Homily for Sunday, 15 May 2011
4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:14, 36-41. 1 Pt 2:20-25. Jn 10:1-10.
This Sunday is about the fact that Christ shepherds his people, and asks for helpers in doing so. It’s the Sunday of prayer for vocations).
We all need the Life and Love of Christ - like sheep need pasture and our God becomes a lamb in order to lead us there! At Easter we recalled his victory over death and evil, and He wants to bring us to that victory with him, so today He asks us to recognize him as the correct gate for us and as our good shepherd. "I came so that they may have life and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10). I think it's asking us to humbly recognize that we don't know enough ourselves on our own. We all need to find out and to have our hearts moved.
As I think of shepherding sheep, excuse my ruminating on pop-music, but Bob Dylan sang in the 1970's: "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind!", while Donovan sang at the same time (not along with Bob Dylan!) "Ah but I may as well try and catch the wind", and they're both actually similar to the Old Testament pessimistic writing of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth): "Life is vanity of vanities - like trying to catch the wind". But there is a good solution, as the Gospel today proposes, that we be decent sheep who allow Christ to be their shepherd. He will help us to catch what we need!
It's good to be a seeker - to ask yourself "Where did I come from? Where am I going? And how will I get there?". I like the small autobiography of a psychiatrist called Victor Frankel: 'Man in search of meaning'. He was a Jewish medic imprisoned in Aushwitz. He realized that the 'strong' who survived were those who had a 'plan' or a 'motivation for which to live (he founded what's called 'neusi-therapy'). Do you have a plan that inspires you to make effort in life? I saw once the Aushwitz concentration camp sign that was there for prisoners arriving: "Arbeit macht frei" (work will set you free). What a nasty lie that was! But the truth is that our world teaches something similar to us as we grow up - "Money, sex and power will set you free". So what do you seek? What grass does the sheep which is you, want to chew? The world likes to mock things religious. I liked Aldous Huxley's famous book 'Brave new world'. It was criticising an imaginary world where the people were made venerate 'our Ford'! But God longs for us to venerate 'our Lord' - and let ourselves be shepherded by Him. He's ambitious for us, but He needs us to be ambitious about ourselves with Him.
In my youthful search I tried looking in books, music, art, microscopes, cat-scanners - and girlfriend's eyes - but I found what I was looking for only when I altered my own vision! Let's keep open our eyes of faith! Part of that is to ask ourselves what our plans are in life. Do they go any farther than the bank statement or an academic C.V.? That's why Christ calls all of us today, as he called the guys 2000 years ago. They asked where he lives. He replied “come and see!”. We don't need a road map to get there - we need to read the Word of God, and meditate. We need an attitude that is searching and listening. Christ is trying to tell us that there's treasure in our lives, if only we would seek. Let's not be like 'post-modern' philosophers who are pessimists who reckon that there's no point in seeking for things to get any better.
In the parable of the talents (Mt 25), Jesus was criticizing the guy who just returned what he had been given, instead of putting the riches to good use. Are we post-modern or are we investing our lives? Fortunately, our faith is much more than a mundane philosophy. Christ is very ambitious about us - "You'll do my works and greater"! (Jn 14:12). That's if you want. God won't impose.
If we live our faith, we'll be giving life to a dying world. People may well ask "But how do you know?". The answer is, that it's not a question of 'knowing' like in a text-book - that's why it's called faith! It's something that happens to us if we have humble hearts - to ask, to listen and to obey - giving the Word a chance to move our hearts and to bear fruit. As Jesus said with the image of the vine: "Connected to me you'll bear much fruit - but separated from me you won't" (Jn 15:5).
A good sheep will end up a good shepherd. The marvelous thing about God's love is that we don't just enjoy receiving, but that He turns us into givers… sheep who can help our shepherd to guide others. The human family needs it. For example, in the last quarter of the 20th century, the suicide rate in Irish 15 to 25 year old males multiplied by 4!
The world may shut the door on the Christian faith, but we can never shut our eyes to man's need to know Christ and to follow Him in doing something useful for others. A teacher working with orphans and delinquents after the Russian Revolution, encouraged children to take responsibility not just for themselves but, more importantly, for the good of the community as a whole. It worked well (Anton Makarenko, 1888-1939). Unfortunately, the 'Communists' left God out, so the love in community didn't last long. But are we ourselves any more loving now? Are we responsible children of God? Given the social situation in which you live, in what way would you like to help the family?
Let's take the host at mass today with an awareness of how ambitious our Good Shepherd is - to form sheep who'll help in his shepherding.
We make mistakes on the way, as we recognize at the beginning of mass ("I confess...), but we can repent and begin again - just like Peter offers baptism to the group in the first reading today (Acts 2:38). Isn't it great to have a Good Shepherd God who's willing to live and to die like a lamb! He gets beaten for doing good (1 Pt 2:20)! I think that the symbol of shepherd and sheep is Christ's humble way of saying “please, let me be your gateway and follow me!”