The Shepherd Who Leads To Life
The Fourth Sunday of Easter: April 17, 2016 (Year C)
How did I receive the gift of faith? Who taught me? Do I believe because of my parents and teachers, or because I have heard “the call of the shepherd,” Jesus himself? When and how did I become conscious of his voice?
The Entrance Antiphon calls us to recognize that what we experience in the world is the goodness of God himself: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” It is God’s power, goodness and beauty that are actually present and expressed in everything he made and sustains in existence. When we say, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,” — we mean they are still being made and given to us by the presence and action of God in the universe.
The Opening Prayer(s) remind us that the greatest experience of God we have is our experience of his presence in our minds and hearts and wills by grace — the favor of sharing in the divine life of God. Through grace we “enjoy the light of his presence,” and “hear the sound of his voice” and “know the strength” of “Christ our shepherd” whom we ask to “lead our steps.”
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 100) reminds us of who we are and what makes us that: “We are God’s people” and “the sheep of his flock” — because we know the Shepherd.
The voice we follow:
In Acts 13: 14, 43-52 the preaching of Paul and Barnabas is accepted by some and rejected by others. And those who rejected their preaching “worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them” to drive Paul and Barnabas out of town.
You wonder what those people felt when they died and realized to whom they had refused to listen and whom they had rejected!
It makes us ask to whom we listen in the way we live from day to day. Whose advice do we follow? Who sets the standards for our social life, professional conduct, political options? What trends and values does our family life follow? What priorities rule our use of time, our buying, our dress, speech, and selection of school, neighborhood and friends? Do we follow the culturally-accepted “devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city”?
Shepherd and flock:
In John 10: 27-30 Jesus says, “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice.” As long as they do that, “They will never be lost, and no one will ever steal them from me.”
We meet people every day who no longer follow Jesus; at least, not in any conscious or explicit way. If they believe in him, they do not think of themselves as members of his “flock” — or of any flock. They don’t believe in “organized religion.” They don’t assemble with other believers to hear God’s word and worship him as members of a community.
That raises a question: we speak of “lone wolves,” but has anyone ever heard of a “lone sheep”? For Jesus the lone sheep is a lost sheep; he speaks of such only to say he will lead them back into the flock.1
Jesus speaks to every human heart. But he always sent people out to preach in two’s — as a community. And those who responded to the preaching always gathered together as Church. Christianity is not a self-serve, do-it-yourself, one-on-one religion. It is a communal experience of responding to God in a community. Without the Church Jesus founded to be together as his flock there is no Christianity. It is not just a philosophy or private way of relating to God.
And yet, within the community, and taking for granted all that the community gives and asks of us, we do have to deal with Jesus privately, one-on-one, in many do-it-yourself ways. At Mass, for example, we assemble with others, sing and respond as a group, but it is up to each individual to pay deep attention to the words, say or sing them with conscious intent, and participate with personal involvement in all the Mass expresses. If not, the Mass will be dead for us.
And in our response to the Gospel, we have to absorb Jesus’ teachings and apply them to our own personal life, family life, school and professional life in ways so personal they are prophetic. As “prophets” by Baptism we have to ask how we can live the general principles of Jesus in the unique circumstances of our own time and place. This can be different for each one of us. And when we try to do this we hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us individually — not in sounds, but in thoughts so clear in our hearts that we know they come from him. Jesus said the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and… they know his voice.”
We will hear it and know it if we listen for it — with intention to act on what we hear. Then we will know, and be able to say from personal experience, “We are his people: the sheep of his flock.”
Revelation 7: 9-17 holds up to us the image of heaven. And, just as the Mass is communal celebration, heaven is communal happiness” — “a huge number, impossible to count, from every nation, race tribe and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
To “be Church” is to experience this on earth. It is the experience of all who believe, united in recognition and praise. “We are his people: the sheep of his flock.”
1See Matthew 18:12; 26:31; John 10:16.
How do I experience Jesus speaking to me most often in private? In church?
Gather with others in church, but interact personally with Jesus.