Blog & Pastor Letters

4th Sunday of Easter

04-30-2023Weekly ReflectionFr. Christopher O'Connor

In August 1993, the Catholic youth of the United States and the world were given a gift. St. John Paul II came to Denver, Colorado for World Youth Day. During the week of celebrations, catechesis and liturgy, the media covered the event. Many of them had a recurring theme: the youth loved John Paul II but not the teachings of the Catholic Church. The media tried to get many of the youth to say that on television or for the newspapers, but they failed miserably. One young lady responded that they were there because they believed in what the Church taught. Many reporters were left scratching their heads. A hint into this rationale comes from today’s Gospel, which was the theme of the 1993 World Youth Day: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

It is the custom of the World Youth Day celebrations that there is an overnight celebration where the pilgrim youth sleep outdoors for the weekend. On the Saturday night vigil, St. John Paul II arrived via helicopter. As the helicopter descended in Cherry Creek State Park, a gust of turbulence pushed the helicopter up. The pilot told the Pope this was because of the cheering of the 500,000 youth who were present. When John Paul II came onto the platform, the crowd was cheering over and over again, “John Paul Two, we love you!” After several minutes of this chant, the Pope quieted the crowd down and he said “John Paul Two, he loves you!” The crowd went crazy with cheering.

Why mention this story today? Because we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus mentions that the sheep do not listen to the voice of strangers. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd and they follow his voice. The youth present at that World Youth Day knew the voice of their shepherd. They knew that he loved them, that he cared for them and he wanted what was best for them. St. John Paul never hesitated to speak the truth and young people respected that even if they sometimes struggled with it. They knew he spoke out of love, that he wanted to protect the sheep. In today’s first reading, St. Peter, the first Pope, speaks strong words that cut the hearts of many. He did not do that to hurt them, but to call them to repentance. Many of the 3000 baptized that day were probably many of the ones who called for the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter was showing them there was still hope for them and they could rejoice in the mercy and love of God.

After his homily on that Sunday of World Youth Day and the microphone was taken away from him, St. John Paul II asked for the microphone back. He said “Young people, I made a mistake, I said you should not be ashamed of the Gospel. I should not have said it that way. You should be proud of the Gospel, be proud!” The crowds started cheering because the good shepherd was reminding us not to make excuses for our faith but to live and proclaim it proudly. A good shepherd reminds the sheep of the beauty and the treasure of our Catholic faith. There are many strangers and wolves who want to destroy what is held dearly, but we do not listen to those voices. We listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, and the other good shepherds who serve the flock, who come so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. St. John Paul II, pray for us and for our shepherds.