One of the great treasures of the Catholic Church is the liturgical year. Just as times and seasons change in nature and we have an opportunity to witness the cycle of life, death and re-birth in the world around us, if we celebrate each liturgical season properly, we have an opportunity to reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Our Savior.
In Advent, we recall the time of anxious waiting for the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of the promise of redemption. At Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s birth. In Ordinary Time, we recall His public ministry. In Holy Week, we recall His passion and death. At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection.
There is something exciting and invigorating about hearing all those readings from the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season. We hear Peter saying in this Sunday’s first reading, “Let the whole of Israel know for certain that God made Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” On another occasion, he says quite clearly, “God raised this Jesus, of this we are all witnesses.” Peter boldly professes his faith even when, at one point, he is instructed by the Sanhedrin never to speak in Jesus’ name again. Peter, filled with the Spirit, cannot keep silent about the truth.
He has come a long way from the night of the Last Supper, when he denied even knowing Jesus. He was intimidated then by no more than a serving girl. In this Sunday’s reading, however, he is proclaiming the resurrection to a large crowd of people. Here we can see him truly serving as the rock upon whom Christ desired to build His Church.
The Church’s faith is built upon Peter’s two great professions of faith: that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and that He has been raised from the dead. Peter is willing to stake his entire life on those truths. In doing so, he is acting as a true shepherd should, directing souls to Christ, who alone is the source of our salvation.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, though, Jesus says that there are shepherds who are no better than thieves and robbers, despoiling the flock and leaving it exposed to dangers. He is speaking on this particular occasion to the Pharisees. These religious leaders placed their faith in Moses, recognizing him as one sent by God, but they were slow to accept Jesus, despite the signs and wonders He performed in their midst.
They accused Jesus of blasphemy and some claimed that it was through the devil that Christ did such things. It is because of their blindness in recognizing the Son that Jesus once told them, “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You lock the door to the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces, but you yourselves do not go in, nor do you allow in those who are trying to enter!”
Unfortunately, what Our Lord said of the Pharisees so long ago can apply in certain situations today. I remember once reading an article about an Anglican clergy member who was trying to adopt certain Muslim practices as well. How can such a shepherd lead a flock to Christ, who tells us that He is the sheepgate?
One also hears stories about preachers who deny the teachings of the Catholic Church from the pulpit or bring their own creative interpretations to bear on the Scriptures, sometimes denying the miracles and events of the Gospels. What damage we can do to the people of God when we preach a Christ contrary to the Gospels. What dishonor we bring to those who first laid down their lives for the preaching of the Gospel.
As I said before, it is invigorating and encouraging to hear the words of Peter proclaimed during this Easter season: “God raised this Jesus, of this we are all witnesses.” His words clearly had a deep impact on those who first heard him. Many desired to be baptized that day. His words thunder out in the Church even today, invigorating us and strengthening our faith with the simple declaration that it is true: Jesus has been raised.