Originally delivered as a homily on”Good Shepherd Sunday”, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, I think this recording is universal in the sense that it’s message not restricted to that day but. will hopefully give me pause to consider any time I listen to it. Perhaps it will for you as well. God bless you as you listen, and always.
A homily is meant to be listened to rather than read but I have included a written version below that more or less tracks with the recording. I do recommend reading the Scriptures which inspired it prior to listening. You can find them here: Fourth Sunday of Easter.
The Good Shepherd by Daniel Bonnell.
One week ago at this very moment I was in prison. I was in prison on an ecumenical retreat to help the men incarcerated there to come to know and to have a personal relationship with their good shepherd. I wasn’t consciously thinking about preaching my Homily this week, and yet in a very real sense that is what I was doing from Thursday to Sunday. Don’t worry I promise not to preach to you that long, an hour and a half tops! I promise.
Along with the rest of the retreat team, I invited those men first to think about their own lives, to understand more clearly the nature of the sinfulness that causes them to think they cannot ask God for forgiveness and then to understand that like the prodigal Son they could always, always, always, come back to the forgiving Father. It is the same message that Pope Francis tweeted two weeks ago. “The Lord never tires of forgiving us. It is we who get tired of asking for pardon”
We asked them to make a decision, to make a good faith effort to do that and to embrace the rest of the retreat with an open mind and heart.
That is where we started on Thursday and then through all of the talks and meditations, through the informal conversations and in breaking bread together, we invited these broken and flawed human beings to understand that we too were broken and flawed human beings; that we too were prisoners, spiritual prisoners to our own sins, just like they were but, with one vital difference. We had turned to the Father already. We had asked for and received forgiveness. We had responded to the call to forgive others and to love. Following the model of Jesus that we recalled on Holy Thursday in the washing of the apostles feet, we had come to share with them that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We had come to model Christian community to them and to empower them through the grace of God to do the same.
We were talking to those men about the cornerstone upon which they must build their lives. We were talking to them about listening to the voice of their Good Shepherd. We were talking to them about what is fundamental to being a Christian. How could they be followers of Jesus, unless they figured out first what voices they had been listening to, and second learned to recognize the Master’s voice so they could choose to follow him instead?
And I have continued to reflect upon that all week long. As I have for many years and will continue to do so for all of the days and years that I have remaining. Why must I do that? Why must you also do that?
Because God created us for a purpose. We are called by virtue of our baptisms to carry on the mission of Jesus himself, to bring about the reality of the kingdom and to be a healing touch in the lives of others so that they may do the same. We are called to be in the deepest of friendships with Jesus and to share the way, the truth and the life of that friendship with all of the people that God places in our daily lives.
Simple, but not easy.
There are literally thousands of voices competing for your attention, and most of it happens when we’re on autopilot. Therefore we have to learn how to actively listen for the voice of God. We have to tune in to the divine frequency, and sort out all the static and the other stations that come into our hearts on the frequencies of the world.
It isn’t easy because we live in a world filled with voices that compete for our attention and time; voices that call us to our responsibilities at work, at home, and at school, voices that call us to our recreational activities, fun and relaxation. I am not saying that these voices should be ignored but, we must remember they are not the Master’s voice and must be in harmony with his voice if we are to joyfully dance to the tune they sing.
It isn’t easy because there are other voices that call to us to participate in things that we know we should not. There are voices that make us slaves to bad habits and addictions. There are voices that tell us we are not loved or lovable; or that there are others who should be objects of our hatred. There are voices that tell us we aren’t attractive enough, smart enough, good enough, that we have failed before and can’t succeed now, and we shouldn’t waste our time trying to follow the Master’s voice.
Is there a thought in your mind right now which says you are not capable of this? Is a voice telling you a reason you can’t hear or follow the Master’s Voice. Is there a voice that tells you that what I am saying isn’t true? Acknowledge that voice exists and give it to God. These voices we must learn to hear, if only so that we can lay them at the foot of the cross and let the blood that was shed for us wash us clean of them.
Let me now invite you to think with me about our own lives, to understand more clearly the currents that we follow in the river of life and how they either help or hinder us from our purpose to live as saints in the world.
I ask you to decide with me, following the example of inmates who were on retreat, to make a good faith effort to do that, and to embrace the rest of the Easter Season with an open mind and heart which will bring us to the upper room at Pentecost, as it brought them to a new life in Christ last Sunday.
Between now and Pentecost let’s ask ourselves daily what voices we have been following. Let us examine our day when we lay down at night and ask God to reveal that wisdom to us. Let us ask ourselves how much time did I give today to God and how much did I give to the world? If we want to be able to hear the Lord’s voice we have to set time aside to listen. We have to wake up and stop living on autopilot! We have to know who we are listening to!
We have to grow closer with the Good Shepherd who guides his flock every day, not just on Sunday. So come to him in prayer in thanksgiving, for others as well as yourself, and especially for those who are the most difficult to love. Embrace the sacramental life with joy, especially Eucharist and Reconciliation. Reflect on the scriptures every day for they are the very voice of the Good Shepherd and the Gospels are the cornerstone on which we must build our lives.
You have a decision to make. Every moment of every day in every circumstance you have a decision to make. Choose to follow the Good Shepherd as his disciple. Live joyfully as a saint in the making, secure in the promise of the resurrection. Then help someone else in your life do the same.
Become an intentional disciple of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, doing our Father’s will all day every day in and out of season. Now is the kingdom. Now is the day.