Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and I just “went” to Mass in my living room with my beloved family. This pandemic has given us the opportunity to change our ways of doing things — a hidden blessing is that we talk about the readings together. I teach the Bible, but I usually don’t force this upon my own family…(They often remind me that they get enough through everyday conversation, lol). Today I couldn’t help myself. For reference, click the link for the readings from Mass today, the 4th Sunday of Easter: USCCB.
St. Peter begins in the Acts of the Apostles: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:14, 36).
Granted, the readings for today skip over a wonderful review by Peter of Salvation History (skipping Acts 2:15-35), still, I asked the family the following question, knowing that they could answer it: “Who is Peter talking to?”
“The Jews,” my oldest daughter said.
YES! The Jews. The reading continues, saying that they were “cut to the heart” and they asked what they should do.
“Repent and be baptized!” Peter said.
Aha! Baptism! So I asked the question, “What is the big deal about Baptism, and what does it have to do with today’s readings?”
The answer is everything (not my family’s answer!), when we consider the Rite of Baptism in the Catholic Church. The rite begins with questions, and the second question is the most relevant to today’s readings.
“What is the name of the child you bring for Baptism?
Our given name is so important, especially when we are baptized. This is our adoption, through Jesus, into the Holy Family of God. We become tabernacles of the Holy Spirit, imbued with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. We are brought into the Blessed Trinity of Love. We are washed clean of Original Sin, given the light of Christ, and we “put on” the white garment of Christ. All this is done with our own name, and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In the psalm today we chant, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1). He leads us and guides us, for HIS name’s sake. He gives us everything we need. This psalm is good to remember and to pray, especially when we move to the second reading, where we hear from St. Peter again.
Peter begins, “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pt 2:20b-21).
This man whom God made Lord and Christ suffered for us (recall first reading). This man said to us, “Follow me.” (Many times in the Gospels). When we are baptized we put on His garment, we receive His light — for a glorious purpose — to share in His victory over sin and death. St. Peter concludes, “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (ibid, v. 25).
Why do we follow Him?
Because He is the Good Shepherd, but not only this. He is the gate. “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9), Jesus says in today’s Gospel.
How do we know to go through Him?
The answer is earlier in the Gospel reading: “But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn 10:2-3, my emphasis).
Do we see the importance of our name? Do we see why the Church asks for this name for Baptism? When He calls our name… when we hear His voice… we remember, and we follow!
Jesus is always calling our name, because we belong to Him through Baptism.
Recall Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday — when did she recognize the Lord, her Shepherd?
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (Jn 20:16). We read this only a few weeks ago.
Fast forward to another book in the Bible. Jesus echoes the words of Peter from today in the Book of Revelation. Here is ‘the rest of the story’:
“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev 3:5).
Jesus is our Shepherd, our Defender. He knows our name, and we know Him. The Father sees us and loves us through Him, and brings us into union with the Trinity, in the Holy Spirit.