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Jesus the Good Shepherd is the model for all priests Print
Guest column
Written by Fr. David Carrano   
Thursday, Jun. 30, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Following is the homily given at Fr. Joseph Baker's First Mass of Thanksgiving on June 25, 2016, at Holy Redeemer Church in Madison by Fr. David Carrano, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Reedsburg.

Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Readings: Dt 10:12-22 and Jn 10:11-18

"I came that they might have life, and have it in abundance."

Reverend Fathers, Father Joe's parents Mark and Kay, Fr. Joe's family, friends, and faithful of the Diocese of Madison, it is a great joy to be here. It is truly life-giving to be present as Father Joe Baker offers his first Mass in Thanksgiving to God.

Though persevering through many years of seminary studies is a great accomplishment, we are not here to celebrate the achievement of Father Joe. Moses told the people today: "God is your praise . . . He who has done for you those great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen."

God chose you

Father Joe, though the Church has deemed you worthy to undertake what the liturgy calls the responsibility of the priesthood, long before that statement, God chose you. Moses spoke of the LORD who "set his heart to love" Israel. God chose them first, before they even knew who He was. He chose them out of love. He chose them, setting his heart on them.

Today we celebrate a Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Father Joe, it was this heart that He fixed on you. It was in this Most Sacred Heart that God's love manifested a choice for you to follow Him -- to belong to Him -- to be His in this way -- as a priest of the New and Eternal Covenant.

Jesus told the Apostles: "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will remain." This choice of God happened long before anyone spoke words of affirmation -- it happened in the depths of your heart, which through prayer you have tried to attune to the Sacred Heart of the Savior.

It is this choice of God that we are grateful for -- and the great and awesome things that He has done. At times we see some of the effects of God's setting his heart to love someone, but it's mostly only seen by the eyes of your own heart, because these works are done in the secret, silent place where we have communion with Him.

We offer our thanksgiving to God first, and only secondarily that you, Father Joe, have freely chosen to accept God's call and that God manifests his goodness through you in so many ways visible to us who are here.

You are a shepherd for the Good Shepherd

"I came that they might have life, and have it in abundance." These are the words of the Good Shepherd, which immediately precede the Gospel passage we heard today. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep, does so in order that the sheep might have abundant life.

Father Joe. At ordination, you, too, have laid down your life. There must be only one reason. You are not a priest in order to be served. You are not a shepherd in order to gain something for yourself or to take the life of the sheep for some profit -- indeed then you would be nothing more than a hired man, a mercenary.

No, you are a priest of Jesus Christ. You are a shepherd for the Good Shepherd. As such, you come not to be served, but to serve. Not to make life more dull and burdensome, but to give life -- to transmit the new life of grace -- and to give it in abundance.

The purpose of a shepherd is to lead the sheep to life-giving waters. The purpose of the priest is to lead people to Jesus, the source of life.

Lead sheep through the desert to Christ

In order to do this, you must willingly lay down your life. Again and again. When Pope Benedict XVI received the pallium and the fisherman's ring to begin his ministry as the successor of St. Peter, he spoke about how the shepherd often leads the sheep through the desert.

He said that in our world there are many kinds of desert. "The desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God's darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast."

[Pope Benedict continued . . .] "The Church as a whole and all her pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance."

Jesus is the source of life. If the priest seeks just to lead people to himself -- both they and he will starve in the deserts of the world. We must lead the sheep to water. Lead the people to Jesus, not ourselves.

How do we lead people out of these vast deserts? There is no way to do so if we are not willing to enter the deserts of peoples' loneliness, abandonment, isolation, emptiness, pain, and questioning. At one point, Pope Francis told us priests that the shepherd must "smell like the sheep."

It reminded me of Pier Giorgio Frassatti, whose zest for life, combined with his genuine love for others, led him into unforeseen contact with those who suffer. If the pastor is unwilling to delve with the other into their hurt, their doubt, their sense of God's absence . . . if the pastor is unwilling to smell like the sheep in sharing their experience, he cannot lead them out of the desert. He cannot lead them to "the One who gives us life."

Caring for the wounded

Pope Francis has also challenged us, particularly in this Year of Mercy, to see the Church as a field hospital, caring for those wounded in the battles of life. Like the shepherd in the desert, caring for an injured sheep, no doctor in a field hospital will be able to escape direct contact with wounds -- no one in a field hospital is allowed to stay if they are not willing to be bloodied in the process of binding up that which is broken. They become not a help in the work, but a liability.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the model for all priests. He came to lead us to life. To feed us. To bind up and heal our wounds. To bring back those who have strayed. Yet, stretching the image of the shepherd, Sacred Scripture tells us that Jesus himself became the lamb without blemish. Not only did he smell like the sheep – he became one of us.

In his homily, Pope Benedict went on to say: "The symbol of the lamb also has a deeper meaning. In the Ancient Near East, it was customary for kings to style themselves shepherds for their people. This was an image of their power, a cynical image: to them their subjects were like sheep, which the shepherd could dispose of as he wished.

"When the shepherd of all humanity, the living God, himself became a lamb, he stood on the side of the lambs, with those who are downtrodden and killed. This is how He reveals himself to be the true shepherd: 'I am the Good Shepherd . . . I lay down my life for the sheep,' Jesus says of himself. It is not power, but love that redeems us! This is God's sign: he himself is love."

Jesus sacrificed Himself for love

Here I want to stop. Because nothing that I have said . . . and nothing that you have done in committing yourself to the priesthood has any meaning if we do not understand and believe in the power of Jesus' sacrifice.

Pope Benedict is telling us that in the Incarnation, when God became man, He stood on the side of suffering humanity. He stood on the side of the weak, not the powerful. And He came, not to overpower the weak. No, He came to show his love, precisely to the one who feels (or even is) most unworthy of love. And He "proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us," St. Paul tells us (Rom 5:8).

The implications of God's love for us were not only that He took on our human form and weakness, but that He accepted even death. He willingly accepted death. "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own," He said. Jesus chose to die -- and even accepted the shameful death of a criminal hung on a cross. Think for a moment about a king choosing to die for one of the lowliest of his people: Among the powerful, what shame that would incur! And among the weak, what love would be instilled!

Sacrifice is the purest expression of love. And one's very life given in sacrifice is the greatest love: No greater love has anyone than this, to lay down his life for another." Jesus died for us, out of love. And His sacrifice of love was so pleasing, so acceptable to the Father, that Jesus was raised from the dead.

The very heart that was pierced by a lance as proof that He had truly died, became the heart from which new life flows to others even now in the sacraments. The love that flows from the Heart of Jesus has no limit -- and His Mercy is without end. His heart is on fire with love for us even now -- He lives to bring life to all.

Do you believe in this love? Every challenge you will face as a priest . . . every crisis in yourself and in others will boil down to this question: Do you believe in the love that Jesus has shown you on the cross?

Becoming a shepherd after His own heart

Father Joe, only through your authentic friendship with Christ will you truly know His love for you and will you continue to attune your heart to His -- becoming of one heart with Jesus. Mother Teresa told that, "If you listen with your heart, you will hear, you will understand. . . . Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you, you can't begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him."

Who does Jesus want to be for you? He thirsts for you -- what does He want for you? Abundant life!

Who does Jesus want you to be for Him? A shepherd after His own heart.

Believe in the love He has for you. Do not doubt it, no matter how dry the desert you find yourself in. And, believing, be willing to go where He has gone -- to lay down your life to rescue the sheep.

Jesus has set His heart on you in love. Set your heart on Him and Him alone. Then you will indeed know life -- life in abundance.