Sunday Word

Priests must serve as good shepherds

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, April 22
Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 29; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18

We celebrate this weekend the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which is Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Our readings remind us of various aspects of the life and ministry of priests.

Priests today are called to bear witness to the same truth about which St. Peter preached in the Acts of the Apostles. The message of our preaching should be no different, and the message of our lives should be no different: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

Priests need to know themselves to be beloved sons of God, in the Son, Jesus Christ. With that awesome self-knowledge, priests can then share with the people they are called to serve what their truest identity is: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” That beautiful statement from St. John’s First Letter describes who we are and what our destiny is. After preaching about who Jesus is and what he has done, the priest’s next task is to help all people, young and old, men and women, those in the Church and those still outside, know what Jesus wants to make of us all, what he has already done for those reborn in baptism, what it means to be a son or a daughter of God, in Christ.

Jesus, when he describes himself as the Good Shepherd, says: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The priest must be willing to “lay down his life” for the people he is called to serve. This may mean, in many places around the world, the very real likelihood of martyrdom. This certainly means, everywhere in the world, being ready to spend one’s life completely, to give oneself without reserve, for the sake of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

In addition to the message about self-giving, sacrificial love, which permeates the Gospel passage today, Jesus also says: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Before serving the people of God, priests need to have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd. Meditating on the Scriptures, learning the tradition of the Church, falling in love more and more with Jesus Christ, priests who know Jesus can make him known. In addition, when they preach, priests need to speak with the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that when they speak, the faithful really are listening to Christ. How much do we need priests who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can preach clearly and lovingly with clarity and love in his name.

Jesus also speaks of unity: “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.” Priests must be men of communion, seeking the unity of the Church universal, while they work for unity in their parishes and in their dioceses. Priests need to be full of confidence that belongs to Christ, who has laid down his life for them. Even when they fall, they know they can receive the gift of mercy. Knowing that they are cared for by Jesus, may priests serve as shepherds like the Good Shepherd, with a heart like his, protecting his flock and looking for the wayward, always offering more mercy than judgment. How much we need priests who are imitators of the Good Shepherd, offering his merciful love to his holy people.

In these reflections I have focused on the priesthood, without forgetting that all Christians are called to preach the about Jesus Christ, to know themselves to be beloved sons and daughters of the Father and invite others to recognize this privileged identity, to give their lives for Christ and for their brothers and sisters, to fall in love with Jesus Christ and speak in his name, to be instruments of unity and mercy. This mission, which is all of ours by baptism and confirmation, is proper to the priest in a special way. I urge you to pray for your priests and especially for those are to be ordained in these coming days as priests, so they can love the Father and the Church, with the love of Jesus. Pray also for vocations, that young people who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, calling them to serve him as priests, respond with a joyful and fervent yes. n

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

The Resurrection is real

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, April 15
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Ps 4:2, 4, 7-9; 1 Jn 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48

The risen Lord asks his disciples if they have anything to eat. That seems at first glance like an odd question. Why would Jesus need food, if he is now in his glorified body?

We see the point of his request for food in his earlier comment in today’s account from Luke’s Gospel, as he showed his hands and feet to his disciples: “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see that I have.” A ghost does not have flesh and bones and a ghost does not eat baked fish!

In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter preaches about Jesus. He tells his listeners that they had Jesus put to death, but then he adds: “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses. … Repent, therefore and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

Faith changes the way the disciples look at the death of Jesus. While in the Gospel account of the road to Emmaus (just before the passage we read today), the two disciples were downcast, they already knew the details that Peter preaches about in the address we read about in Chapter 3 of Acts, and they knew more: that Jesus had preached and worked miracles, that he was believed to be the Messiah, that he was tried by the Sanhedrin and condemned by Pilate, that he was killed, and that the tomb was empty. The encounter with Jesus, the encounter with him who ate with them and showed them his hands and feet, the encounter they would continue to have with him in the breaking of bread — that encounter transformed Peter and transformed the other disciples. They came to believe in the reality of the Resurrection, and thus were able to be witnesses to the risen Christ. It is because we encounter him in the Eucharist that we too can be witnesses of the Resurrection.

The Resurrection is real. We are destined to share in that resurrection. We don’t like talking about the fact that we all must die. For Christians, though, we should never be afraid to discuss death, because we believe in the Resurrection. It is our hope that our souls will be with God in heaven, as soon as the process of purification we call purgatory is completed. Even then, though, we will be awaiting the completion of the process — when at the final judgment our own resurrected bodies are joined to our souls in the new creation.

Our faith in the Resurrection leads us to live new lives, the lives we began at baptism. St. John, in his First Letter, invites us to live a new life. If we know Jesus, then our way of living must be transformed: “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.”

As we proclaim our faith in the risen Lord, we are called to live a new life in Christ, a life of love and self-giving sacrifice. This life is not easy, but we imitate Christ, without fear, precisely because we believe in his resurrection, the new life we expect to live with him forever.

The basic truths of our faith get lost very often in our thoughts about the end of our lives and the end of time. They are sometimes put aside, because they seem unimportant. For Jesus, his resurrection was nothing, if it was not the most important thing. He is not a ghost. He is truly risen. He wants us to share in that life of the Resurrection. Even now we share that life by grace, especially when we take part in the holy Eucharist and when we live our lives in love. In the new creation, we will share fully in his risen life.

Easter transforms us

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, April 1 Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Col 3:1-4 or 1 Cor 5:6b-8; Jn 20:1-9

The disciples must have felt incredible sadness on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The disappointment that the One they had expected would save them had died, in addition to the guilt that they had done nothing to help him, must have been a very strong blow. There likely were recriminations among them about who was to blame. In addition, they must have been very much afraid of what would happen to them. Then, early in the morning of the third day, women hear the wonderful announcement when they reach the empty tomb: “He has been raised; he is not here.”

It is not easy to prepare a message for Easter when the sorrow of Good Friday pain is present around us in such acute forms. Just south of our diocesan boundaries, the Parkland community still suffers the after-effects of the terrible Ash Wednesday massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School. The political reality in our country and so many places around the world is worrying. Many children do not have enough to eat, and so many more never live to see the light of day. In addition to the issues that surround us, each of us and each of our families participate in the mystery of Good Friday in very specific ways.

The answer to all of this is not to explain reality, but transforms it: “He has been raised!” We continue preaching the Gospel because, despite all the evidence of corruption and sorrow in the world, Jesus has truly risen from the dead. The good news surpasses all the bad news in the world.

For this reason, St. Peter, aware that he was risking his life, as would so many martyrs over two millennia, fulfilled the commission which Jesus entrusted to him and to the apostles: “Testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” Easter truly changes the world, and we are called to be witnesses of that transformation, and indeed, to allow Easter to transform us.

And Easter truly does transforms us. St. Peter continues: “To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” The risen Lord has won for us the forgiveness of sins, but the Easter message can only impact us if we are able to go against the tide and recognize the reality of sin — not just the other person’s sin, but my own —and recognize that we need the healing love of Jesus. If we accept this gift, we will be able, as St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, to realize that “our life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Easter doesn’t just promise us that we will live forever, after death, although obviously this certainty is of immense importance. Easter has to do first with the new life we are beginning to live here and now, a “life hidden with Christ in God,” a life we are called to start living today.

We proclaim the resurrection of Christ in the midst of a world that denies Good Friday, but cannot escape it. We proclaim the resurrection of Christ, while we are still marked by sin, even perhaps feeling trapped by sin. This good news fills us with the confident hope that we can indeed be freed from the power of sin. We proclaim the resurrection of Christ, knowing that Easter is the day that transforms the world and transforms us.

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” He is risen! Alleluia!

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops