and purity are still mine,
what faithfulness and sincerity yet shape the person I am.

I need the Lord’s protective love
whether I recognize the dangers around me or not.
The less aware I am of my need for God’s love
the more vulnerable I am what might harm me.

A few days ago I posted a picture on my blog on the Internet,
a photo of four little sheep, and I captioned it,
“Ya gotta love ‘em, right?”

Image by EssJay in NZ (Click on image for a wonderful larger version!)

Some folks have commented online or told me that they wish
they were as pure and innocent as those little lambs.

Well, most of us aren’t!

But that doesn’t stop God from looking at us and saying,
“Ya gotta love ‘em, right?”

Just the way loving parents looks at their children,
whatever the circumstances, and say,
“Ya gotta love ‘em, right?”

Like a loving parent;
like a shepherd at a sheepfold’s gate;
like the Savior on the Cross:
Jesus loves us – but not because we’re adorable.
He loves us for who we are, his own - even in our sins.

Our sanctuary here is like a sheepfold
but the shepherd is not at the gate,
the shepherd is in the center:
his image on the Cross;
and his voice, the one we recognize, in the scriptures.
And here at the altar, once again, he lays down his life for us,
now in the sacrifice of this table
where we find our pasture and are nourished
by the life our Good Shepherd.



  1. I confess: I did not pre read the readings for this Sunday's mass and so was somewhat confused when I heard Jesus call himself "the gate". What a wonderful surprise when I opened your blog yesterday and realized the full meaning of what the Good Shepherd does and how He is the gate. Thank you.
    For more reflections on sheep and shepherding here is an article from an auther of a blog you have referenced in the past; http://www.cst-phl.com/catholicspirituality.html

  2. As someone who grew up with no "safety" of one parent, as I grow older I realize and understand that my mother, in many difficult situations, instilled in me the love of God. And while not perfect, I always knew my mother loved me. I am blessed because, even as a young girl, I knew Jesus loved me. I knew He was a "safety net". I didn't always heed what I'm sure He was trying to say. The deep belief, the deep trust and the great comfort of knowing his guiding hand throughout my life. Not even aware that I had such beliefs and understandings.And after all my years, I still believe that He is with me, comforting me, and loving me...unconditionally.
    Beautiful Homily.

  3. Regina made some great comments I have always relied on God's love and have know his and parental unconditional love. The homily was great. Sometimes even beter when reading it a couple of times.

  4. Fabulous homily! I am blessed to have had two wonderful parents who loved me very much. They loved each other very much and that just flowed out to all they touched. I once told my mother when I was grown that if they could bottle the magic they had, they would make a fortune. Rare and very special. Lucky me!

  5. Loved this homily when I heard it...loved re-reading it again in the quiet of a late night when sleep was elusive...loved the image that sprang to mind at Mass of the sheepfold, thanks to your images posted before Sunday...all in all, just love this blog and the opportunities it holds for all who visit..

  6. Thanks, ned!

    How I wish I could blow up the photos on the blog or show them on huge screens in church! The visuals add so much to our appreciation and understanding of the scriptures.


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