Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
April 26, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Easter
“A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
When Jesus says, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again” (John 10:17), He is talking about His death and resurrection. He is exercising His freedom, the freedom to embrace the Father’s will, because the Father knows him and he knows the Father (John 10:15). The freedom to make the Father’s will His own demonstrates a power. “I have power,” He says, “to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (John 10:18). And all this power that brings about a redemptive death and resurrection will bring about “one flock” and “one shepherd” (John 10:16).
The power Jesus is speaking of is not power the way the world understands power. The world understands power as domination, influence, and force. The power of Jesus is based on what the world considers weakness. He will submit to the earthly power of evil men. He will let the world think for a moment that it has won. He will be condemned to humiliating torture and crucifixion. Only in this way can Jesus show where real power is. The Resurrection will be His victory and it will confound the world.
When Jesus came to establish “one flock” and “one shepherd”, He did so with us in mind. He knew that He was founding a Church, a new People of God, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). He knew that He would never be separated from His flock. He would never leave them untended. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus would prove His love to the “one flock.” In the power of Jesus to lay down His life and to take it up again, the flock would find its identity as “one flock” and “one shepherd.”
I find Chapter 10 of the Gospel of St. John an overwhelming statement. What Jesus says tells me a great deal about who I am as a Christian. I am not alone. I am part of a flock. I am not a sheep running around and over the hills seeking my own way. I am part of a flock that Jesus intended to be “one”, united in hearing and recognizing the shepherd’s voice and remaining obedient to the shepherd.
Jesus gave us the Priesthood as the sacramental continuation of His “power” to shepherd. It is not a power, as the world knows power. It is a shepherd’s power, gently spoken and recognized for what it is. “The wolf catches and scatters” the flock (John 10:12). A hired hand is not a shepherd. He “sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away” (John 10:12). The shepherd, however, is the faithful and good servant. He speaks softly and leads gently, knowing where real “power” lies, in the Good Shepherd whose life-giving death and resurrection summons the flock to a unifying redemption.
No priest, insofar as he is a shepherd, acts alone. He is only a priest because he shares in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. He is a shepherd only because Christ is the Shepherd. The identity of the priest is found only in Christ.
To share in the work of Christ and to identify with the Good Shepherd intimately is the life of a priest. This vocation is what led a Father Maximilian Kolbe to give his life for another at Auschwitz; a Father Jean-Marie Vianney to spend most of his day hearing the confessions of his parishioners; a Father Edmond Campion to be hung, drawn and quartered because he was a Catholic priest practicing in a country where Catholicism was outlawed; a Father Vincent de Paul to exhaust his life in service to the poor. The truth never comes without a price, and each of these priests gave their lives for belief in the truth that there is only one Good Shepherd who gave His life for the “one flock.”
God calls many to this courageous vocation. It is the vocation to lay down one’s life and to take it up again. “This is why the Father loves me” (John 10:17).