During an April 25 visit to St. Michael Parish in Independence, Bishop Edward Malesic shared a story to help illustrate the Good Shepherd. He said a group of people was touring the Holy Land and their pastor explained that shepherds walk in front of the flock to face the danger and protect the sheep.
As the tour bus rounded a corner, they saw a man and some sheep on a hillside – but the man was chasing the sheep. When the pastor asked what was going on, the man explained he wasn’t the shepherd, he was the butcher.
“Those were smart sheep,” the bishop said, noting they ran as fast as they could away from the butcher.
“Jesus tells us today that he is the Good Shepherd who is willing to defend his sheep from the butcher. As improbable as it sounds, he is willing to go so far as to lay down his own life rather than allow one of his sheep to be taken by a wolf. He showed that to us on the cross when he gave his life as a ransom for us,” Bishop Malesic said.
“When we say our God is an awesome God, we saw awesome with a capital ‘A,’” he added.
The bishop explained that God chose to become one of us, emptying himself and taking on human form. “What God does that?” he asked. “Our God does.”
He also used the image of Jesus taking the posture of a slave on Holy Thursday to wash the feet of the apostles. When we enter a church, we genuflect or bow before Jesus in the tabernacle. “But on Holy Thursday, Jesus genuflected before his followers. He became the servant who washed the feet of those he served. On Holy Thursday, God bowed before us and told us that what he has done for us, we should do for one another. We must be a servant Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has shown us the way to live with each other and to find the way to heaven. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads us there by example,” he said.
The bishop also compared a pastor, bishop and parent to a shepherd noting that they care for their flock – they guide, protect, have patience, thwart evil and sometimes lay down their life for their friends or charges. “No one has greater love than that, Jesus says.”
And as for the wolves, Bishop Malesic said they are sly, often hiding in sheep’s clothing, waiting and watching until we wander off and they can catch us off guard.
“The wolves are the voices inside of us and the people outside of us that tell us to give up on the faith, leave the Church, quit following the teaching of Christ, to go on without God, to stand alone. When we listen to those voices, we become vulnerable and easy to catch by even the slowest of wolves,” the bishop said. “Run away from them as fast as you can. The lurking wolf is sent by the evil one.”
Scriptures tell us to be sober and vigilant; to resist him; to be steadfast in faith, knowing that fellow believers everywhere undergo the same sufferings.
Using the analogy of the pandemic, Bishop Malesic said there is safety in numbers. “Let’s not each run in our own direction. Let’s stay together. Let’s also make sure we lay our fears at the feet of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Cast your cares on him, for he cares for you.”
Another Scripture passage tells us to “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” the bishop said, adding that Jesus – the Good Shepherd – already died for us. “He has given his body from this altar of sacrifice today,” he said, and is with us today.
“Let’s run in the direction of the Good Shepherd who leads us to green pastures and still waters. And, even if every once in a while we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, still we will fear no evil, for Jesus is with us, his rod and staff to comfort us. He knows us and we know him,” he said.
Father John Mullee, St. Michael pastor, welcomed the bishop before Mass. He also noted that the second grade PSR students were in attendance and they would be celebrating Jesus Day.
After Mass, two St. Michael School students presented the bishop with a spiritual bouquet on behalf of the parish and school communities. He also received a book written by a parishioner.
The bishop offered his blessing to the faithful, posed for pictures and chatted with parishioners after Mass.
Established in 1851, St. Michael’s is one of the oldest parishes in the diocese.