I have some relations and friends who are scornful of my Christianity. Though they don’t always tell me to my face, I can tell from their resigned and patient expressions, that they think I have a screw loose. To believe that someone can rise from the dead, or that miracles occur? Pffft. Some of the more honest ones have told me I learn to think for myself and not be a sheep who follows the teachings of a patriarchal bronze age society.
This line of reasoning falls flat on its face when we look at actual case studies of atheists who have changed their minds and turned to Christianity. Christians, it turns out, are no more stupid than the rest of society. And they are much better at handling rejection than some of the popular victim groups around today, because the cross comes with the territory of being a Christian. We’re not in it for its popularity or for success (some are, but this is only a characteristic of some branches of Protestantism).
Today, we’re celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday. We’re celebrating the fact that the Shepherd in charge is good – he wants what is best for us – and we follow him because we love him. I can honestly say to the people who doubt me, that the relationship I (and many others) have with this Shepherd, is one so filled with joy that nothing can take that away from us, not even suffering. That’s because it’s a living relationship. Not only does Jesus appear in the pages of the Bible, but he actually establishes a living and present relationship with us through prayer, Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion and the other Sacraments. Jesus tells us, “the sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.” (John 10: 27 ff.)
The ‘prayer’ one is particularly important for hearing the voice of the Shepherd. I have a 50 minute drive in to work every day, and over time, have developed a ritual of prayer for filling in the time: morning offering, prayer to the guardian angel of every member of my family, likewise a prayer to St Michael for family members, followed by a Divine Mercy chaplet and later the Rosary. I’m not telling you this to show off, I actually want to share that I’m not very good at praying like this, because my mind keeps wandering off on tangents. Anyway, I was getting pretty frustrated at the tendency of my mind to drift away from the actual words of the prayers, but then I had a revelation. It started to seem to me that in some of these ‘wanderings’ I was hearing the voice of the Shepherd guiding me in thinking about the people I was praying about. So I have started listening more intently to what I think he is saying to me. How do we know we’re hearing the Shepherd and not the Thief? If I am in doubt about a particular course of action that has come to me, I now write it down, and pray about it in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and ask God for ‘more information’. He will either confirm and strengthen the idea, and we will experience what St Ignatius calls consolation, or we will experience desolation. Margaret Silf talks about this in her book, The Inner Compass.
It’s wonderful to be a sheep, to know I don’t have to re-invent everything as if I am a God unto myself, to be guided by one who is goodness, truth and beauty himself. I love the obedience that being a sheep entails. I love having the confidence that the Shepherd won’t let anyone steal me away from the Father. And I love the hope that the Shepherd gives me for the other members of my family, even the ones who don’t trust him just yet …
Word format: Year C Easter 4th Sunday 2016
Pdf format: Year C Easter 4th Sunday 2016