Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Peter is addressing slaves in the letter that we hear from him today (1 Peter 2:20-25). I found it striking because he tells them that they have not been called to be slaves, but to be like Christ. So if they are punished for doing something poorly then there is no glory in that. However, if they are punished for doing something well, for doing a good thing, then there is great merit since they are like Christ. A Christian is called to be like Christ, especially in bearing an injustice.
Shoulder your yoke, says Jesus, many times in the gospels. God sends the rain on the good and the bad alike. He sends, or allows sickness or coronavirus on those who believe and those who don’t. So as a Christian I need to shoulder it well, to carry it well. Why? That is what Jesus Christ did. He was totally silent in the face a false accusations.
There is a simple story about a father and his three year old son making footprints in the snow. The father invited his son to walk in his footprints. Of course, the three year old could not do it since he was so much smaller than his father. So his dad picked him up and put his foot in each place where he stepped. This is what God does to us. He puts our foot down in this difficulty or that one, not as a punishment, but to help us to be like Christ.
In the gospel of the Good Shepherd (John 10: 1-10) Jesus is the shepherd and also the Gate. We go into the sheepfold through the gate, through Christ. We can only go in that way because of him otherwise we would go as thieves and robbers; we would go to serve ourselves. We go in so that we can bring our sheep, our family or friends, out who are sick, who need help, who are wounded in some way. We can only enter because of Christ, not because we are great people or very talented or because we like doing it. We can only enter the sheepfold, or the lives of others, because Christ is the gate and he allows us in. When we go in his name, we can bring others out of death, out of fear, out of uncertainty.
At certain times of the year all the sheep from various shepherds are gathered and then at some point they have to go back to their own shepherds. How do they know where they belong? This is still a common occurrence in Palestine today. Each shepherd has a distinctive noise that he makes and his sheep follow him. They recognize him. The shepherd knows the name of his sheep. Pope Francis says the shepherd should smell like the sheep; he knows them well.
The shepherd also leads his sheep. He doesn’t force them or push them or drive them. He leads them. And they follow him. A shepherd or leader goes first like Christ did. There is nothing that he asks us to do that he didn’t do first.
The Good Shepherd gospel is like a commentary on the prior chapter about the cure of the man born blind. The hired hands are the Pharisees; they throw out the blind man. They don’t recognize the voice of Christ. The ordinary people, symbolized by the blind man, do hear his voice. God’s sheep recognize the one who speak with God’s voice. This is true even today.
Fr. Emil Kapuan was born in Kansas of German and Bohemian parents. He grew up on a farm, lived a simple life and had a deep piety even as a child. He was very close to his pastor and served his Mass each day. He went to the seminary and was ordained for the diocese but after serving in a few parishes had a great longing to be a chaplain in the services. He served briefly at the end of World War II and then again in Korea in 1950. Just as it seemed that the war was ending China entered on the side of North Korea and 20,000 Chinese soldiers overran the Americans in a battle where Fr. Emil was captured. Actually he was with those soldiers who were not captured but went back to those who were being taken as prisoners. There was a 60 to 100 mile death march where he carried men on his back and encouraged others to do so. He was truly a good shepherd. Many survived because of him and the men who helped him.
The Chinese didn’t react well to him since the men always supported him. He served everyone by finding food, caring for the wounded, and giving his life. After seven months he contracted pneumonia and was place in what the Chinese called the “hospital.” He died in two days. A Jewish prisoner came to this camp sometime later and was struck by the different spirit of the men there. They didn’t fight or argue; they cared for one another as a consequence of Fr. Emil’s presence. This Jewish prisoner, a gifted artist, carved a four foot cross out of cherry wood that he found in the camp. Two and a half years after Father Kapuan died they carried the cross with them to freedom. In 2013 he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Obama; this is the highest Award given to anyone in the military. The Vatican has opened the study of his life in 1993 to be canonized a saint.
As Christians we are called to be good shepherds, to be like Christ to those around us.