A few years ago there was a film that was pretty fascinating, caught people’s attention, and became a bit of a sensation – not so much for the storyline, which frankly wasn’t that riveting – but because of how it was filmed.  In short, the creative team, the cast of this project basically committed to working 2 weeks, every year for 12 years on filming something where the script wasn’t even completed when they began shooting. The writer had a basic plot idea for all the characters and had an ending in mind, but everything in between was very fluid and kind of evolved as things developed based on how those two weeks of filming went each year.  It’s the first film in movie-making history to have it worked on in this staggered fashion over such an extended period of time. Which was incredibly risky and innovative for everyone attached to this project.  But resulted in what was one of the most critically acclaimed films winning a bunch of awards.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER -May 8, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim

For everyone involved in the project, the end result was unlike anything they had experienced in their careers before.  Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke who have been recognizable actors each with about 30 years of work in the film industry would see themselves age in a way on screen that few in Hollywood would feel comfortable doing.    But for the youngest actor who was the focal point of the film, Ellar Coltrane it had a much deeper impact.

Starting this process as a child actor at age 6, and continuing to work on this throughout his young life, the whole thing felt something like a summer camp experience.  Many of the same people on set were there year to year… they grew as a cast together… And here he was as a young boy not simply learning the craft of acting, but just growing up himself as a boy into a young man.  When the film was finished and the premiere occurred, Ellar found the line between the fictitious character and himself as a young man was a bit confusing. His initial reaction to viewing this film where he got to see himself physically grow up in such a dramatically edited way was a bit mindblowing – or as he describes it “it was brutal. It was very emotional… I was laid out for a couple of daysEven though it’s not me, there is a lot of me in that character. It’s hard to describe, but it’s easy to worry about who you are and what you’ve become and forgetting who you are

The irony of Ellar’s confusion is that personalized one of the questions the film wants its viewers to delve into:  Who you are?

Who you are – Who am I – why am I here? those are those universal, philosophical questions that everyone has to face at some point in their lives.  Questions that in our day and age are even more complicated by loud, angry, divisive and disturbed voices where we’re told even basics attributes that contribute to our answer like saying a man or a woman are said to no longer exist; where “Mother” is diminished to singular act of “a birthing person” rather than a lifelong vocation , where even “a life” “a human being” has been said to be controversial when centuries, millennium of peoples were united in those answers.

Who am I – why am I here? We are confronted now with voices that argue those are driven by feelings – which for most of us are important, but are ever changing – whereas questions of identity are far more rooted and lasting.  Are tied and connected to things far deeper tied to my very existence and my destiny.

Who are you?

Today’s scriptures offer an answer that on the surface seems overly simplistic, but is anything but. The Psalm we sang together – We are his people, the sheep of his flock – goes hand and hand with the Gospel for tonight. Being sheep – of the shepherd…   That image can be hard to accept – especially for Americans. We like to believe that we’re strong; self-made; independent people. And sure, there is an element of self-reliance that is admirable and should be expected as we grow up. But it’s the height of arrogance for us to think that we somehow willed ourselves into being; or that we’re able to continue to exist simply by our own power or authority.

Who are you – we begin by recognizing our source of being… a creator. Who, of all the ways of expressing that relationship of Creator-Creatures, one that He uses this very gentle, loving image of being one of His Sheep which we reflect on every year on this 4th Sunday of Easter.  This year’s Gospel selection is probably the shortest of the variations we could have heard in that three-year cycle. But in that short passage, the line that stood out for me was Jesus talking about us his sheep, and saying “… I know them.”

Knowing in the bible often refers to much greater depth and intimacy than we so often use the word. Jesus is not saying “I know so and so” in a general manner, to express familiarity. Jesus knows us.

He knows our curiosity, our desires, our dreams;

He knows our fragileness, our brokenness, our imperfections, our sinfulness;

He knows our potential, the greatness locked within…

He knows us…

And with all of those things, the crazy, complexity that makes you and I the unique, individual, loved creations we are of His, He tells us that He doesn’t just know us, He loves us…and is calling us to recognize how our relationship with Him is meant to change and impact everything as He continues:  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand… That’s how God looks at us. That’s how Jesus sees us… as His beloved sheep that he has laid down his life for.

But it’s up to us to own that… to recognize that… to accept that… to want it. To want to be a member of the flock. To make that choice to do so. To live that choice comes about not simply saying those words “sure, I am His” – but as Jesus tells us, comes about by listening to his voice… following Him.

Much like the actor Ellar Coltrane every so often we catch a glimpses of ourselves, others, even God Himself.  But we have to go deeper than that.  It can’t stay on that surface level.   God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, who tells us of the oneness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who knows and loves us.  And calls us into relationship with Him.  That is awesome and that is demanding at the same time. And it can be scary because He offers us so much and what he is asking for in return is our trust, our love, our lives.

Pope Francis a few years ago to a gathering of millions of youth said – if we want our lives to have meaning and fulfillment… we need to put on Faith – so our life will take on a new flavor, give us the  compass to show you the way; we need to put on Hope – and every one of our days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark but luminous; and we need to put on Love – and our life will be built on rock, your journey will be joyful …

If we do these things, if we allow ourselves to learn from our experiences; instead of being scared by seeing how much we change then we will not mind being one of His Sheep. Sheep don’t just follow any voice; they have learned the shepherd’s voice and find great peace and confidence in following them. They know the shepherd will not bring them to harm, but help them find the best grass and water.

What voices do you hear and follow? Are you confident they will bring you to the best things in life? Listening to the voices of the world — those in the media, and those in politics can be risky and many times harmful. Tuning them out and returning to the voice of our Shepherd guarantees “good things.” Does that mean a life without trouble … no, but it does mean we will know who we truly are – and who we become:  one with the God who never changes. And that is a good thing.