Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"The Priest: A Shepherd after the Heart of the Good Shepherd"
Homily for
the Fourth Sunday of Easter
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon

15 May 2011
Year A 

On his way to his new assignment, St. John Vianney stopped a young boy to ask for directions. He said to the boy: “show me the way to Ars and I will show you the way to heaven.” This encounter with the saint is memorialized with a statue just up the road from the small church in Ars where St. John ministered for the majority of his priesthood.

Reflecting upon the nature of the priesthood on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I’m reminded also, of a story that a priest once told me about a shepherd in Israel. This priest frequently leads pilgrimages to the Holy Land and in his many travels became friendly with an old shepherd whose field was very near the Basilica of the Nativity in Nazareth. On one such pilgrimage, while the pilgrims were off shopping and walking around the church, Father went to see his friend. At this point the shepherd had reached an old age. Father commented on this fact: “you’re still out here tending the sheep?” The old shepherd replied to him: “I have to. My grandson is over there, under the tree. Watch, I will show why I am here.” The old shepherd called his grandson over and told him to gather the sheep. The young boy complied and he started to call them but the sheep would not come. The old shepherd then sent him away and called the sheep himself. “You see,” he told Father, “the sheep do not know him and he does not care and they will not come to him. So, you see, I have to be here because I cannot abandon my sheep.”

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, shows Himself to be not just any shepherd but the Good Shepherd. The One who cares, protects, and leads His sheep. He highlights that which has been said about the young shepherd in Israel – the sheep will not listen to the voice of a stranger; they will run from him. But the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd; they know him and follow him. Coming to Jesus in our lives – in heart, mind, word and deed – we are lead to that life that He promises, the divine life that He bestows upon us through the sacraments.

It is in this we recognize the continuous mission of the savior in the shepherds He has left us in His priests. It is the duty of the priest to administer the sacraments of the Church to God’s faithful people. Thus, he leads them, helps them hear the voice of the shepherd and brings them to that divine life Christ wishes to bestow upon us all. His job, therefore, is to teach, govern and sanctify.

We see this aspect of the life of the priest exemplified so beautifully in our first reading. After the Apostles received the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, they went to the Temple to give thanks, and the presence of the Holy Spirit attracted crowds of awestruck pilgrims. Peter stood up and addressed them. He told them about Christ. And St. Luke reported that, “they were cut to the heart.” These were the same people who had rejected Jesus just a few weeks earlier. But now the mere mention of his name “cuts them to the heart.” Hearing the truth about Christ made them want to follow Him. But they didn't know how. And so they asked, “What are we to do?” Peter showed them the way to Christ, through repentance and baptism – by administering the sacraments to them. As a true shepherd after the Heart of Christ, Peter guided those who have heard the voice of Truth to the promise that Jesus made in the Gospel – to His divine life; the life of grace within.

Of particular importance is the fact that the grace of God didn't reach those three thousand people directly. It reached them, inspired them, changed them, and renewed their very lives, through the mediation of the Apostles, through the preaching, witnessing, and ministry of Christ's chosen messengers. The Acts of the Apostles shows us how God works through messengers; through His priests.

Thus, in his ministry, the priest is more than just a representative of Christ, more than an administrator. By virtue of his ordination, the priest becomes an image of Christ Himself – in spite of his weaknesses and failures. Christ bestows upon an ordained man the likeness of His very Self – we call this an ontological change in the soul of a priest. It is the Holy Spirit that speaks and acts through His minister. Therefore, to draw near to our priests, to seek their counsel, direction and blessing is to approach Christ. It is to be shepherded by Him.

Jesus describes Himself in the Gospel as the gate for the sheep. The destination to which He leads us is to our heavenly home – to His very Heart. Today, may we have the courage to pray for our shepherds and pray that on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Christ will raise up for us from this parish more shepherds – co-workers in His vineyard – for these are the ones that God has given to us in order that we may be able to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and come to know the way to heaven.


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


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