Sunday, May 11, 2014

Between Foxes & Princes, Shepherds & Sheep


4th Sunday of Easter (A)
(Good Shepherd Sunday)

Picture: cc tiny_packages

Sisters and brothers, have you ever noticed how relationships are formed and deepened? How strangers become friends? And friends confidants? Or soul mates? How does it happen? The process is beautifully described in the book The Little Prince. In the book, a wild fox invites a prince to tame it. To establish ties. To enter into a relationship with it. If you tame me, the fox explains, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world...

Now it may sound strange that a wild animal should actually want to be tamed. But the fox explains why. My life is very monotonous, it says. I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. The fox wants to be tamed, because taming changes boredom into sunshine. Emptiness into adventure. Monotony into joy.

At first the little prince is hesitant. He’s too busy. I have not much time, he says. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand. But the fox manages to change his mind. One only understands the things that one tames, says the fox. Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me...

So the Prince accepts. But he discovers that taming isn’t all that easy. There’s a process to be undergone. Stages to pass through. You must be very patient, says the fox. First you will sit down at a little distance from me... I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…

Sisters and brothers, there are, of course, neither foxes nor princes to be found in our Mass readings for today. Instead, what we do find are shepherds and sheep. And yet, even though the characters and the animals may be different, the subject is actually much the same. Isn’t it? As with The Little Prince, our readings today invite us to consider the importance of intimacy and friendship. And not just any kind of intimacy and friendship. But intimacy and friendship between the Good Shepherd and his sheep. Between God and us. Intimacy and friendship that can change boredom into sunshine. Emptiness into adventure. Monotony into joy. I have come so that they may have life, says Jesus at the end of today’s gospel, and have it to the full.

But, not unlike the taming of a fox, growing in intimacy and friendship with God involves a definite process. There are steps to be taken. Stages to cross. In the gospel, Jesus speaks of passing through an entrance. I am the gate of the sheepfold, he says. Anyone who enters through me will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture. But what does it mean to enter this Shepherd-Gate? How does one do it?

Our readings show us three ways this is done. Three ways by which people enter the Shepherd-Gate. In the first reading, Peter has just preached a moving sermon about the dying and rising of Jesus. And we’re told that Peter’s listeners are cut to the heart. They want to draw closer to the Lord. What must we do? They ask. You must repent and be baptized, Peter tells them. This is the first way of entering the gate that is Christ. It is the way of commitment. By repenting of one’s sins and submitting to baptism, one commits one’s whole life to the Lord.

But, as we all know quite well, baptism alone does not always bring a person closer to Christ. Don’t we know of baptised Christians who don’t ever come to church anymore? Except on special occasions like weddings and funerals? And isn’t it true that even those of us who do come to church every Sunday, don’t necessarily have a close relationship with the Lord? Which is why, it’s important that we consider carefully what Jesus tells us about his own sheep. They all have a special talent. When the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out, the sheep follow him, because they recognise his call. And, as you know, another word for call is vocation. A true disciple of Christ is one who is capable of receiving a vocation. But how? How does one learn to recognise the shepherd’s voice? The process is a little more ordinary than we might expect.

Just as we may learn to recognise someone’s voice on the phone simply by talking often with that person. So too, is it possible to recognise the Shepherd’s voice by often spending quality time conversing with Him. Voice-recognition comes from frequent communication. When we find ourselves at the crossroads of our lives, how do we know the direction God wishes us to take? Not really by going for some crash course in spirituality and discernment. We are able to recognise His voice to the extent that we have earlier been making the effort to converse with him in prayer. Especially by meditating upon the Word of God. And by noticing how we feel, what happens within us, when the Lord speaks to us. This is the second way by which we pass through the Shepherd-Gate. It is the way of prayer. The way of communication.

But that’s not all. Our readings speak of one more way for growing closer to the Lord. Probably the most effective one. Also perhaps the most difficult. The second reading begins by telling us that there is merit in the sight of God in bearing punishment patiently when we are punished after doing our duty. That is, when we suffer not for doing wrong, but for doing what is right. For this, in fact is what we were called to do, because Christ suffered for us and left an example for us to follow. Just as we are drawn closer to someone by sharing in her trials. So too are we drawn closer to the Lord when we share in His sufferings. It doesn’t have to be something as great and glamorous as a martyr’s death. It can also happen in quieter, less conspicuous, ways. As when we make the effort to care for a difficult person, for example. Even when we may be unappreciated or rejected. This is a third way by which we deepen our intimacy with the Good Shepherd. By walking the Way of the Cross.

Commitment, communication and Cross. These are ways in which we enter through the Shepherd-Gate. Ways for us to grow in intimacy and friendship with God. Ways in which God gradually transforms the boredom and monotony of our lives into the joyful sunshine of Easter.

Sisters and brothers, incredible though it may sound, God actually wishes to be close friends with us. God actually wishes to help us to live lives that are meaningful and real. Rather than burdensome and empty. But how willing are enter through the Shepherd-Gate? What must we to do to continue to tame and be tamed by God today?

2 comments:

  1. Before i accepted Jesus as my Lord, I have found it difficult to accept the long suffering servant who opens not his mouth to defend himself. After having become a Catholic for years now, I still find it hard to accept this... that is, until a thought struck me these few days.

    What if the person who thought himself/herself wronged was actually not wronged?

    "Words are the source of misunderstandings." What if person A misunderstood what person B said and chided B out of good will? What if B misunderstood A's words, becomes hurt and takes offence? What if A now misunderstands B... A vicious cycle ensues.

    But when one party chooses to bear wrongs patiently, the bad cycle stops and a new virtuous cycle could begin. Is this what Jesus has done, showing by example?

    ReplyDelete

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