April 30, 2023 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/043023.cfm)

During the time of the desert monks, around 450 AD, a young monk went to an old and holy monk and asked him, “Father, how is it that so many today leave the monastery? The old monk answered him, “When a good hunting dog sees a rabbit, he will immediately run after it, howling, and barking with excitement. This will, of course, attract other dogs, and they in turn will run and bark and howl like the one that saw the rabbit, although they have not actually seen it themselves. After a while the ones who did not really see the rabbit, but relied only on barking and howling of the first dog, will get tired and give up the chase, because they are no longer interested. They drift off and go home. Only the dog that really saw the rabbit will go on running and eventually catch up with it. That is the way with many who enter the seminary,” the old monk concluded. “Only the one who has his or her eyes on Christ and has seen Him will and can survive. The others, who came only because the enthusiasm of others had drawn them, will lose interest and leave.

Once I had been involved with the formation of our seminarians as assistant Postulancy director in my years of priesthood. As of those who had been with me, only one out of nine in the first batch, one out of six in the 2nd batch, and three out of seven the last batch are still in the seminary. Meaning, only 5 out of 22 seminarians have persevered in their formation in the seminary. With this, we cannot help but think if there is hope in religious life or priesthood. Some would even blame us, their directors or formators for being too strict. I say, as the story suggests, it is not the Formators but the dynamic and intimate relationship between the seminarian and the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe growth and perseverance in vocation to priesthood or religious life must be based on the personal faith relationship of the person with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus in our gospel today claims himself as the Good Shepherd, who knows His sheep. He is a Good Shepherd who has a deep personal relationship with His sheep. He knows His sheep and His sheep knows Him. We, Christians proclaim that Jesus is our Good Shepherd not only because we believe that He is the Shepherd but He is OUR very OWN Shepherd. Our faith moves us to proclaim that Jesus is yours and ours Good Shepherd. He is not like any other shepherd but He is your personal shepherd, who knows and loves you. We believe in Jesus as our Good Shepherd, because we choose Him to be our own shepherd. 

If Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and we are His sheep, what does it mean to be His sheep? There are three important things.

First, to be His sheep is to believe in Him. The basic message of Easter is to have faith in the risen Christ. Like the hunting dog to the rabbit, we must believe in what we have encountered & witnessed Him, as Jesus reveals himself to us in our day to day life-experiences.

Next, we must listen. Jesus said, “My sheep listens to my voice.”  We ought to be sensitive to hear and listen to His words in the Scriptures and in the movements of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Meaning, we should lead a life of prayer to nurture our faith.

And lastly, to be His sheep is to follow Him. Jesus said, “My sheep follows me.” We must heed His voice, i.e. we must live what we believe and practice what we preach. We must be like the hunting dog that is persistent in its following and fulfilling what it believes.

While our world today promotes the Star Struck motto: “Dream – Believe – Survive”. Jesus, our Good Shepherd calls us today to God Struck motto: Believe – Listen – Follow. If seminarians want to grow and persevere in their vocation, they must believe, listen, and follow their calling. And if as Christian, we want to grow and persevere in Faith, we must believe, listen, and follow Jesus our Good Shepherd.

Particularly for us Filipino Catholic, we do have special or unique take in knowing our Good Shepherd. We know Him not only because Kilala natin siya but because Dama natin siya. Culturally sense-feeling perceptions are important to us. Like,… I may know you, but I may not feel you. I may feel you though I may not know you. (Kilala kita, pero di kita ramdam. Ramdam kita kahit di kita kilala). This is how we distinguish real from fake, depth from superficial, good from bad.

Same way as we Filipinos have this natural felt-instinct & sense, we also come to be familiar with & know more the shepherd’s voice through our gut-sense and feelings. We do come to know the risen Lord as our true Good Shepherd in life not only by our volition, consent & reasonings, but most of all through our sense & feeling perception (damdamin at kalooban).

By our sense-perception & feeling-gut insights, we come to know the risen Lord with us – in person & in flesh. Like the hunting dog who first sees the rabbit, knowing the Shepherd is thus not only for us a cognitive familiarity or herd-mentality but more so a deep felt-sense knowledge and insight of His presence, love & blessing.

We pray then that during this Easter Season may be our moments to be God-Struck in believing, listening & following Jesus, and so enhance and improve our special felt-sense of knowing our True & Good Shepherd, & ensure that we may not be gone astray from His fold but rather have a much deeper relationship with Him, and be always attuned with His will & plan for us now, especially these new normal times. So Help Us, God. So May it Be. Amen.


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