The Good Shepherd

05-07-2017From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

One of the things we are called in our nation is a consumer society. We are bombarded with advertisements that want us to think we need a particular product. But the fact is no matter how many material things we have there always seems to be something newer and better. At what point do we find satisfaction, peace, and meaning? Obviously material possessions are part of our world, but in the end none of them brings the ultimate peace and meaning we hunger for in our hearts. In the Gospel passages at the Masses this past Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we see Jesus being confronted by people who want Him to prove Himself and to fulfill the promise He makes: So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:30-35) We hunger and thirst for many material things as well as acceptance by others. Our basic thirst is for life-giving love, the love that accepts us for who we are and lifts our spirits. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about being a shepherd who is good. A good shepherd knows his sheep by name and cares for their every need. The sheep trust him, listen to him, and follow him. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. His presence in our world and in our lives is to make our lives better. He did not come to use us or amaze us so He would be accepted by us. He came to make us vividly aware of how much God accepts us and loves us.

Pure, altruistic love always asks, “What can I do to make your life better?” The opposite of this love is selfishness where the first question is always, “What can you do for me?” In His prayer in the garden after the Last Supper Jesus prayed to do the will of the Father. First of all He loved the Father. His desire was always to express that love in word, action, and complete trust. At the same time, He knew the Father loved Him. The Father only wanted His life to be life giving to all people. Ironically, in His death we have life. The death of Jesus on the cross was a clear sign of how far He was willing to go for us in His human nature and, at the same time, an example of how much we are capable of as human beings in our love for one another. None of us will die on a cross, but we die to ourselves every time we rise above selfishness to sacrifice in any way possible for the good of those we love. Years ago there was a popular song by the Rolling Stones entitled, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction! The lyrics exclaim, “I can't get no satisfaction, I can't get no satisfaction, ‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.” Jesus experienced far more than satisfaction in giving His life on the cross so our sins would be forgiven and we would be brought into the life of God. He experienced Divine Joy. He knew that what He did was done out of pure, altruistic love.

To truly experience the effects of that love, we must take the words of Jesus in the above passage from John 6:30-35 to heart: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. Once we have no doubt about the love others have for us, there is inner peace, joy, humility, and gratitude. They are an intricate part of our minds and hearts, guiding, sustaining, inspiring, and encouraging us. Do we allow Jesus to satisfy that most basic need of all that we hunger and thirst for? Anything or anyone that blinds us to this life-giving truth and presence is what Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel: So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:7-10) False promises and people who see us as only consumers seek to distract and confuse us for their own gain. Only those who are with us day in and day out with no other motive but pure, altruistic love can begin to satisfy that hunger and thirst. And it is Jesus and only Jesus who can and will satisfy to the full. Jesus came to love us so we “might have life and have it more abundantly.”

It is one thing to know about this love and even to contemplate it. It is something much more powerful to experience it and see Jesus walking with us. Like any life-giving relationship both parties must be open to one another and there for one another. There is no doubt about Jesus’ desire to be there for us and with us. Are we open to Him? The more we are, the more peace, hope, and meaning we have in our lives and the more our love for one another becomes like His love for us. The Good Shepherd enables us to be all we desire to be for Him and one another just as His love for the Father enabled Him to be for us. May this Easter season be a time to rise above all that keeps us from being sustained and refreshed by this love of the Good Shepherd every day of our lives.

Fr. Wald