Gospel Commentary for 4th Sunday of Easter
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, 11 APRIL 2008 (ZENIT)
This is Good Shepherd Sunday, but this
time we are not going to focus our attention on the Good Shepherd, but
on his antagonist.
Who is the person who is defined as the “thief,” the “stranger”? Jesus
is thinking in the first place of the false prophets and the
pseudo-messiahs of his time who posed as emissaries of God and
liberators of the people, but who in reality did nothing but send the
people to die for them. Today these “strangers” who do not enter in
through the gate, but who sneak into the sheepfold, who “steal” the
sheep and “kill” them, are fanatic visionaries, or astute profiteers,
who speculate on the good faith and naivety of the people. I am
referring to the founders and leaders of the religious sects that are
springing up around the world.
When we speak of sects, we must be careful not to put everything on the
same level. Protestant evangelicals and Pentecostals, for example, apart
from isolated groups, are not sects. For years the Catholic Church has
maintained an official dialogue with them, something that it would never
do with sects.
The true sects can be recognized by certain characteristics. First of
all, in regard to their creed, they do not share essential points with
the Christian faith, such as the divinity of Christ and the Trinity; or
rather they mix foreign and incompatible elements with Christian
— re-incarnation, for example. In regard to methods, they are
literally “sheep stealers” in the sense that they try to take the
faithful away from their Church of origin, to make them followers of
They are also often aggressive and polemical. They invariably spend more
time accusing and criticizing the Church, Mary and, in general,
everything Catholic, rather than proposing their own positive ideas.
They are the antipodes of the Gospel of Jesus, which is love, sweetness,
respect for the freedom of others. Gospel love is absent from the sects.
Jesus has given us a sure criterion for recognizing them: “Beware,” he
said, “of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but who
underneath are rapacious wolves. By their fruits you will know them”
(Matthew 7:16). And the most common fruits of sects are divided
families, fanaticism, and apocalyptic expectations of the end of the
world, which are regularly contradicted by the facts.
There is another kind of religious sect, born outside the Christian
world, generally imported from the East. Unlike those we have been
talking about, they are not aggressive. Indeed, they present themselves
“in the clothing of lambs,” preaching love for all, for nature, the
quest for the deep self. They are often syncretistic ensembles, that is,
they weave together elements from various religions, as is the case with
the New Age.
The great spiritual damage that is caused to those who allow themselves
to be convinced by these new messiahs is that they lose Jesus Christ,
and with him that “life in abundance” that he came to bring. Some of
these sects are also dangerous for mental health and public order. The
recurrent cases of subjugation and group suicides show us where the
fanaticism of some sect leaders can carry people.
When we speak about sects we must also say a “mea culpa.” People often
end up in sects in search of the human warmth and support of a community
that they did not find in their parish.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]