Sunrise on Keweenaw Bay

Sunrise on Keweenaw Bay

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How can we hear the Shepherd's voice?


Homily Outline for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

“When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” Jesus is revealed most perfectly as our Shepherd in the Paschal Mystery, the Mystery of Easter: His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection. As we begin this Fourth Week of Easter, our Mother the Church wants to direct our attention to our Risen Lord as our Shepherd. We hear from St. Peter twice today, and in the 2nd reading He says this about Jesus: “When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” On the Cross Jesus is the Lamb of God, He is both Priest and Victim, and He is most perfectly our Shepherd.

Peter speaks of returning to the Shepherd… Where and how do we hear the voice of the Shepherd? If we desire to follow Him, to return to Him, we must listen for His voice, we must recognize His voice… How do we do that? There are three principal places where we can hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, and thus be lead to green pastures, out of danger, into peace. Christ the Good Shepherd speaks in our consciences, in the Living and Efficacious Word of God, the Bible, and in His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, which is His Body.

Let me begin with our consciences. The Lord has written His Law on our hearts… but to hear His voice speaking to us there, we must enter into the silence of our hearts, we must pause and listen. It takes courage and discipline to go within and so to encounter the Good Shepherd. How often do we have an inkling what our conscience might tell us if we were to listen! We can storm on at top speed, we can keep the music turned up, but if we want to hear the Shepherd’s voice, we must listen. Of course this happens principally in prayer… speaking to the Lord, but also listening. The day has 3 simple natural times built into it for prayer… when we rise, when we eat, when we lie down again. Do you keep these times for prayer? However brief or simple it might be, there is nothing more tranformative you can do than to begin to speak to the Lord, and if you already speak to Him, to do so with greater frequency. And not only to speak, but also to listen.

Our consciences are not always perfectly formed, and sometimes we can get confused. We need to be taught, we need to learn, our consciences and hearts need to be shepherded. God speaks to us powerfully and intimately in His Sacred Scripture. The Catholic Church gave us the Bible, discerning and collecting the inspired writings of the Apostles and their disciples… and yet, unfortunately, we Catholics have often become known for our ignorance of the very book that our mothers and fathers in faith handed down to us at such a great price! A short passage read in quiet and pondered, this is the way to begin. Two concrete suggestions… begin now to read the first Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew. Read a chapter or less a day, and allow God’s Word to soak into you. Alternatively, read the daily Mass readings each day, or just the passage of the Gospel assigned for each day. It’s listed ever week in our bulletin, it’s very easy to find online. God’s word can and will transform you if you open your life to it. The Good Shepherd will teach and guide your mind and heart, if you will listen.

Finally, whenever doubts and confusion afflict us, when we don’t understand how to apply the word of God, when we need guidance of any sort, especially to respond to the many contemporary challenges we face each day, we must turn to the living voice of the Shepherd, His Body, the Church. The Church gave us the Scriptures, and has handed them down to us. The Church teaches us today what it taught in the first century. As Peter proclaimed Jesus Christ and Him crucified, as we heard in the first reading, the Church proclaims Him still today. Without the Church, directly, or indirectly, none of us could have heard of Christ, His Good News, nor could we encounter Him in the sacraments. In our own time many people sneer at organized religion and walk away…. is disorganized religion is any better! Without the Church to teach and guide us, we so often follow our own preferences, our own convenience. We pick and choose the parts of the Gospel that are comfortable… but that is not the Gospel! The Sheepfold of Christ is His Body the Church. If we want to be part of His flock, we are called to listen to His Voice, to be conformed to His Sacred Heart, to be configured to His Passion, His Death, but also His Resurrection! Jesus speaks to us precisely through His Church, guided by the successor of Peter, the Pope.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord is very near to us, and wishes to shepherd and guide us to green pastures, flowing waters, and into the light of hope. He tells us in the gospel that He came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly…May we listen to Him in our hearts, seek Him in His word, and may we listen to His voice, especially as it speaks to us through His Body, the Church!

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