Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter

2023 FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – Missa Usus Recentior

29/30 April


Knowing the Good Shepherd and being “good sheep”

This Sunday, in the reformed liturgy since the last Council, is called “Good Shepherd Sunday”; it existed in the older liturgy as the Second Sunday after Easter – just last week, we kept it in the Older Missal. (The Gospel and Epistle are identical.)

In some way, we might wonder why it is that the Easter Story is being cut short: we’ve been hearing about the events in the life of Our Lord since the Resurrection, how He met Saint Mary Magdalene, the Apostles on the shore, Saint Thomas who was doubting. Last week, we heard about the revelation to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. And then today, we’re catapulted to the public ministry of Our Lord, where He teaches the people that He is the Good Shepherd.

You may recall, last week, that the disciples on the Road to Emmaus were struck not only by Jesus’ presence in the breaking of the bread, but their hearts burned within them as they reminisced, with the Hidden Jesus, on all the events that foretold His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Though they didn’t immediately understand what had happened in the life of Our Lord, even though He had prophesied it often, they now understood when Jesus helped them remember. The Church, then, like those disciples, reminisces today to Jesus’ sermon about the shepherd – the Good Shepherd, Who would lay down His life for the sheep.

What we want to do today is reminisce, to meditate, on three key attributes of the Good Shepherd, and then ask what our response – as good sheep – might be.



Sacrifice, Relationship, Service

First of all,

  1. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep

“This Jesus,” says Saint Peter in the First Reading, “Whom you crucified , is both Lord and Christ”. That is: this Lord, Who laid down His life for the sheep, has risen from the dead. He was clearly the Messiah, the Son of God. Many times in His earthly life, Our Lord would “lay down His life” in analogous ways – His life was one of sacrifice. But now, when our salvation was to be accomplished, He laid down His life in the ultimate way – to death.

In the Good Shepherd Sermon, Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, tells His listeners that He would literally die. This wasn’t a metaphorically “laying down”, but a certain and definitive one. He who had the power to lay down His life, and to take it up again, dies for our salvation. He is the Good Shepherd because He is God; who else could claim to be able to take their lives back, once laid down?

But what is it about this laying down that is significant? His death is, as the Scriptures tell us, a propitiation: it would make things right with the Father, satisfying the Divine Justice. Because sin means that someone must die (this is the effect of it) Christ lovingly and obediently dies for us so that we don’t have to face eternal death, a type of annihilation. And Jesus, Who has died for us, is risen again.

Like the shepherds of old, who would fight off the wolves, or put himself in harm’s way for the life of the sheep, so Jesus – the Good Shepherd – has contended with death for us. And He has conquered it. He has shown us that He is the Good Shepherd because He doesn’t ease out of suffering; He has passed through the only gate of salvation – the Cross.

It isn’t simply that He died for us: He died willingly and lovingly, of His Own accord. This makes His death a true sacrifice to the Father, which is effective in reconciling the world to God.


  1. His voice is recognisable, and His sheep know Him

Identification with the Good Shepherd, Who has died for us, is essential. He’s not a distant shepherd-saviour, Who does whatever He can to solve a problem. Jesus is not a pragmatist or politician. He is a close Redeemer.

He is the Incarnate God, Who becomes one of us, sharing in what it means to be a human. He is tempted like us, in every way that we are. And yet, so united with the Father – a consequence of His Divinity – He does not sin. He is attuned to His Divine Nature, and invites us to become attuned to it too.

How close does the Lord want us to be with Him? He suggests that the closeness that He has with the Father, with Whom He is consubstantial, and coeternal, is the measure of closeness He wants to have with us, with whom He has united Himself by taking human flesh. The Good Shepherd wants us to know Him intensely, to spend time with Him, to speak with Him, to follow Him.

How does He bring this about? He reveals His Own Heart to us. This recognition is not a superficial act of just knowing names and addresses, or special dates in our lives. But, as Pope Benedict tells us, we are called to recognise the heart of the Saviour and teach others to do the same. It is a revelation of the whole Person of God in Jesus, and not a grappling with parts. We are called to be close to His Suffering Heart, which has suffered for us and with us.

And what will this close association, this configuration, demand?

  1. He brings the sheep to safety, even those not of this Fold

He wants us to join in His mission to save souls.

Why should this be the case? The heart of the Good Shepherd is constantly seeking to bring all men to the knowledge of the truth. He intends to be a universal saviour, of all people, regardless of their current faith expression or creed. He wills that every human person be united with Him, just as we are, by the sacrament of baptism, confessing one Lord, one faith and one hope, which is Christ.

All souls are drawn to Him, the One Who is the One Door of the sheepfold. This can’t only mean the souls in this fold; they are important. You’re important.

But Our Lord wants us to bring even those who don’t know His voice yet, or who aren’t of His Fold, to a close, intimate communion with Him. This isn’t just superficially fulfilled in simply coming to Mass, or letting those who aren’t Catholics receive Holy Communion. This would be a sad “giving up”, allowing those who aren’t in spiritual communion with Christ, His truth or His Church, to receive the external, and powerful, witness of our Communion with God. No; it means calling those we know and love, and those who we are yet to encounter, to make a deep, personal and ecclesial commitment to the Lord, Who commanded His Apostles to go out, to teach, to baptise and to offer the Sacrament of His Body and Blood in His memory. He wants to draw all men to His Body, the Church; once drawn into His life mystically, He will share His Body with us in Holy Communion.

The Good Shepherd is good not only because He has died for us, and risen again, or because He urges us to hear His Voice. He is good because He does not leave us in the false comfort of our own belief-systems and ideologies, but calls us to surrender to Him, to His Mystical Body, and become alive, active members of His One True Church. He is the Good Shepherd because He is the One True God, Who has told us how to worship Him.



How can we respond adequately to the Good Shepherd, inspired by Him and given grace to live as He demands? How can we become good sheep?

  1. Sacrifice – an antidote to selfishness and a call to true worship

Like the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life lovingly and willingly, we should lay down our lives to Him all the time. This means giving up whatever is contrary to the honour of the Good Shepherd, like an immoral life. It also means undertaking little acts of self-renunciation every day for love of God. We don’t have to wait until Lent, or Advent, to give something up. We offer something little to God every day for love of Him. No meat on Fridays, certainly. But what about giving up a Netflix opportunity for prayer? Or passing up the chance of a glass of wine with dinner to unite ourselves more closely to the plight of the poor? The Christian life must be one of self-renunciation, giving up ourselves, and taking up the Cross in pursuit of the Good Shepherd.

It is right to say that our participation in the Saving Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the “source and summit” of our life, is our primary means of being identified with the Suffering Saviour. We must desire to be conscious and deliberate when entering into the Holy of Holies with Our Lord, Who offers Himself to the Father in every Offering of the Mass. We might even take up that laudable practice of saying the “Morning Offering” each day, deliberately uniting what God has done for us, and will do in the day, with the Saving Sacrifice offered everywhere in the world, for the conversion of sinners, the saving of the departed, and for the growth of the Church.

Lastly, we may want – with Saint Peter – to see the example that Jesus offered us in bearing His sufferings, and follow the example which He has set for us. We don’t want to seek out unnecessary sufferings; they do well enough to find us! And, when they do come, we see them as spiritual moments to be united with the Lord Who has suffered silently with us. “I have a headache, Jesus, but I accept it, wondering if You’re asking me, through it, to share in Your pain from the Crown of Thorns.” “My family are trying my patience, Jesus, but You suffered with such patience when those who knew You betrayed, denied or doubted You. Give me the grace to suffer with You for souls.”

In this way, our own sufferings unite us closely with the Good Shepherd, Who invites us to lay down our lives to Him and with Him.

  1. Relationship – an antidote to reckless independence

The Lord wills each of His sheep to avoid mere casual encounters with God, but rather to seek out a deep and enduring commitment to Him, even when things feel difficult.

Good relationships recognise the value of honesty and apology; sacramental confession is a prerequisite for the good Christian in honour of the Good Shepherd. To avoid sacramental confession avoids the total relationship to which the shepherd calls us. We may know that He has a voice, but we will honestly struggle to hear us, muffled by our pride and selfishness. Going to confession, being sure to be truthful with Truth Himself, will make us more able to hear His voice, and give us the courage to do whatever He demands.

The Lord knows we’re not perfect; this is why He has created a way for us to return through the Door to the Fold. How could we ignore this invitation from the Good Shepherd Himself?

  1. Service

The good sheep, in honour of the Good Shepherd, will want to honour others in His Name. We should always have a special apostolate to the poor and marginalised, to which Pope Francis has exhorted us on some occasions. But even closer to home, in this church community, we are called to service, too: the sacristy and the choir need our commitment and dedication. And to young men, we want to offer this invitation: discern the Sacred Priesthood, in which the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls will invite you to share in His identity and ministry. You may discern this call best at the altar, serving Holy Mass with love and devotion.

In some ways, too, we should not forget about those in other folds, which are not the One True Fold of the Redeemer, to use Newman’s description of the Roman Church. We have a duty of witness to the unchurched and those who are lukewarm in the faith – our participation in this “new evangelisation”, in the words of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI will help us draw even the tepid to a lively love of God. This evangelisation is a brought about in the first place by a deliberate imitation of Christ, which draws men to the Shepherd.

We should never forget the magnetic effect of our acts of love, which draw the world to Christ, Who was lifted up for us. Our acts of love, that draw others to God, include many goods apart from serving the poor and needy. It could include our attitude to the solemn liturgy, our good stewardship with what we own, the dignified treatment of life at every stage of development, and the diligence and devotion with which we say our prayers. All of these present moments of “reaching out”, which are fruitful when united to Our Lord, and are begun as an act of love for Him.



Does this call to sacrifice, relationship and service not correspond, although imperfectly, to the parish’s engagement programme – grow, serve, give? We might say that if we want to experience the guardianship of the Good Shepherd, that shepherd and pastor of our souls, that we could participate in some way in the life of our church, of which we can read in the recent Quarterly Newsletter.


So, this Good Shepherd Sunday, which coincides with the eve of May, we could turn to Our Lady for her powerful prayers. She is the model of the good sheep, the first and best Christian, unique in her vocation to be the Mother of God. Her very existence was lived as a sacrifice pleasing to God, a fragrant offering to the Father, with Whom she was so closely united in her Immaculate Conception and her fiat that the Son was incarnate in her virginal womb. And, as then, even now, she serves the Church Militant by her prayerful love, reminding the Good Shepherd of the love He bears to us, the sheep. Let’s trust in her prayers for us, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.