Sunday May 6, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Easter
Reading I (Acts 13:14, 43-52) Reading II (Rev. 7:9, 14b-17)
Gospel (St. John 10:27-30)
When we look at the readings that the Church gives to us today, it may leave us shaking our heads a little bit because they are a whole series of seeming contradictions. In the first reading, the Jewish people had stirred up a violent protest, a persecution against Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas shake the dust from their feet and walk away rejoicing. One could ask, on the natural level, "How many of us would do that?" If all the people at work decided to rise up against you, or all the people in your neighborhood rose up against you and started accusing you of horrible things and treating you badly, how many of us would be rejoicing? Then we look at the second reading and hear about a whole bunch of people who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Now, any of you who have ever done laundry know fully well that blood does not make things white and it does not come out very easily, either. Yet, here in the blood of the Lamb, the robes of these people have been made white. Even more, an ever seeming contradiction is we hear that the Lamb will be the shepherd. It is the lamb (normally, of course) who needs the shepherd. But here, the Lamb is going to be the shepherd. Then Our Lord, in the Gospel reading, tells us He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him, and there will be no snatching them out of His hands; and then the apparent contradiction: He says, "The Father and I are one."
Think about the many things, that as Christians we believe, beginning with the Trinity: There are three persons but only one God. This leaves many people shaking their heads; it seems, again, like a contradiction but none of it is a contradiction. All of it is truth. The question really has to do not with reason - but with faith. We could go on and on with apparent contradictions. We could look at a crucifix and say, "Do we believe that a man who died is going to give us life?" We could look at a Nativity scene and say, "God, who is the Creator of all and is almighty, becomes a helpless little baby? God, who created His mother, becomes created in her womb?" Yet, we can look at all these things and say, "Yes, absolutely, this is the truth." These are things that require faith, because by reason they do not seem to make a whole lot of sense. We can reason them all out, we can explain them, but one without faith is still going to walk away saying, "It does not seem to follow; therefore, I will not believe."
This is part of the beauty of what God has done. Because faith does not always seem to make sense. We say "yes" to things that we cannot always understand. That is because God asks us to go beyond what is reasonable. He asks us to love and love is not always reasonable. All we need to do is look at our own selves. We can ask ourselves about the way we love people in our lives. We do things, sometimes, that seem to be unreasonable or imprudent when we are in love. Not things that are bad, not things that are sinful, but things that with anybody else in the world, we would not do; but, because we love this individual so much, we are willing to do lots of things. That is what Our Lord has done for us. Out of love, he has done what people naturally would not be willing to do. He asks us, as an act of love, to believe, to accept, to look at these truths and say, "Who am I going to follow? Who is the one who speaks the truth?" The Lamb who is the lion of the tribe of Judah. The Lamb who was slain, but is alive. The One who is both the beginning and the end, who was dead and is now alive. All these things do not seem to make sense, but are absolute truth. The Lord asks each one of us: "Do you believe this?" He asks for an act of faith. He asks for a wholehearted act of faith. All we need to do is look at the crucifix to see that the Lord held nothing back for any of us. What He asks from each one of us is to hold nothing back from Him.
When we look at all these apparent contradictions, what the natural kind of response would be, if we are going to make an act of faith at all, is to make it at an armís distance; to say, "Well, maybe, I can kind of believe that. But I am going to hedge my bet. If I put my whole being into this, there appears to be a contradiction. What if it is wrong?" So, we hesitate. We are not sure if the Lord is the shepherd and He is going to lead us to the life-giving water. That, too, is something we cannot see and it appears to be a contradiction: The only way to life - is death. The only way to eternal life is to live natural life in such a way that we will die in the state of grace. All of these things, again on the natural level, do not seem to make sense. Yet, we give the assent of faith.
For each one of us today, the Lord asks that we would deepen our faith. The ancient saying is: Faith seeking understanding. We say "yes" first, then we seek to understand. We give that assent of mind and will, even if the mind does not grasp fully what it is we are saying "yes" to. We do that with many, many things in our lives. All we need to do is think on the natural level. There are so many things we say "yes" to. When you start a new job and they tell you this is the way it is to be done, we do not grasp it entirely, but we say "yes" to that. We go to school and they tell us various truths, and we say "yes" to them without grasping it yet. We ask our little children to believe because we have said it.
Isnít that what we do as parents? Our kids go through these stages when they are two years old and the question of "why" comes up over and over again. Eventually, the reason is simply "because." Because I said so. Isnít that what we tell our kids when they try to rebel a little bit against the authority of the parents? They say, "Why do I have to do that?" And we say, "Because I told you to." We think of God, who is infinitely wise, infinitely loving, infinitely powerful, and He presents these things for us. When we ask "why", when we struggle with the attempt to believe and understand, the Lord simply says, "Because I said so." He asks that we make the assent of faith because He is God and He is the one who has revealed it. Only after we make the assent of faith, does the fullness of understanding begin to filter in. God will never give the understanding to somebody before they make the assent of faith, because it requires no faith if we have full understanding. So, anybody who wants to understand the faith completely before they assent, will never become Christian. Anyone who wants to nail this down perfectly before they are willing to give themselves entirely will never give themselves entirely, it has to go the other way. Another seeming contradiction: We have to give ourselves completely, before we understand what it is that we have given ourselves to. That is the way of faith.
Today, as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, we make the assent of faith that the Lamb will be our Shepherd. We make the assent of faith that He knows us and that He is one with the Father. The Lamb, who on the natural level, has all the suggestions of weakness, of ignorance, and of innocence is one with the Father, who is all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful. He asks that we make the assent of faith that the Lamb will lead the sheep, that the Lamb will be the pastor, that the One who dies will lead us to eternal life, that the One who was willing to thirst on the Cross will lead us to life-giving waters. He does not ask that we understand at this time. He does not ask if we understand how our robes will become white if we wash them in His blood. He does not ask that we grasp with our mind the meaning of all these things. He simply asks for an act of faith. Not a timid act of faith, either. He asks for a wholehearted act of faith: our whole mind, our whole heart, our whole being to say "yes" to Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain; and that we believe that as the sheep of His flock we will follow the Lamb wherever He leads us.
So, we ask ourselves, first of all, "Do we know the Lamb?" Because isnít that what He told us? He knows His sheep, and they know Him. If we know Him, we say "yes" because we trust in the Lamb. We do not hesitate, we do not doubt, we do not withdraw; but in the face of all the questions and all the seeming contradictions, we make an act of faith. We say "yes" and we move forward with confidence because the Lamb is our Shepherd.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.