Sunday, April 13, 2008

4th Sunday of Easter - homily

Our shepherd is coming to see us! It will be an exciting week here in Washington as Pope Benedict XVI visits our Archdiocese from Tuesday until Friday. Pope Benedict is the successor to St. Peter who was the first pope. The pope is the shepherd of the universal Church. Here’s some perspective of the enormity of the Holy Father’s flock: Fr. Mike, our local shepherd, is in charge of about 4000 Catholics in our parish. Pope Benedict is in charge of 1,000,000,000 Catholics! He really is the shepherd of all of God’s people, but specifically, one billion Catholics worldwide. He is our German shepherd (!) and he is coming to see us!

But, we might get confused when we hear the psalm from today, “The Lord is my shepherd”. And, in the passage immediately following today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd”. Let us make no mistake: Christ is our shepherd. But, what He does is hand on the task of shepherding to the Apostles and their successors. In this Gospel, he lays the groundwork for this. He is speaking about religious leaders, that some are good and some are bad. The good ones are those who enter through the gate which is Christ; these are the Apostles and their successors. The bad ones are those who don’t enter through the gate; he is referring mainly to the Pharisees. Christ hands over the reigns of shepherding his flock to the Apostles and their successors. “Whoever enters through the gate will be the shepherd of the sheep”. Later in John’s Gospel, he will make Peter the main shepherd by telling him three times to “feed my sheep”.

Jesus also proclaims that “the shepherd calls his own sheep by name”. I believe that one of the things that Pope Benedict will do this week will be to call all of us American Catholics to holiness. He will call us “by name” to live the Gospel. He will call us to prayer and service. We live out holiness in our particular vocations whether it’s married life, religious life, or single life. Each one of us is called by God through the Church to one of these vocations. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we pray that the young men and women of this parish will hear God’s Call and answer it, whatever it may be. Most are called to be married, but some are called to priests, some are called to be religious sisters, and some are called to be single. As we said the other night to the young kids at the DC ‘Hood game, their answer right now to the question of whether God is calling them to religious life is not ‘yes’, it’s not ‘no’, it’s ‘maybe’!

Finally, when we come to Mass, we remember what Christ has done for us. He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. His love for us is so great that he lays down his life as shepherd and becomes a lamb, a sacrificial lamb. May the grace of the Blood of the Lamb help each of us to answer the call to holiness. May it help us to lay down our lives for him and for others.


At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is off topic, but since this is the time of year when many parents are discussing the topic of school tuition, I hope FG will allow this…

Over the past few days, I read a couple of articles about the decline in enrollment in Catholic schools. Each attributed the decline to the rising cost of tuition and noted that it’s most prevalent in urban schools. A vicious cycle occurs- because of rising costs, tuitions go up, more kids drop out, tuitions must go up even higher to cover the gap, it becomes affordable to still fewer and more kids then drop out….

To those authors- it’s not a problem that is unique to urban schools. Parents of students in the suburbs very much feel the pinch of the rising cost of Catholic education! The other day, a St. Andrews mom of three was telling me she didn’t know where money for tuition was coming from next year, and she’s worried. To add to the authors’ statements, as enrollment declines and tuition goes up, class sizes increase. Financial decisions are made that don’t look like they’ll benefit our children, but I’m not sure if there are feasible alternatives.

Some info that struck me was, since 1990, some 300,000 students have been displaced from Catholic education- double the number of students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We’ve reached an annual decline in enrollment of 14% since 2000. A report by the Thomas Fordham Foundation studied a number of Catholic school systems throughout the nation. In areas where voucher systems are in place (DC’s one of them), schools are still closing and/or being converted in charter schools, but in other parts of the country, Catholic education is resurging. In those areas, massive campaigns were launched to express the importance of Catholic education and encourage an increase in tithing. That reminded me of something written on this blog some time ago (I think Msgr. Wells was the source originally quoted)- if everyone gave 3% of their income to the church, Catholic education would be free. Well, that is the case in Wichata , KS- Catholic education there is now free as a result of their campaign to increase tithing.

“The cost of a Catholic education has to be in the reach of families and if they can’t afford it, their children can’t access it,” Archbishop Wuerl said during an earlier education summit address. “If rising tuition continues, we’ll only see schools continue in affluent areas for people who can afford it. This was not the vision of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.” Bishops from that very summit remarked on the great response in the offertory when it was set aside for Catholic education. There is another religious education summit at the White House in the next few weeks, and many ideas will be exchanges, but rather than wait for some other group to solve our problems, why don’t we look to ourselves? Catholics as a community rise to meet needs, but needs must be clearly defined and expressed. I do believe Catholics would answer the call to support Catholic education; they have in the past, and they do other parts of the country.

Lastly, I heard an interview of the senior from Catholic University who will meet the pope as a result of writing an essay on the importance of Catholic education in his life. In his essay, he wrote that each day began in prayer and it set the tone for the entire day. But I’ll take his statement to the next level- Catholic education sets a tone for one’s entire life. Our schools are a tremendous instrument in faith formation. It’s important to make sure it’s available to as many as possible. It will be a sad day, indeed, when Catholic education is only, as Archbishop Wuerl said, “for people who can afford it.”

At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can’t help but think that some of our problems are due to society’s values, of which, each and every one of us, regardless of religious orientation, possess.

Just think what a $100,000 donation from a professional athlete, whose physical prowess commands a contact worth millions of dollars each year, could do. And what would our health care system be like if “lawsuit available” was not the middle name of each doctor, whose profession is strewn with unknown variables and dictated to by the insurance industry? And the huge bonuses corporate executives receive annually while some of their minimum wage employees barely pay their monthly bills? And, what about.... each of us and our values?


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