Homily for the 4th Sunday in Easter 2019
Acts 13-14, 43-52 || Revelation 7:9, 14B-17 || John 10:27-30
When I was studying Liturgy as a deacon, my professor told a story about an unsuitable song request for a Catholic funeral. And I heard the same story on several occasions afterwards from other priests, which led me to believe the story was a common occurrence. People often ask that secular songs be used in a funeral mass for their loved one, and one of the most common requests is Frank Sinatra’s I Did it My Way.
Now many people love the song, but it’s entirely inappropriate for a Catholic funeral. It actually has a line that says, “For what is a man, what has he got? / If not himself, then he has naught / To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels.” As Catholics, we hope at the end of our lives and the lives of those we love that they… that we… did it not our way but God’s way. And we certainly do a lot of kneeling along the way.
Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear Jesus tell us, “The sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”
It’s often hard for us in a non-agricultural world to understand some of these metaphors that Jesus uses in his parables – images like mustard seeds, fig trees, camels going through the eye of a needle, and here. — sheep. These images mean different things to us today. Acting like sheep being led in a flock, mindlessly obeying someone’s call, is anathema to our culture… to our sense here in 21st Century America of what it means to be a human being.
Today, we believe a person should be entirely self-sufficient, independent, autonomous – determining the course of their own life, according to their own standards. Today’s literature, music, movies, television shows, Facebook feeds, and YouTube programming hang in the air like a kind of cultural ether we breathe in every day, inspiring us to be the heroes of our own story, the masters of our own destiny, the artists that craft our life out of our own thoughts and desires.
But Jesus asks us for something different. He wants us to follow him as sheep would follow a shepherd. He wants us to listen for his voice because when we hear his voice and follow him, we follow God the Father. As he says in the Gospel, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
When we her Jesus, we hear God the Father speaking to us.
Now, you may think that by living the life God wants for us, we will all be monolithically the same… uniform… indistinguishable like the sheep in a flock. But that’s not the case. God has given us each unique gifts and talents he wants us to use to become most fully the person we are meant to be in Christ. One person’s way of being a follower of Christ will be different from another person and still another person and still another person after that. We are all unique in the gifts and dispositions that God has given us to use in following him.
How do we hear what God wants for us? How do we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd telling us the way to follow him? There is so much our faith tradition teaches how we discern the call God has for us, but I would like to focus on three suggestions.
First, silence. We live in a tyranny of noise and distraction. We can’t hear the words of the Good Shepherd calling us unless we take some time to be quiet and listen even if it’s 5 to 10 minutes a day.
Second, if we want to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, we have it in scripture. We have Jesus’ words in the New Testament. A prayerful, deliberative, and thoughtful reading of the Gospels that allows us space to reflect on what Jesus is saying to us is a critical way of hearing his voice… of hearing where the Good Shepherd is calling us.
And third, taking some time at the end of the day to discern where you felt close to God during that day and where you felt far from God. What moments… what people… what incidents in your life led you to feel you were being most fully the person God wants you to be? These could be signs to you of the direction God is calling you.
In the latter part of his career, Frank Sinatra grew to dislike singing I Did it My Way. On two occasions in the late 1970s, he told audiences he hated the song. Some of his friends speculated that he was growing sick of the ego-centricity of the lyrics in the song because he was humbler than his public persona would indicate. Perhaps, at the end of his life, he was growing in his Catholic faith. Perhaps, he was most concerned with doing it God’s way.
When we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, we hear what we are most fully meant to be in the eyes of God. The way God sees us as our unique self. The way we can be most fully human. We learn we can be our most profound self when we do it God’s way.