Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Good Shepherd: I got my baby sheep!

Fr. Michael Denk
Gospel JN 10:1118

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”

Last week we had our open house at the parish. Some of you may have been there or may have heard about it.

Fr. Martello is retiring, so the bishop will be giving us a new pastor. Whenever that is going to happen, the diocese sends someone out to hear the voices of the people. That’s what happened here last week. I wasn’t allowed in the room so that you could all speak freely, but I know there were a lot of different reactions.

I know there’s a lot of passion and that you’ve expressed a lot of love for Fr. Martello and for me. I know, too, there’s a little bit of fear. There’s a little bit of fear for me, too. “What’s going to happen when Fr.Martello leaves?” “ Am I going to be the pastor?” “Who is the bishop going to send us to be pastor?” Many people have said to me over the years -- and to other priests as well -- “We wish we could keep you here forever” and, believe me, I wish I could stay here forever. I love Amherst. Sometimes, though, as we heard Jesus say in today’s gospel reading, “I have other sheep to whom I must go,” and sometimes the shepherd does have to go to these other sheep.

We’ve all been experiencing a range of emotions. We go through this anytime we have to deal with
change. Fr. Martello, after four months of being in the nursing home, finally decided that the best thing for the parish would be for him to retire. He’s been having a tough time with that decision, too, so I thought I’d give him a homecoming gift. He wouldn’t let me have a dog, even though I’ve been wanting a dog forever, so I decided to get him this other gift. Her name is Peanut. Fr. Martello hasn’t seen her yet; you’re going to get to meet her first.

This is Peanut [a sheep]. Do you think Fr. Martello is going to like her? As I said, he wouldn’t let me have a dog, so I posted on Facebook that I wanted to get a sheep. Someone said, “You know, Father, normally people ask to borrow a cup of sugar, but you’re asking to borrow a sheep!”

I really wanted to get a sheep for my last Good Shepherd homily here. They’re a beautiful image for us. They’re a little bit timid and a little bit afraid. (By the way, I just met this sheep right before Mass.) The good thing is that shepherds have a way of getting to know their sheep. They do. This sheep, Peanut, for instance -- you can see we’re going to get along, right?

What I love about it, too, is that the sheep is often held around the shepherd’s neck. What is so cool
about it is that I can feel the warm breath of this sheep on my head. It’s really, really soft. It’s like a pillow on me right now. Another thing -- if I listen very closely, I can hear the sheep’s heart beating. It really is amazing how close a shepherd is to his sheep. I believe Jesus gave us this image of the Good Shepherd so we can realize how close He is to us.

Boys and girls, you’re going to be receiving holy communion for the first time. You’ll be receiving Jesus into you. He’s not only going to be close to you like this sheep is close to me, but He’s going to be in you.

You’re always going to have the Good Shepherd with you.

We sometimes have to go through difficult times. We’ve gone through changes of shepherds -- changes of pastors -- but the truth is, Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He knows us. He knows what we need. He’s so close to us, He can feel our breathe. He can hear our hearts beat. He can smell us. Pope Francis says a priest is supposed to smell like His sheep, and I’m doing that today. This sheep does smell a little bit.

That’s how close the Good Shepherd is to us, and He’s never going to abandon us. Priests may come and go in our lives, but the Good Shepherd will never abandon us. Trust in this image. Trust that God is this close to you. He feels your breath; He feels your softness. He can feel your heart beat. He knows your innermost thoughts. Above all, He delights and loves to hold you, to walk with you, and to be with you through any dark valley.

 So it’s great trust we put in our Good Shepherd.


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