Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – MAY 7, 2017. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050717.cfm. Thanks for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit – and for your comments and feedback. I’m grateful for your support! God Bless – Fr Jim
I wonder how many people remember the television programThis is your life. I can remember watching re-runs when I was growing up and was home sick from school or on a snow day…but it was a show that was from way before my time, originally airing in the 1950s. For those unfamiliar, the show was like a documentary/reality TV/ game show. A person would be brought to the TV studios under some false pretense, surprised to learn that they would be the focus of an hour-long retrospective on their lives. People from their past – many of whom they hadn’t seen or heard from in years – would be there to surprise them. That’s probably why it wouldn’t work anymore. With social media, it’s hard to imagine anyone completely losing track of people from their past – which was essential because part of the drama of the program was to see the honoree hearing a voice of a friend or someone influential in their lives which they hadn’t seen or heard from in decades; you watched the expressions, the excitement, the flood of memories that would overwhelm the guests of honor as they recognized those voices.
The idea for the show started when Ralph Edwards, its creator, and host, was approached by some people from the United States Army and asked if he could “do something” for soldiers who were suffering in a hospital from traumatic injuries and were dealing with major depression as a result. Edwards went and visited them and found one particularly despondent soldier. He was pretty much confined to a bed and had this isolation, this distance about him. That’s when Edwards thought of the idea of presenting the man’s life on air. Rather than focusing solely on where the soldier was at that point, he wanted to integrate happier times from his past. So he brought in the soldier’s former track coach, people from his childhood, military officials he knew, and so on for the program’s first episode, which was an overwhelmingly beautiful experience for the soldier. Hearing these voices, and re-engaging with people from his past, helped him to remember who he was. Not simply a man injured in the horrors of war. Two years later, to the day that this first episode aired, the soldier, now rehabilitated, came to Edward’s studio in a wheelchair accompanied by his wife, who he had recently married, for one of the most emotional scenes on a show that had many high emotions. As the soldier was wheeled in, Edwards said, “I told him, ‘Here’s a year’s rent, and here’s your key to your new home. Come and get it.’ And the young soldier who just two years earlier was imprisoned by the wreckage he viewed his life as got up and walked to the microphone. Edwards said, “It was the greatest thrill I ever had. The crowd stood up and cheered..” Edwards recognized that what was essential to helping the soldier move out of his depression and begin his rehab and start a new life was to bring back memories through the voices of those who knew him, who could remind him of a happier past, to help the young man see that there was still hope for a happier future.
Throughout this Easter season, we’ve heard Gospel narratives, where even though Jesus’ friends keep learning the news of an empty tomb, angelic visitors announcing Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead – that news doesn’t seem to be enough to relieve the fear, the terror, the sadness that the first followers were experiencing from Good Friday, which makes sense. That day for those closest to Jesus was horrific for many reasons – but not the least of which was because they had rejected, betrayed, and abandoned him at Jesus’ most trying moment. Those images from Good Friday of His torturous, brutal, gruesome death devastated them.
Last week we heard in the Gospel how the two disciples were heading out of town towards Emmaus even though they had been told the “good news” of Jesus’ resurrection… Thomas misses the first encounter and doesn’t believe his fellow apostle’s testimony… When Mary Magdalene first saw the empty tomb, she feared that there had been another insult to Jesus, someone stealing His body – and when she first sees Jesus, she thinks he’s a gardener and asks him did he steal the body and where he put it…
What can transform the “good news” of Jesus’ victory over death from something they’ve heard about to something they experience: Hearing the voice of Jesus… In hearing that voice – they were reminded of all that Jesus had taught them…. all that he spoke of, how God had never and would never abandon his people… and how that had been definitively, eternally demonstrated in His being risen from the dead, never to die again. With that, their hope for a happier future would resurrect as well.
Which leads us to today’s Gospel. Jesus refers to himself as “the Good Shepherd” and the “gate for the sheep,” which is a popular image but needs some explanation to those of us who don’t have much experience with sheep. Sheep have a connection with the shepherd, unlike that of other farmers with their animals. The Shepherd knows every one of his sheep: the one with the strange-looking ear, that one with the cute face, the one who’s bigger and fuller than the rest- A Shepherd knows all of them. He knows when one out of 100 of them are missing.
At night, during Jesus’ time, there would be three or four shepherds who’d put all of their sheep together in a pen while one of the shepherds would watch through the night, protecting them from thieves or wild animals; and in the morning, the shepherds would call, and the flocks would split and follow their respective shepherd. They knew which voice to follow to find direction in life. They recognized the voice of their shepherd.
As our Good Shepherd, Jesus tells us in this Gospel that if we listen to His voice and follow Him, He will lead us to an abundant life. That we will be saved. That death will have no power over us.
But simply having knowledge of this “good news” as something that we, as Catholic Christians, believe isn’t enough… In fact, we may find ourselves like the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the way out of town, unable to truly believe it; like Thomas, thinking it can’t be true; or like Mary Magdalene, unable to recognize Jesus Christ standing right in front of her. We might even be like that soldier who was literally and figuratively paralyzed in the hospital, thinking that his future was limited to despair and pain.
What will lift us out of those thoughts of despair is by hearing Jesus’ voice and remembering who we are.
Pope Francis gave three ways we can be sure we’re listening to the voice of Jesus. He said First, “you will find the voice of Jesus in the Beatitudes. Second: you… know it when that voice speaks of the works of mercy. For example, in chapter 25 of St. Matthew: if someone tells you what Jesus says there, that is the voice of Jesus. Third: you may know it is the voice of Jesus when it teaches you to say ‘Father’, that is, when it teaches you to pray the Our Father.”
It is good for us, as Jesus’ beloved sheep, to be here. We, too, need to hear the shepherd’s voice to remember who we are and who we belong to. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear him reminding us of God’s promises, how He has fulfilled those promises and has never, and will never abandon His People. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear Him inviting us to follow Him, even as we walk through our own dark nights with things that terrorize us. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we, too, can have our hopes for a happier future restored. If we can listen and hear that voice, follow that voice, then we can be confident that despite the unpleasant chapters we have to endure, the ending to our own hypothetical episode of this is your life has a real promise of an eternal, abundant conclusion.