Some Good-Shepherd Equations


Yesterday we kept Good Shepherd Sunday. Today, Good Shepherd Monday.

Our divine and human Shepherd said, As the Father knows Me, and I know the Father, so I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me. (John 10:14-15)

Jesus Christ knows us as the Father knows Him. How sublimely, then, does He know us!

Almighty God knows Himself and loves Himself. God’s knowing Himself = His eternal Word. Nothing has greater unity, greater communion, greater friendship, than God has, with Himself. That eternal, triune communion involves the Father and the Son knowing and loving each other, infinitely and perfectly.

In other words, the Father’s knowledge = the Son = the Truth. Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” We Christians answer: “You’re looking right at Him!” To live in Christ = to live in the truth.

We need His shepherding. Because the struggle of our pilgrim lives = to let the Truth purify our own wayward and darkened minds.

The Son, in His human mind, beholds the full and intimate truth, God. He beholds the divine simplicity that unifies everything. The Christ shares that insight, that wisdom, that pure and rapturous contemplation with us. We, the stumbling pilgrim sheep, DO know the Shepherd. Not by sight, but by hearing. We hear and recognize His divine and human voice. And we believe His words.

To believe the words of Jesus Christ: that is how we fulfill the meaning of our lives. And it is also how we achieve genuine unity, genuine communion. The Apostles couldn’t believe it at first. God has granted life-giving repentance not just to us Jews who believe in Christ, but to the non-Jews who believe, too! (Acts 11:18)

The Shepherd in Whom we believe can and does unite us all, in the truth.

Keeping Ourselves Busy


You might wonder: What are they doing, up at church? Father, the staff, the volunteers? Just sitting around?

Four things:

1. We’re trying to keep us all connected, as best we can. Using the computer and telephone. May the good Lord reward everyone for working hard on that.

2. We’re trying to figure out how to survive financially. We have a long way to go there. If you can, please send your offering via U.S. mail. Or drop it in the basket when you stop by the church to visit the Blessed Sacrament, on your way to get groceries. Or you can use to give on-line.

3. The diocese throws a lot of crisis-related e-mails and webinars at us. That eats up about 75, 80, 90, 100 hours a week. 🙂 So we have to spread that workload among multiple staff members.

4. Even in the midst of this crisis, I try to stick to my main job. Which is the same main job we all have. Contemplating the divine and eternal Trinity.

In the gospel reading at Holy Mass today, we hear Jesus declare Himself to be the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world.

Now, we are monotheists. Like the ancient Israelites, and like intellectually consistent people of any nation. A greater mind, a greater power than us, reigns over us. We cannot conceive Him with our limited brains. He is one, all-knowing, and omnipotent.

In fact, we would know nothing about God, other than that He exists–had He not revealed something about Himself. Monotheism is not, in and of itself, comforting. Rather, it can leave us facing a meaningless abyss in times like these.

But the one and only Almighty God has revealed Himself. He consecrated and sent His only-begotten Son.

The gospels record the facts of Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection. We celebrate these facts as a Church at every Holy Mass, but especially during the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week. The ancient Fathers of the Church, who gave us the orthodox expression of our faith: they guide us into the mystery revealed in the facts reported from ancient Jerusalem.

Those facts reveal the Trinity. The eternal divine love, unfolding before our eyes. The eternal divine love, drawing us into the holy embrace, drawing the whole world into it.

The Father has loved the Son, and the Son the Father, in the Holy Spirit, from before all the ages, and unto all the ages and beyond. The divine Trinity has one eternal thought, one eternal will: to love. That thought, that will, made the heavens and the earth out of nothing.

And when the cosmos fell away in angelic and human sin, the triune God continued to think, to will: only love. The eternal plan to bring good out of evil unfolded, and God reconciled the fallen back to holiness. By the human death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate eternal Word.

PS. Here’s yesterday’s sermon on video, if you enjoy watching goofballs read from their phones. (We’re out of toner.)

Resurrection Known and Unknown

resurrectionThe resurrection—Christ’s and ours—a fact, and a mystery. [Spanish]

What do Sunday’s Scripture readings say? The shepherd of our souls laid down His life in order to take it up again, by rising from the dead, in His body. St. Peter declared the resurrection to the Sanhedrin: Jesus Christ, the Nazorean, whom you crucified–God raised Him from the dead. And St. John applies the mystery of Christ’s resurrection to us: We shall be like Him. But St. John adds a caveat to remind us that we deal here with a mystery of faith: “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

Jesus suffered and died. They laid Him in the tomb. A night and a day passed, then the sun set again. At some time during that subsequent night, before full dawn, He rose from the dead.

Many human eyes saw the Lord in the flesh after He rose. He appeared to many witnesses, as we have seen in our readings these past three Sundays. The testimony of these witnesses can leave us in no doubt about the simple fact: the resurrection of Christ did occur. They could not have sat and ate with Him, if he had not risen in the flesh.

But the testimonies all refer to events after the fact. No one actually saw Him rise—that is, no mortal human being saw it. No human being was in the tomb with Him as He rose. Christ’s act of rising from the dead lies shrouded in the mystery of that holiest of nights.

As a man, Jesus passed over from human life as we know it, burdened by a fundamental separation from God, to human life as God intended it, perfectly united with Himself. The true Passover: Christ passing over from a mortal life in the body to an immortal life in the body.

The disciples who saw Christ after the resurrection saw the evidence that the Passover had occurred in His flesh. But they did not see the Passover itself. It is not something that mortal eyes can see. It is a mystery of faith.

passover seder plateIn the same way, our own eventual bodily resurrection from the dead lies shrouded in the deepest clouds of divine mystery. Yes, on the one hand, it is a fact. We can’t really doubt that Christ rose in the body. So we can’t doubt that we, too, will rise. Christ rose from the dead, in the body: fact. All the dead will rise, in the body: fact.

But what our life will be like then: Mystery. We don’t know. It belongs to “the age to come.” Jesus, the Head of the mystical Body, Who passed over to immortal life 1,985 years ago—He will return to the earth with His divinity not hidden, but fully manifest. The Age to come.

The cynical world will say to us Christians: How can you possibly believe in such ethereal mysteries? Do you not know that the body is a chemical machine? It decays after death, unto dust.

To which we reply: It is precisely with reference to the facts of death and dusty graves that we speak. Would you cynics have us believe that the life of man as we know it—which, yes, does involve chemicals and the weight of mortality, but which also involves love and beauty and the longing for heaven—do you expect us to dismiss all the spiritual nobility in human life as some kind of chemical fluke?

After all, what real alternative do we have to faith in Christ’s bodily resurrection, and our own? Should we hope for real happiness from something else? Like facebook surfing, or good wine, or getting a lapel pin after 25 years of service on the job? Or can we hope for some purely spiritual eternity, with no body? What kind of heaven would that be for us, anyway?

No: We flesh-and-bone mortals have one solid hope, the hope that Christ has given us. The bonds of love we form by His grace during this pilgrim life will in fact last forever in His divine kingdom, when all the dead rise.

little last supperWe Christians who believe in Christ’s bodily resurrection and hope for our own, even though we can hardly understand it—we are no credulous fops living in a myth. To the contrary: We confront the reality of our inevitable death as it is, and we deal with it in the most reasonable way possible. By humbly trusting that the Word spoken by Almighty God is true.

We Christians never said that Christ’s bodily resurrection is something that we mortals can altogether understand. But nonetheless it is an intimate reality, which we touch by faith whenever we come to the holy altar of Christ’s Body and Blood. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

The ‘how’ of our bodily resurrection exceeds our imagination and understanding…Yet our participation in the Eucharist gives us a foretaste.

The mystery of immortal bodily life is close, familiar–a friend. Christ, already having passed over to immortal life in the body, does not dwell on some unreachable alien planet. He lives with us right here. He is always with us. He unites us with Himself when we receive Holy Communion.

Good Shepherd and Maimed Sheep


The Lord is my shepherd. We sheep hear His voice, and He leads us. We are His people, the sheep of His flock. As St. Peter put it: Jesus Christ, risen from the dead–“the shepherd and guardian of our souls.” He leads us to pastures of abundant life.

Good Shepherd Sunday this Sunday. Fourth Sunday of the blessed Easter season. I daresay we have all heard homilies about how we are sheep. And sheep are dumb. And I daresay we’ve heard other homilies about how yes, sheep are indeed quite dumb, but not about everything. Sheep can skillfully recognize their shepherd’s familiar voice. And I daresay we’ve heard other homilies about how gently and lovingly Jesus shepherds us; mercifully, sweetly, etc., etc.

All true. All good. Yes, we’re dumb sheep. Yes also: we’re not totally dumb; we can recognize and follow the voice of Christ, the Word of God. Yes, His voice sounds in the ears of our souls, in the ears of our consciences—and it’s not a hard sound, but a soft one, a familiar one.

We do not doubt that Christ our shepherd leads us to salvation. We know that we reach heaven by humbly obeying Him, just like sheep obey the shepherd. We need His guidance. The demands of His doctrine touch us like a shepherd’s staff. We pray that we might have the grace to co-operate. All this is Christianity in a nutshell, and we are Christians.

sheep-goatsBut maybe we sheep can credit ourselves with enough intelligence to pose a question. We can allow ourselves to recognize a difficulty, an apparent contradiction in the Good Shepherd’s teaching.

On the one hand, Christ promises us a pleasant time when we obey Him. He declared, “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” His Apostle John wrote to us, “Keep His commandments. His commandments are not burdensome.” The prophet Micah put it like this: “What does the Lord your God require of you but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?”

Doesn’t sound all that difficult.

But, on the other hand, Lord Jesus said: “How narrow the gate, how constricted the road that leads to life! Those who find it are few.” “If anyone come to Me and hate not even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Jesus damned the selfish people to eternal hell for failing to offer Him a glass of cold water. They protested, “Lord, we never saw you thirsty!” We know how He replied. “Whatever you failed to do for even the least ones, you failed to do…  for Me.”

Sounds pretty demanding. Pretty burdensome, in fact. Jesus Christ is a gentle, loving shepherd—with a staff that feels more like a whip on our shanks. He smiles, then whips us and says, “Hurry up and become saints right now.”

So we have an honest question: Lord, how can it be both hard and easy to follow You as our shepherd? How can it be both hard and easy?

I think there’s a way for us to resolve this apparent self-contradiction on the part of Christ the Good Shepherd. But it will be humiliating for us. To find the answer, what we have to do is: Acknowledge that, if we find obeying Christ the gentle Shepherd difficult, it’s our own damn fault.

goodshepherdAs far as what He has done goes, He made it easy. He took the initiative of total love. He knew that the human race as a whole had fallen into hopeless sin. So He became one of us and offered the sacrifice to make things right. And He poured out the Holy Spirit upon us in such a way that, had we co-operated ever since earliest youth, becoming a diligent mature Christian would have involved far fewer challenges than we sinners have to do battle with. For the soul that keeps a pure conscience from childhood onward, growing into holiness involves maybe the kind of effort and exertion involved in a round of miniature golf.

But who among us can reasonably claim to have co-operated all along and maintained that kind of purity? Don’t we rather have to admit: “Okay, Lord. Keeping up with you as the shepherd feels to this particular sheep more like training for a marathon than like walking in a park. But that’s because I have sinned, and I have developed bad habits that make it hard for me to act with virtue. I have turned something pleasant into something hard. Forgive me! And please give me the help I need to stumble after You, and stay close enough to hear Your voice, in spite of the self-inflicted wounds I bear, which make me a slow and feeble sheep.”

Now, how does He respond to this? With the same immeasurable patience He had when He invited us to follow Him in the first place. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.”

Our sins have debilitated us; we are not just dumb sheep—we are maimed sheep, and we have maimed ourselves. But Christ’s medicine is stronger than the wounds we have given our own souls. He will even yet make the burden of following Him light, even for us. “Don’t give up, sinner,” He says. “The shepherd will gladly lay you on His shoulders.”

Shepherd Communication

Ghent Altarpiece Adoration of the Lamb

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.

elgreco_holy-family“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?

goodshepherdAt 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!

John-10 Casket Reflection

Last year, on the Friday before Good Friday, we discussed how the Father had consecrated Christ and sent Him into the world as one of us, in order to consecrate us. This year, let’s ask this question: Why did the Jews pick up stones to throw at Jesus? (This time, that is—i.e., at the end of John 10, the gospel reading for tomorrow’s Holy Mass.)

goodshepherdBecause the Lord had declared openly that the Father had consecrated Him to serve as the divine Shepherd. ‘My sheep hear My voice, and they attune their little ears to the authority of Absolute Truth.’

Today I concelebrated the funeral Mass of the mother of one of my best friends. Nothing can focus a person’s mind like the sight of a casket draped in a pall. The ideas that kick around in our minds—the imaginations, the memories, the thoughts about what I’m going to have for dinner: these items get separated from each other into two categories, like sheep separated from goats, while you prayerfully stare at a casket draped in a pall, sitting in front of the altar.

Which of these bouncing ping-pong balls in my mind harmonizes with the voice of Christ the divine Shepherd, the voice of Truth? And which do not?

God rest her soul. She rested her soul, during her earthly pilgrimage, entirely on the words of Christ. So the sight of her casket, draped in a pall, sitting in front of the altar: it gave us all great peace. The divine Shepherd leads His flock to a safe and blissful sheepfold; we can trust Him with our very lives.

In fact, when we have the opportunity to pray at the altar, with the casket of a holy woman, draped in a pall, before our eyes—at such moments, we realize this fact very clearly: We would be utter fools not to entrust our lives completely to Christ our Shepherd!

Because everything, in the end, comes down to such a moment. We are only going to live through so many NCAA tournaments. Then the great separation will occur. Our souls from our bodies. The sheep from the goats. The wheat from the chaff, when it comes to whatever we have filled our minds with.

If my mind is full of chaff at that moment, how dark will the darkness be, when I find my body encased in a casket, draped with a pall?

But: if we hearken to the words of the divinely consecrated Shepherd? Well, then there will be peace. The moment of genuine, complete, and utter fulfillment will have arrived. ‘Well done, faithful little sheep. Enter into joy.’

The Shepherd Leads, Our Souls Grow


“The Lord is my shepherd.” The Lord’s flock knows His voice, and we follow Him. We follow Him as He leads us through the pilgrimage of time, the pilgrimage of our earthly life. Time passes. We listen for His voice and follow. Years pass. He leads on.

Two quick points on this.

1. Speaking of time passing… Exactly three years ago, we had just finalized the Martinsville-Rocky Mount parish-cluster Mass schedule. Remember that? On Good Shepherd Sunday, 2011, those of us down here in Franklin and Henry counties, Virginny, had to face some facts together. Life was going to get a little bit harder, for the people and for me.

Continue reading “The Shepherd Leads, Our Souls Grow”

More of John to Try to Understand

el greco st john evangelist“The One whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world” (John 10:26).

Let’s try to understand the gospel reading for Holy Mass today by focusing on I Corinthians 15:23. “Each one in proper order. Christ the firstfruits. Then, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to His God and Father.”

Proper order:

el-grecost-paulGod is God. First. Pre-eminent. The Cause. The Goal. The All-in-all. Altogether transcending the world, sovereign Master of the world, superabundant Lover of all the good things He has made.

Man. A creature, limited, non-divine. Yes, the god-like material creature, spiritual, intellectual, free—capable of union with God, even now, by faith and love. But also the self-centered, self-indulgent, self-destructive sinful creature.

Christ. God. Man. The divine Creator and the suffering Redeemer. The Mediator.

So, the order by which the cosmos becomes full of divine glory: God, first and last. Christ, first among the human race. Then us, who, through Christ, receive God’s grace and become the beautiful children He made us to be.

God, origin and goal. Christ, firstfruits, uniquely consecrated, but consecrated for a purpose: to gather us, as the members of His divine Body.

More Lordly Dialogues, this time with Psalms

El Greco Adoration of the Holy Name of Jesus

It calls them gods to whom the word of God came. (John 10:34)

Christ quotes a Psalm. The Psalm refers to the power delegated by the Supreme Divine Governor to judges and rulers of lower rank, that is, angels, demons, and men.

The Lord has, indeed, entrusted us with freedom, by which we exercise sovereignty over our lives. Another Psalm puts it like this, “What is man? Yet you have made him little less than a god. You have given him rule over the works of your hands and put all things at his feet.”

So the phrase ‘son of God’ applies to every human being, because we have all been endowed by our Creator with this freedom and sovereignty.

Then the Lord Jesus went on to say,

Can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’

In other words, the Lord Jesus appeals to our self-respect–our native human self-respect, which can get buried under a mountain of self-destructive nonsense, but which God Himself put into our heart of hearts.

Christ: “I call myself only what any beloved son or daughter of God has the right to call him- or herself. The human race is made up of one category of people: children of God. It is hardly blasphemy to acknowledge the truth of our birthright as God’s children. Rather, it offends the Almighty Father when we sell ourselves short, and think of ourselves as less than who He made us to be.’

Then the Messiah implores; He pleads; He practically begs us to believe in Him, which means believing in ourselves: ‘I have shown you great works. Indeed, I am divine. So when I stand tall as a man, as a human being, a son of the Most High, when I take pride in who I really am—stand with me! See, my word is verified by miracles! Do not doubt, but believe that I am God and that God loves you!’

…See how Christ shows us ourselves? How He allows us to know ourselves, in God’s truth, like we have never known ourselves before—because it has all lain hidden under a mountain of lies?

What is man? Who am I? The God-man in Whom we believe gives us the answer.


In the conversations with His fellow Jews, which the Lord Jesus had prior to His Passion (which St. John recounts), we behold Christ’s patient insistence on consistency.

…Ok, dear brethren. We are Jews. That means we believe that God dealt personally with our forefathers. He revealed Himself by inspiring our prophets. We venerate our Scriptures precisely because we believe that the human authors did not write them by virtue of their own native intelligence, but by inspiration from heaven.

Papa Benedicto visited this cerro of Cristo Rey on Sunday
We judge the authenticity of a prophet by the fruit of his works. False prophets, who claim to have divine inspiration but really don’t—their labors ultimately come to grief. They get revealed as frauds, sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the true prophets accomplish great things. They heal. They bring peace. They teach with selfless wisdom and devotion.

Now, okay. You stand here before me because you have been captivated by the things I have done. You acknowledge that the signs of truth and genuine heavenly inspiration have accompanied me throughout my ministry among you.

Praise God! But listen, this is what I am telling you: I am actually here on a unique mission of divine love. Everything that came before merely prepared the way for this moment. It was I who called Abraham. I gave Moses the Law. I inspired the prophets.

Now, you can’t very well turn around and call me a blasphemer when the whole reason you are here is that you believe in the good things that I have taught and done.

All I am asking for, my friends, is consistency: Either believe me when I tell you that I am the eternal Son of the eternal Father, and relax and be happy. Or find a way to explain how a demon-possessed crank could heal lepers, feed the multitudes, bring peace to demoniacs, liberate sinners, and raise the dead.

Just be consistent, that’s all I ask. I mean you no harm. I carry no weapon.

…So they did what any normal group of people does when confronted with pure, calm reason in the face of their passions and prejudices. They killed Him.