Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19

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Bishop's Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

We are called to trust our Good Shepherd.

By Bishop Larry SIlva
May 03, 2020

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (private; live-streamed)]

Since I am a city-boy, I must admit I do not have much first hand experience with real sheep.  One that I will never forget, however, was something I witnessed in Mexico City when I was living in Mexico to study Spanish.  Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of 15 million or more.  It is filled with traffic, and I must say the drivers are a little crazy.  I think it might be more dangerous to drive without a horn than without brakes, and if there are lane markings on the road, they are a waste of paint.  One afternoon I was at one of the largest intersections in the city, where about five major boulevards come together.  You can imagine my shock when I saw a young shepherd with a flock of about a dozen sheep standing patiently on the corner waiting for a green light to cross the street.  Not one of the sheep seemed agitated, even though traffic was whizzing past them.  Not one of them strayed into the street.  They all remained together with the shepherd.  They knew him and heeded his voice.  What could have been a very life-threatening experience turned out, I presume, to be life-giving, because apparently the shepherd knew that once he had led the sheep through the dangers of the city traffic, there was good pasture for them on the other side.

When we think of the Lord as our Shepherd, perhaps we think of his leading us to green meadows beside refreshing waters, where birds are singing and no predators are nearby.  The beautiful Psalm 23 gives us these images.  But it also speaks of being led across the valley of death and darkness, but urges us to have no fear of these things for he is always with us.

As we journey through this surreal time of the coronavirus pandemic, there are many things that could give us very legitimate cause for fear.  We may fear catching this dread disease and fighting for our lives to recover from it.  We may fear a family member or a beloved friend being stricken by the virus.  We may very legitimately be afraid of losing a job or of not being able to support ourselves and our families.  We certainly fear being cut off from our beloved sacraments for a much longer time than we already have experienced.  There may be the dark cloud looming over us that after some recovery the virus could come back with a vengeance.  We may fear that we will simply not be able to tolerate our social distancing for much longer and will begin to have very strained relationships with the members of our household whom we love, but who are really getting on our nerves.

If we think of all these things, we might feel like those sheep standing on the street corner in Mexico City, seeing the dangers all around us, thinking we have to get across this street on our own, or simply venturing out on our own without staying with the rest of the flock.  Yet just as that young Mexican shepherd brought so much peace to those sheep which seemed more like fish out of water, so our Good Shepherd, Jesus, is here right now with us, risen from the dead, to keep us together so that no one can steal, and slaughter, and destroy, but so that [we] might have life and have it more abundantly.”

I would imagine that the young Mexican shepherd had already spent considerable time with those sheep, so that they knew and trusted him enough to know that he would only lead them into dangerous situations if he knew that they were simply temporary.  And so it is that we are called to come to know our Shepherd Jesus by prayer every day, by reading Scripture, by connecting as we can with the members of his Body, the Church, by reaching out to the needy and the lonely, and by continuing to yearn to be fed at the best of pastures, where the Lamb of God becomes the food for his beloved sheep.  We may not be there yet, and all we can see is the asphalt of a virtual Mass that does not provide the nourishment we need in the Eucharist.  But, like those sheep, we are called to trust that our Good Shepherd is leading us through these strange circumstances to a better place where we can soon feast upon his life-giving love.

The safety of those sheep in that hyper-urban environment depended upon the shepherd, and though he was young, he obviously knew how to lead sheep safely through many dangers.  As we celebrate this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we pray that many of our young people will be inspired by the example of that young Mexican shepherd, but most of all by the Good Shepherd of our souls, so that they can be the priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and other consecrated persons whose very lives witness to the strength and wisdom of the Good Shepherd.  The Lord still needs many such shepherds to guide his beloved flock through all the dangers of life to the verdant pastures where he can nourish us and give us repose.