Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Homily: 4th Sunday of Easter

The Shepherd “walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
1. On my recent trip to the Holy Land one of the things that was a common sight as we were traveling through the rolling hills surrounding Jerusalem was the sight of shepherds and their sheep. To a large extent the shepherds of Israel that live in the hill country still lead the same life they did at the time of Jesus. They literally live with the sheep, they lead them through the hills to verdant pastures, they lead them to water, they protect them from predators, and they lead them to shelter when night falls.

2. I find it amazing that in today’s Gospel reading our Blessed Lord was able to draw on something so familiar and so common with those who were listening to Him in order to explain them His relationship with the Church He would found, and the role of the leaders of that Church in relation to the members of the Church.

3. There is one particular image that Jesus uses in this Gospel that I would like to expound on and relate to our current situation in the Church and in the world.

4. During the time of Jesus, and indeed still today, when night falls in the fields the shepherds gather their individual flocks in to one large sheepfold and then the shepherds take turns keeping guard while the rest would sleep. In the morning all the shepherds return and enter the sheepfold and call out to their sheep, and the sheep recognize the voice of their particular shepherd and they follow him out to green pastures. Jesus draws upon this image in order to teach us the importance of being able to recognize the voice of the Shepherd, the voice of Christ among all the various voices that we hear every day.

Mary 5. We all know from experience that there are so many voices out there telling us what to do and how to think. All we have to do is turn on the TV and the talking heads and spin doctors are blabbering on about this and that. Interspersed with them there are an endless stream of commercials trying to convince us to buy this or go to that or to vote for this person. When we turn on the radio, we hear even more voices. We drive down the highway and there are billboards inviting us to visit various places of business or to go to some event. Everywhere we turn there are voices, all trying to lead us somewhere, but not all are the voice of the Good Shepherd, not all are the voice of Christ, and sometime it is hard to tell which one is which.

6. Even within the Christian community there are many voices all claiming to be the voice of Christ. Take for instance the issue of Abortion. There are many church communities that will say abortion is morally acceptable, there are some who will say it acceptable is certain situations, there are some who even actively promote its use, and then there are those who say it is wrong in each and every circumstance no matter what. Now lets be honest; they can’t all be right. Either it is Christian to be apposed to abortion, or it is not…it can’t be both. So, which one is the voice of Christ? How do we distinguish His voice from all the others? It’s a tough question, but believe it or not, it has an easy answer.

7. Jesus, being reasonable and realistic, knew that at times it would be hard for us to know His voice and so He provided for us sure guides. He provided us with living, breathing shepherds to guide His flock on His behalf. He also provided that those shepherds would be given the constant and never failing guidance of the Holy Spirit so that they would always speak the voice of Christ to us in matters of faith and morals. Who are these shepherds? Who are these people who have the gift of speaking with the very voice and words of the Good Shepherd? They are the Pope and the Bishops who are united to him. The Pope and Bishops, and only the Pope and Bishops have been entrusted with the unique gift of speaking with the very words and authority of Christ. The buck stops with them. They have the final word on all matters of faith and morals, and we know from Sacred Scripture that the final word spoken by the Pope and the Bishops in union with Him are inspired by the Holy Spirit and because of that, their final word on matters of faith and morals cannot be wrong.

8. So there you have it, a sure guide for distinguishing one voice from another. We know that the voices that speak words that match the voice of our Shepherd, the Pope, are from the Lord, and those that do not, are from the evil one. As Jesus Himself said, they are “thieves and robbers.” As St. Josemaria Escriva said “Christ has given His Church sureness in doctrine and a fountain of grace in the sacraments. He has arranged things so that there will always be people to guide and lead us, to remind us constantly of our way.”

9. You know, some will say that this sort of belief is oppressive, and that it is a way that the Church uses to keep tight control over people, a way that keeps Catholics from thinking for themselves, but if we look at it honestly, we see that it is a great act of Love from Christ. He loved us so much that He didn’t want to leave us without a guide; He didn’t want to leave us without someone to keep us on the straight and narrow way that leads to life.

10. The other evening I was watching a little TV and I came across a program about a man who is dying of cancer. This man has three small children, and as became abundantly clear, are the apple of his eye. He said that his greatest suffering is not the pain of the cancer or the knowledge that he is going to die, but rather, that he will not be around to keep his children on the straight and narrow, that he won’t be able to be a guide for them. I think that would be on the mind of any father who has young children and is nearing death.

11. Wouldn’t it be great if this father could somehow give someone his thoughts and his voice to speak to his children, to guide them, to keep them on the straight and narrow? Well Jesus, in his love for us actually provided for this in the person of the Pope and the Bishops united to Him. They, as the shepherds of the Church guide us and keeps us on the straight and narrow way that leads to life.

12. We, as citizens of the United States are being given a great gift this coming week. Our Shepherd, the man who speaks with the voice and authority of Jesus the Good Shepherd, is coming to speak to us, to teach us, to guide us on the path of life. Our Shepherd is coming. I hope we are listening. I hope we have ears to hear His message, a message in which he will bring us “Christ our Hope.” The Holy Father, in a video message to the United States earlier this week, said that he “…shall come to United States of America as Pope for the first time, to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture and social condition. Yes, Christ is the face of God present among us. Through him, our lives reach fullness, and together, both as individuals and peoples, we can become a family united by fraternal love, according to the eternal plan of God the Father.”

13. I encourage all of us to watch as much coverage of his visit as we can. But beware… there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing. We all know the media is rather anti-Catholic, and many will take every opportunity to distort the words of the Holy Father. I recommend watching EWTN’s coverage which certainly will provide good coverage and commentary that is faithful to the Holy Father and the message he seeks to bring us.

14. I encourage all of us to listen to his homilies and speeches as well as watch his actions. Pope Benedict, in a particular way, has a great gift for teaching not only with his words, but also with his actions, by how he celebrates the Holy Mass, by what kind of vestments he wears, by his very demeanor. So we need to open our eyes as well as our ears so that we can learn from our shepherd the way that Christ marks out for us. With our shepherd, Pope Benedict in the lead, let us all turn toward the Lord and make our way to heaven our eternal destiny: the eternal verdant pasture where there are restful waters and joy beyond compare.

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