4th. Sunday Easter (B)
I am the good shepherd, and I know Mine and Mine know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father
Dear People of God, it would seem that the reason why so many in our society and in the world today reject Jesus and His Church is because they have, beforehand, in the depths of their hearts, already rejected the Father’s inviting voice, His guiding spiritual hand.
No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by My Father.
This refusal to be initially guided by the Father, then to be taught -- and ultimately as true sons and daughters of His in Jesus -- ruled by Him, is not always or necessarily a religious confrontation at all. The Father Who created all men can relate to each and every one of us in all the details of our inner life and public experience: one does not need to have heard of Jesus, one does not need to have any religious convictions, to be approached and addressed by the Father. The Father wants and seeks to guide all humankind in the depths of their being, indeed, that is the startling development in acceptable worship of God of which Jesus spoke when He said to the Samaritan woman that His Father was Spirit and wanted to be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth; that, indeed, is the spiritual revolution Jesus was sent to bring about on earth.
We often hear of God’s guiding us with respect to our human conscience, and that is absolutely correct so long as we do not imagine that He only speaks to us explicitly about right and wrong, about what is good and bad. Jesus said once ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, and so the Father speaks by His Spirit -- to our conscience, most importantly about right and wrong ways open to us at times; but also, and much more frequently, He addresses our spiritual awareness -- about truth, love, and fidelity, about the difference between pleasure and joy, indeed, about life itself … what is its meaning, its purpose, its end? He may also speak to us about what is beautiful: what ideals do we have, should we seek; what is left in life if general honesty is mocked or personal integrity ignored? He may speak to us about our neighbour: what sort of respect should we show him or her? Can we ignore him or use him, indeed can we harm him, to attain our own ends? Parents, teachers, boys, girls, how are they to relate with each other?
There are countless ways in which the Father seeks, by His most Holy Spirit, to speak with each and every person made in His image – heart to heart as it were -- before ever directly mentioning religion or Jesus; and our responses to all these promptings and ‘soundings’ gradually build up in us a more or less habitual attitude of reacting and responding to that secret inner voice belonging to One Who is Other than us and way above us, so to speak, and yet so intimately -- Spirit to spirit -- close with us. We can, on the one hand, gradually accept that inner dialogue as an important and, indeed, essential ‘part’ of us, or else we can see it as an increasingly unwelcome intrusion into our private persuasion to follow up nothing other than our own willed thoughts, pursue none but our own desires and achieve above all our secret purposes.
There is another contributing cause for modern society’s turn from Christian faith and indeed from all religious belief, 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 Catholics today witness not to the God with Whom they should be intimately one in personal love and commitment, but instead to the Church of which they think of themselves exclusively as members, relating to her as an impersonal and powerful organization with definite practices calling for expected responses, with rules and regulations which seem to require only obedience; thus presenting her to others as a Church which proclaims herself rather than Jesus, a Church which calls on us to obey her commands, practice her morality, before ever inviting us and encouraging us to know and love Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, Who alone can and Who alone wills, no matter what the cost to Himself, to lead us to God the Father -- His Father Who wants to be our Father -- the God Who is sublimely Personal, and Who seeks our personal response to His great goodness, wisdom, and love, made manifest and humanly recognizable in Jesus, His only-begotten and incarnate Son, become One of us for us.
Now, the only reasons for embracing Christianity as a Catholic should be a desire for eternal life and heavenly fulfilment, and a heart-felt love for the wondrous goodness of God made manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and in the great beauty and truth of the Christian appreciation of and Catholic response to our awareness and experience of life in the natural creation we find all around us, and in the human society we seek to create for ourselves.
Today however, in our decadent Western society, too 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 of us through and through, and He uses His infinite yet subtle power to influence and guide us in our ideas, our appreciations, our inclinations and our fears, because each of us is His creation and He wills to lead each of us to the fullness of the possibilities with which He has endowed us. It is in constant dialogue and communion with Him as disciples of Jesus that all of us can most effectively shape our destinies: and those who refuse to respond to the Father’s influence in the depths of their human hearts for whatever reason can know nothing about Jesus. Whether or not they heard about Jesus directly is not ultimately decisive: a pagan in the remotest jungle is as capable of rejecting the Father’s call, as was an educated and religious Jew when Jesus walked in Palestine, just as is a modern self-satisfied sceptic.
Of course, this individual ability and responsibility before God is both feared and hated by the world around us. Always some circumstance, some unavoidable circumstance, some reason, some incontrovertible reason, some influence, some irresistible influence, is said to prevent individuals from choosing what is good, to excuse them from doing what is bad. Why God Himself, it is claimed, surely cannot blame individuals for even the most outrageous, horrific, or depraved actions, and most certainly will 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 human, that ideally human, dialogue with the Father -- not always initially or necessarily recognized as Father – speaking by His Spirit to us in the depths of our hearts, that we, each and every one of us, shape and ultimately determine our earthly life and eternal destiny:
Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:32)
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 supreme attention, to our personal dialogue with the Father in our minds and hearts in order that we may give authentic witness to Him. We would achieve nothing by faultless observance of the rules of Mother Church, the practice of all abstract moral virtues, dutiful reception of the Sacraments, unfailing presence at Mass, without communion with Jesus our Lord, and in Him with the Father, in the secret depths of our being, by His most Holy Spirit.
Jesus was totally amazed at His Jewish opponents speaking about the God they thought they believed in and He expressed His amazement saying:
It is My Father who glorifies Me, of Whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ You do not know Him, but I know Him. And if I should say that I do not know Him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know Him and I keep His word. (John 8:54-55)
What must He think of too many modern Catholics privileged to call God their Father and who yet live their lives as if He had never spoken to them in their hearts??
Dear People of God, let us treasure Jesus and the Holy Spirit Who have been sent us, given us, by the Father to lead us to that fullness expressed in Mother Church’s words contained, and so easily passed over, in the third canon of Mass:
Father, we hope to enjoy forever the vision of Your glory through Christ Our Lord, through Whom You bestow on the world all that is good.