Fourth Sunday of Eastertide (B)
(Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12; 1st. John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18)
I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.
It would seem that the reason why so many in our society and in our world today reject Jesus is because they have, beforehand, in the depths of their hearts, already rejected the Father’s calling-and-teaching voice, His guiding-and-sustaining hand.
No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him. (John 6:44)
This refusal to be taught by the Father, to be guided by Him, and to trust in Him, is not always or necessarily a religious confrontation, for the Father Who has created all men relates to them in whatever details of their personal lives and daily experience. One does not need to have heard of Jesus, one does not need to have any religious conviction, to be affected by the Father, for He desires and seeks to guide all humankind from within the depths of their being. We often speak of His guiding with respect to our human conscience, and that is correct; but we must not imagine that He only speaks to us explicitly about right and wrong, about good and bad.
Jesus said once ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, and so the Father speaks -- by His Spirit in our innermost being -- about what way we should travel to attain our ends, about truth in all its beauty and variety, and about life … what is its meaning, its purpose, its end? He speaks to us about our aims and aspirations: what ideals should we seek? Gain makes for profit but cannot command integrity, so what worth Is there in a life where self-seeking schemes are top priority while self-giving aspirations are practically excluded? The Father of our human family speaks to us about our neighbour: what sort of respect should we show him, can we ignore him, use him, or indeed, perhaps even harm him to attain our own most important ends? And surely, He is the supreme guide for parents and teachers, boys and girls, in their mutual relationships and responsibilities. Indeed, there are countless ways in which the Father seeks to speak with each and every person made in His image before ever directly involving religion or mentioning Jesus. And our response to all these most respectful promptings gradually builds up either an habitual attitude of hearing, listening and responding to, that inner voice of One so intimately close to us, and yet somehow, other than and above us, or else an increasingly determined will to entertain nothing other than our own private thoughts and ideas, pursue nothing but our own secret purposes.
There is another contributing cause for modern society’s turn from Christian faith and it becomes clear if we consider again those words of Jesus:
I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
Too often Christians, rather than witnessing to the God with Whom they are intimately one in personal love, appreciation, and commitment, are, instead, inclined to present themselves, their own individual convictions and personal integrity; or else they may point to the Church as a powerful organization with a unique ethos manifesting itself in distinctive social attitudes and practices, a Church calling for obedience in response to its many rules and regulations long before inviting and encouraging us to know and love the One Whom all its rules and practices are meant to proclaim and serve.
Now, the reason why seekers for God, for truth, for meaning and purpose in life, embrace Christianity, is hope for eternal salvation and fulfilment despite the mysterious power and depredations of sin in our lives and in the world around us: an aspiration to knowledge of, and communion with, the mysterious God Whose reflected majesty, might, and splendour never cease to enthral us in the creation surrounding us on all hands; a yearning for commitment to and love for the Lord Whose goodness is Personal and Who seeks our like response to His sublime wisdom and transcendent love made uniquely manifest in the life and teaching, death and resurrection, of Jesus our God and Saviour, and handed down to us in the beauty and truth of the Christian and Catholic Church which carries His Body and bestows His Spirit.
Today however, few seek to appreciate and understand the Christian Scriptures and Catholic teaching in order to truly love God first and foremost in their lives, with the result that the words and example of Jesus are largely ignored:
The Father knows me and I know the Father.
The Father knows and loves each one of us disciples of His Son through and through, and He uses His infinite yet subtle power to influence and guide us to the fullness of the possibilities with which He has endowed us and the promises which He has made to us, and it is in our constant dialogue and communion with Him that our destinies are shaped. Those who refuse to respond to the Father’s influence in the depths of their human experience for whatever reason can know nothing about Jesus. Whether or not they might have heard of Jesus is ultimately irrelevant: a pagan in the remotest jungle is as capable of rejecting the Father’s call, as is an American in Paris, as was an educated and religious High Priest when Jesus walked in Palestine.
Of course, this individual responsibility is both feared and hated by the world around us. Always some circumstance -- some unavoidable circumstance, some reason -- some incontrovertible reason, some influence -- some ineluctable influence, is said to prevent individuals from choosing what is good and to excuse them embracing what is bad. Why God Himself, it is claimed at times, could surely not blame individuals for some of even the most outrageous, horrific, or depraved actions, and would, most certainly, not punish them!!
And yet Jesus’ words are ultimate truth:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.
It is in that supremely intimate dialogue with the Father -- not always or necessarily recognized as Father -- in the depths of our humanity, that we, each and every one of us, shape and ultimately determine our earthly life and eternal destiny. And that is why, People of God, for us who are Christians, and above all for us who are Catholics, it is absolutely essential that we should attend, indeed give our most loving attention, to our personal dialogue with the Father in our minds and hearts if we are to give authentic witness to Him and to Jesus. We would achieve little by faultless observance of the rules of Mother Church, reception of all the Sacraments, unfailing presence at Mass and continuous reading of the Scriptures, if we had no communion with the Father in such moments of intimate worship and silent confession in the depths of our being.
Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been given us by the Father to lead us to that fullness of our being expressed in Mother Church’s words contained in the third canon of Mass; let us therefore humbly repeat her prayer and make it our own:
Merciful Father, gather to Yourself all Your children scattered throughout the world, and, at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to Your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of Your glory through Christ Our Lord, through Whom You bestow on the world all that is good. Amen.