The Good Shepherd still seeks ‘lost sheep,” brings them ‘home’

By: By Father Tom Kelly

Fourth Sunday of Easter/April 26

Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12; Psalm 118:1,8-9,21-23,26,28,29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

The Gospel passage presents the familiar image of Christ the Good Shepherd, one who seeks out the lost sheep and brings them back into the fold.

The story is told of a young woman who was raised in a devout Catholic family. She was a pious and regular church-goer. However, during her student days at the university the practice of her faith began to slip. By the time she graduated, she no longer attended church or prayed.

One day, some few years after graduation, she flew to Colorado to visit her married sister and do some skiing. On Sunday morning, her sister invited her to go to Mass with her. The woman refused and went skiing instead. On her first run down the ski slope she hit a tree and broke her leg. Sporting a huge cast, she was released from the hospital and rejoined her sister.

On Sunday morning, her sister again invited her to go to Mass. This time (“there wasn’t anything else to do”), the woman accepted the invitation.

GIFT IN DISGUISE
It was Good Shepherd Sunday and the priest-celebrant happened to be a visitor from Israel.

“There is a custom among the shepherds in Israel that existed at the time of Jesus and is still practiced today that needs to be understood in order to appreciate this Gospel passage,” he said at the beginning of his homily.

“Sometimes, very early in the life of a lamb, a shepherd senses that this lamb is going to be a congenital stray, one forever drifting away from the flock. What the shepherd does then is a desperate strategy,” the priest said.

“He takes the lamb and deliberately breaks its leg so that he has to carry it until its leg is healed. By that time, the lamb has become so attached to the shepherd that it never strays again,” he explained.

The woman with the broken leg heard this and said to herself, “I may be dense, but given my broken leg and this chance coincidence, hearing this woke something up in me. I got the message. Fifteen years have passed since that day, and I have prayed and gone to Mass regularly every Sunday.”

“I am the Good Shepherd,” says the Lord. “I know my own and my own know me.” The adversity of a broken leg turns out to be a gift. “My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord.

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FATHER TOM Kelly, a former pastor in Ottawa and Bartonville and chaplain at the Newman Foundations at the University of Illinois in Champaign and Bradley University in Peoria, is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria. He resides in Peoria.

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