A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 21)
4th Sunday of Easter, Year A – April 17, 2005
“I Am the Gate for the Sheep”
Acts 2:14a, 36-41 // I Pet 2:20b-25 // Jn 10:1-10
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
The first Saturday of December in 1981 is exceedingly memorable for me. In the early morning of that day, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica to participate in the Eucharistic celebration to be presided by Pope Paul John II in the Blessed Sacrament chapel of that basilica. I was full of joy, not only because I would be receiving communion from the beloved Pope, but because I was one of the two Sisters from our Congregation who would officially start the Eucharistic Adoration at St. Peter’s Basilica. I belong to the religious congregation, PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI, dedicated to the eucharistic-priestly-liturgical apostolate. The principal expression of our threefold apostolate is the ministry of the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and, traditionally, during our official turn before the Blessed Sacrament, we wear an all-enfolding blue mantle. For years, the PDDM Sisters had been carrying out significant services in the curial offices, telephone exchange and souvenir shops of the Vatican City. The Eucharistic ministry in St. Peter’s Basilica entrusted to our congregation by the Vatican in 1981 was therefore most welcome. In accordance with the Vatican request, the daily adoration at the Blessed Sacrament chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica would be sustained and animated by the PDDM Sisters.
The liturgical plan that memorable Saturday in 1981 was for the Pope to expose the Blessed Sacrament after the concluding rites of the Mass and to make an inaugural prayer, after which, the PDDM Sisters would start the Eucharistic adoration in blue mantle. After receiving Communion with the Pope and a moment of thanksgiving, together with Sr. Maria Pia, I rushed through the heavily guarded door. We went to a quiet corner of the cavernous basilica to wear our blue mantle. When we tried to enter through the door in blue mantle, the papal guards stopped us. We tried vainly to explain that we were part of the celebration, but they adamantly turned us back. When I was nearly in tears, out of frustration and desperation, a dignified looking gentleman saw our predicament and intervened. He was a high official at the L’Osservatore Romano editorial office and a friend of Sr. Mary Pia. Finally, we were allowed to enter the chapel, in time to hear the Pope’s beautiful inaugural prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We were so grateful that we were able to enter through that heavily secured “door” in order to participate fully in the Pope’s activities and to take our rightful place before the Blessed Sacrament.
Using the metaphor of shepherds and the imagery of a door or a gate, today’s Gospel reading (Jn 10:1-10) presents Jesus as the legitimate Shepherd of the flock and the gate of the sheepfold. According to the biblical scholar, Neal Flanagan: “The discussion about the sheep and the shepherd is probably being used by John as a statement regarding the miserable shepherding being effected by such authorities as appear in the case of the man born blind. Blind guides themselves, they not only fail to recognize the leading light that is Jesus but cast out of the synagogue the one man who does accept the light … Crucial to the identification of the author’s purpose at this point is the necessary realization that he is writing about Jesus with the text of Ezekiel 34 in clear view. In that passage, Ezekiel, speaking God’s word, excoriates the authorities of his own time. They had become irresponsible and thieving shepherds, feeding themselves rather than their flock. So God would take away their mal-administration and become the shepherd himself. Finally he would appoint another shepherd after the figure of David. John sees all of this coming true in Jesus. God has become the shepherd in Jesus, himself Messiah and Son of David. Jesus’ fidelity to his sheep, his sacrifice for them, stands out in contrast to the failure of the stumbling, blinded, bullying authorities in chapter 9 … Jesus is the GOOD SHEPHERD loved by the Father because he will lay down his life for the sheep. It is this act of total, loving self-sacrifice that is mentioned again and again as the central motif … Though the shepherd-sheep metaphor was well known in the Old Testament Scriptures (as in Ezekiel 34), this laying down of the shepherd’s life is something new. It is the characteristic function of Jesus. He is the good shepherd especially because of his willing self-sacrifice.”
The metaphor of the shepherd- sheep is superimposed with that of the sheep gate. As the gate for the sheep, Jesus provides safety for the flock by prohibiting entrance to marauders and food by opening out onto good pasture lands. Indeed, as the true guardian and legitimate shepherd, Jesus is the way to salvation and the fullness of life. Concerning the door that leads to life, Harold Buetow remarks: “Jesus also calls himself the Gate for the sheep. Gate is also what we mean by door. In our time of electric and automatic entrances and keys and locks we think mostly of doors mostly as territorial barriers against being robbed or otherwise violated. Doors stand between public and private, between mine and yours. Doors signal hospitable greeting or blatant rejection, the last barrier across which guards throw themselves against an invading enemy. Even in our space age, doors have not lost those meanings. But Jesus had more in mind. Imagine yourself a cosmonaut walking in outer space, umbilically attached to your craft. Seeing that your air reserve is almost gone, you realize that it is time for you to return to your ship. You reach for the hatch lever and find the door is locked. You desperately claw the bolted door. When the door is thrown open from within and you are pulled through it to escape into life, you realize the importance of a door and the meaning of the gate of life.”
Indeed, the true guardian of the sheep gives us access to the fullness of life. Jesus avowed his life-giving mission as a shepherd: “I came so that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Jesus’ pastoral mission of giving life to his flock was fully achieved in his paschal sacrifice on the Cross that led to his glorious resurrection. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 3, assert: “Jesus has passed the gate of death to enter into glory: “God has made him Lord and Messiah.” To proclaim his resurrection is to recognize that he is the guide in whose footsteps we must follow in order to have life, and to have it more fully. He marches at the head of the ransomed people, leading them on the road in their paschal exodus. This shepherd, whose face is worn by suffering but also shines with light, leads us confidently on difficult paths. He watches that nothing unfortunate may happen to us. If the mist sometimes obscures our vision, his voice continues to lead us in the right direction.”
We still mourn the departure of Pope John Paul II, but we are consoled and heartened by the world’s phenomenal manifestation of love and reverence for him. In today’s world, Pope John Paul II has crystallized the ministry of the true guardian of the sheep and has incarnated the profound meaning of a sheep gate that leads to life. Cardinal Ratzinger reiterated this in his homily at the funeral Mass of the deceased Pope: “The Holy Father was a priest to the last, for he offered his life to God for his flock and for the entire human family, in a daily self-oblation for the service of the Church, especially amid the suffering of his final months. And in this way he became one with Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. Do we truly thank the Lord for the gift of Jesus, the true Shepherd and the sheep gate that gives access to eternal life? Do we also thank the Lord for Pope John Paul II and all the Church shepherds he has given us that we may experience abundant life?
B. Do we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd? How?
C. Today’s Good Shepherd Sunday is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. How do we participate in promoting vocational awareness in the Church and in generating more authentic Church shepherds who will lead, nourish and animate the Christian flock?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
Leader: God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, though your people walk in darkness no evil should they fear for they follow in faith the call of the Shepherd whom you have sent for their hope and strength. Attune our minds to the sound of his voice. Lead our steps in the path he has shown, that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm and enjoy the light of your presence. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord who lives and reigns forever and ever.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“I am the gate for the sheep … Who ever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (Jn 10:9-10)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Pray for an increase of vocations in the Church. Contribute to the promotion, formation and perseverance of priestly and religious vocations through spiritual, moral and material assistance. This week, express your gratitude to priests and all those who have truly carried out the ministry of the Good Shepherd in your local faith community.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may participate more meaningfully in the death and rising of Christ to new life and his pastoral mission as the Good Shepherd and sheep gate, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 21): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323