Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter

7-8 May

 

Mass ‘The merciful love of God’ in the Modern Liturgy

Mary: the Mother of the Good Shepherd

We’ve come now to the first full weekend in May, a month devoted to Our Lady, the Mother of God. On Saturday, after the First Saturday Mas, we crowned Our Lady in our annual May Crowning. I am sure that you will want to honour Mary in your home with some nice flowers, too. (And maybe even a daily rosary.) By a special providence, it is also Mother’s Day: so, on behalf of the Fathers, we wish the Mothers of our parish a blessed day. May Our Lady, our Mother, help you to grow in virtue in this beautiful vocation. Additionally, the readings of the Mass guide us, today, to pray for priestly vocations. Of course, we pray that we all will do what God wills for us, but today, especially, we ask God to let young men respond to the call to priestly ministry, after the example of Our Lord, the Good Shepherd.

As always, a lot is happening! Might it be fitting, then, for us to think for a moment about the Mother of the Good Shepherd, that is, of Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, too?

Catholics don’t often make the mistake of reducing Our Lady to the once-a-year natural mother of Our Lord, as some Christian communities do. They might dust off her statue for a Nativity Set, which is packed away far too quickly, placed tidily in her packaging, with her praying hands now covered with soft Styrofoam. Slowly, she’s slid into a box that says “Mary”, as though she is just one other character in the scene – like “Shepherd boy”, or “Sheep” or “Tree”.

Mary was certainly a natural woman: she, herself, was born, and gave birth. She ate, and slept. She was happy, and she sorrowed. And her earthly life came to an end. But Our Lady is not merely a natural woman. She is the Full of Grace, Immaculately Conceived, a supernaturally inspired woman of faith, and love and devotion. In many ways, she is an antithesis to the so-called “pious women” in the First Reading, who agree to persecute Saints Paul and Barnabas. (They were likely happy to have something to do in Antioch!) Rather, Our Lady is the truly prayerful woman, in Whom the fullness of God was pleased to be conceived, and dwell in her womb, and then in her home. And rather than inciting a persecution of others, she witnesses the persecution of her own Son, the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for the sheep.

She is at once, by God’s grace, a gentle sheep, who was redeemed at her Immaculate Conception, and a sheep who hears the Voice of Her Son. In the mystery of her Motherhood, though, it would be right to say that God willed for Mary to be, in the natural sphere, aided by supernatural graces, His Own little shepherd, a Mother in every way, to the Incarnate Son of God. Because she is so perfect an imitator of Jesus that she is, in some mystical way, a type of Imitational Good Shepherd, too.

It might sound, to us, a bit difficult to think of Mary as a type of Good Shepherd. Surely this is a title only for Our Lord, Who demonstrates that He is the Good Shepherd by laying down His life for the sheep (cf. Gospel Acclamation).

Did Our Lady lay down her life for the sheep?

In a literal way, no. But she certainly accepted, at the Annunciation, that her life wouldn’t be the same as other Jewish girls. She must have known she was “different”, elected, chosen – this was the effect of her Immaculate Conception constantly moving her to acts of grace, and avoiding sin and its allure. In choosing to say “yes” to the Angel, Our Lady (in some way) lays down her own life in a spiritual way to be God’s handmaid, His chosen instrument, to carry, bear and raise the One Good Shepherd, Who would literally lay down His Own life on the Cross.

The time would come when Our Lord would be lain on the ground, on top of the wood of His torture. Then, nailed to it, He would be raised up from the earth, and draw all men to Himself. Close to Jesus, to the last, is Mary herself, and some other disciples. Spiritually, even the scattered and scared are drawn closer to Him, and, while those are drawn closer, He sets them free from sin. He offers them special gifts: salvation, in the first instant, but also the Gift of a Spiritual Mother in Mary: “Son, daughter, behold your Mother”. The Good Shepherd has offered to us the gift of His Shepherd Mother, too.

Is it strange to think of Mary as a shepherd?

Even our own parish patroness, Saint Bernadette, was a little shepherd girl. Girls can be shepherds, too!

While there is certainly something very manly about shepherding, fighting off the wolves with great athleticism, it is true that there is also something very gentle in the care shown to the sheep, gathering up a fallen bundle, like a mother who might cuddle a tumbled child. Mary, as the best imitator of Jesus, is rightly a shepherd mother, too, who gathers her Son’s sheep out of love for Him, and out of love for the sheep also.

What Our Lord possesses as shepherd by His eternal nature, Our Lady possesses by her redeemed nature. She is not only the best one of the many sheep. But she is uniquely elected, specially chosen, singularly honoured and irrepeatably the Mother of God. She remains without peer, raised (by grace) even higher than the angels. She is, as Wordsworth proposes, “[o]ur tainted nature’s solitary boast”. In Our Lady, the created world has offered to the Father the best of itself. God has enriched her with every gift.

In union with Jesus, Mary is a type of Good Shepherd, then, too. But it shouldn’t be strange to think that, out of love for Our Lord and His Mother, we should be types of shepherds, too. By way of analogy, every Christian is a sheep and a shepherd: not in the unique way that Our Lord is Lamb and Shepherd, or in the unique way that Mary is Sheep and Shepherdess. But we have a role to play in nurturing and caring for the Lord’s flock in our own way: flowers, music, administration, sacristy, serving at the altar, reading, catering… All of our acts of growing, serving and giving: these are roles of shepherd sheep.

This brings us to our last consideration in the unique analogy of the shepherd in the Sacred Priesthood. This sacramental act brings about a particular conformity to Christ the Great High Priest, Whom we imitate when we minister in His Name, according to the mind of the Church. The priest, and the young man discerning this vocation, is called to take Mary as our Mother, without whose prayers the priest is not as prayerful, devout or faithful to his duties as he needs to be.

Let us pray, especially in this Mass, that young men would hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and be guided by the faithful love of Mary, the Mother of the Good Shepherd, and all shepherds. We ask the Lord to let them choose to lay down their lives for love of the Good Shepherd, His good Mother and for all the flock of God.

Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd, and mother of all priests, pray for us. Amen.

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