The Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them. (Revelation 7:17)*
St. John received a vision of heaven. Christ sits on His throne, surrounded by countless saints and angels. From there, our brother the Nazarene carpenter shepherds His entire flock.
Now, a shepherd usually has to wander the hills and dales with his sheep, keeping long, cold night watches, for fear of wolves. An enthroned shepherd, sitting in the middle of unimaginable splendor, guiding a flock of countless multitudes—pretty amazing that this shepherd can do that. But, indeed, He can. As He said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
Christ knows us. He formed us in our mothers’ wombs, according to His design, the design He conceived before the foundation of the world. He knows us better than we know ourselves. We could say that our pilgrim lives consist precisely in this: the adventure of coming to know ourselves, over time, as Jesus has known us for all eternity.
“My sheep follow Me.” You bet we follow Him. He has blazed the trail to true, undying happiness; to peace that nothing can disturb; to the fulfillment of every human longing and the satisfaction of every human desire.
Yes, we must follow the path of humility, chastity, patient endurance, and self-sacrifice; we must follow our shepherd to Calvary. But what did St. Paul say? All the sufferings of this life count as nothing, compared to the glory that will be revealed.
So, yes: We sheep willingly follow the divine shepherd. When we hear His voice.
He insists that we do hear His voice, all the way from His heavenly throne. Let’s meditate on how. How do we sheep on earth hear the voice of our divine shepherd, Who has ascended to heaven?
Some specially chosen souls hear what we call “locutions,” direct speech from heaven, internally audible. But getting into that is above my pay-grade.
Most of us do not receive locutions. But each of us has a conscience. I have within me the capacity to think clearly and make decisions based on the truth. Often this involves me challenging myself, when some particular desire wants to drive me in a direction that my better judgment can see means trouble.
Christ our Shepherd gave us this capacity to take responsibility for our actions, precisely so that He could communicate with us through it. When I think something through, in order to make a morally sound decision, the divine Shepherd speaks to me.
Now, we all have our consciences ‘built-in,’ so to speak. But: all the knowledge we need in order to use our consciences well—all that knowledge is not “built-in.” We need to learn. We need to learn from the Lord Himself, if we want to make good, moral use of our power to think. How do we learn from Him?
At Mass this Sunday, we read how the Lord made Sts. Paul and Barnabas “a light to the Gentiles, an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” When the apostles went to Pisidia, what happened? “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region…all who were destined for eternal life came to believe…the Gentiles glorified the word of the Lord.”
Now, no one can deny that, at times, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church looks like a pretty goofy band of semi-clueless knuckleheads. But: We have these things that we do…
We obey Christ’s command to celebrate Mass. We read and listen to the Bible, according to an illuminating annual routine of feasts and seasons. We perform other ceremonies that Christ Himself laid down. We build houses of prayer and make it our Catholic business to pray like mad in them.
In spite of our fecklessness as individuals, therefore, we take part in the on-going life of an organism with divine qualities. One of the divine qualities of Holy Church is this: When we listen and participate in the Church’s on-going life, we learn what Christ our Shepherd has to teach.
Hopefully you know that our Holy Father Pope Francis recently has given us an Exhortation on the subject of marriage and family life. He had gathered a large number of bishops in Rome for two month-long sessions the past two Octobers. Now he has written to us with the fruits of those meetings.
Maybe this summer we can have a study session to go over the Exhortation. It contains teachings that can and will challenge us all. Right now, though, I’m running out of time for this particular sermon.
Let’s boil down the pope’s message to this, for now: Everybody knows about the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, right?
Well, Holy Father says that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph can and will help guide every family to real happiness. The divine Shepherd lives, and Mary and Joseph sit by His side in heaven. They share an undying family love. Their love can fill our homes, too.
*Discovered something interesting about various ways to translate Revelation 7:17. Where our Lectionary has that the Lamb will “shepherd” them, the New American Bible has that the Lamb will “shelter” them. Shelter would appear to be the far-more-common contemporary translation for σκηνώσει in this context. Literally, the Greek verb means: “to spread a tabernacle over.” Vulgate has habitābit. Mexican Lectionary has protegerá.
Not sure why our Lectionary stuck with what seems to be a traditional exegetical interpretation as a translation. But it’s beautiful!