It's Time to Make a Choice
Sunday April 21, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Sunday in Easter
Reading I (Acts 2:14a, 36-41) Reading II (1 Peter 2:20b-25)
Gospel (St. John 10:1-10)
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today that He Himself is the gate for the sheep. In other words, He is the only possible way that we can enter into our heavenly pasture, if you want to think of it that way. The only way that we are going to enter into the place where we will be protected is through Jesus Christ. Now, we all know that. We have heard that probably thousands of times in our lives, but the question is do we live it? Do we really believe that is the truth and do we live it?
The Lord tells us that the sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd as He calls each one by name, and they follow Him. He tells us that the sheep will not follow anyone else. They will not follow a stranger because they do not recognize his voice. We can ask ourselves, "Whom are we following?" If we look at our daily lives, not Sunday morning for an hour, but day-to-day, 24 hours a day, whom do you follow? Whose voice do you recognize? To whom do you listen? After whom are you following?
When we look in the second reading today, Saint Peter tells us that the Lord, Who is the Shepherd and the Guardian of our souls, has left us an example of suffering so that we would follow in His footsteps. He tells us that when we suffer for doing what is good and we accept that with patience, then the Holy Spirit has come upon us. That is one way we can begin to answer the question "Who are we following?" We can just simply ask, "What do I do when I suffer?" or even, "Do I suffer? Am I willing to suffer or do I see if I can find a way out of it?"
We have to understand that our Shepherd, whom Peter tells us in the first reading today, "God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified." Jesus took the Cross upon His shoulders and He made a direct line to Calvary. He did not waver. He did not try to get away from the Cross. Like a sheep before the shearer, He was silent. So we can ask ourselves, "When presented with the possibility of suffering for our faith, what is our response?" Do we continue to walk along the right path? Or do we find ourselves suddenly hemming and hawing and stuttering and making excuses, trying to avoid the cross at all costs? Are we willing to take the Cross of Christ upon our shoulders and follow after Him? Are we willing to make a direct line to Calvary? Or do we see if there might be a place where we can turn off the path and get this cross off our shoulders and see if there is some way that we can follow a different way that is going to be more pleasant?
Our Shepherd, whom we are to follow, has left us an example so that we would follow in His footsteps. The sheep follow the shepherd; Jesus made that very clear in the Gospel reading today: When He has driven them all out of the sheepfold, then he walks in front of them and they follow Him. There is only one path that Jesus Christ laid out for us, and it goes directly to the Cross. It is from there that He tells us: When I am raised up from the earth, then I will draw all men to Myself. There is where our Shepherd is - on the Cross!
Now, of course, we know that Jesus is risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven, so we can say that the Cross is like the sheepgate. If we want to be able to enter into Heaven there is only one way, and that is through the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is the only door that enters into Heaven, the only one. And that is the door Our Shepherd has gone through. When the Gatekeeper heard His voice, He opened the gate. Now He calls each one of us by name. He calls His own to follow Him.
But, again, we have to ask the question "Whose voice do we listen to?" Are we listening to the voice of Christ, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? Or do we listen to the voice of Christ for one hour a week? Perhaps we go to daily Mass so we listen to His voice for a little chunk of time every day. Or maybe we even have a time of prayer set aside every day so we listen to His voice for a period of time, but then as soon as we walk away from prayer, we hear His voice no longer, until tomorrow when we want to come back and get fed again.
The sheep follow the shepherd wherever he leads them. Whenever it is time to move forward, the sheep all follow the shepherd. They will not listen to the voice of a stranger. Is the voice of Jesus Christ the voice of a stranger for us? Would we recognize His voice when He calls? Are we willing to follow Him? Or is the voice that we recognize the voice of Satan, who does not growl and sneer and breathe fire in our face, because we would walk away from that. Instead, in a very sweet, predatory voice, he offers us candy. He says, "Come here, little boy. Come here, little girl." And all too many of us follow because he makes it look fun.
Do we listen to the voice of Satan spoken through the media? How many people, Catholics included, get up in the morning and turn on either the TV or the radio, and basically that is the way it is for the rest of the day! It is not the voice of Jesus Christ that you are going to be hearing through the media. That is an absolute, 100%, no strings attached guarantee. It is NOT the voice of Jesus Christ that you will hear speaking through the media. And so, we need to ask ourselves, "Whose voice do we listen to?" Are we listening to the voices of all the things and the people who are pulling us away from Christ? Do we listen to the voices of our so-called friends who invite us into places that are occasions of sin - but itís fun? Do we listen to the voices of people who invite us to follow them into things that do not necessarily look bad, but at the same time are not necessarily good? We look at them as being neutral, but if we were honest, we would say, "What theyíve done is make me lukewarm, and theyíve pulled me away from Christ rather than lead me to Him." Once again, it is not the voice of Christ.
Jesus tells us that He will draw us to Himself. Anything that does not draw us to the Shepherd of our souls is not the voice of Jesus Christ. Who do you hang around with on a day-to-day basis? Other good Catholics who are going to engage with you in spiritual conversation? People who are going to be good examples and a good influence? Or people who only use the Name of the Lord when it is done in vain - people who are not going to be a good example and are not a good influence? That is not the voice of Christ that is speaking if those are the people in our lives.
We have some very serious choices to make and we do not have a lot of time to make them. There in only one Shepherd of our souls, only one. We cannot listen to conflicting voices. The Lord tells us that His sheep will not listen to the voices of strangers. If we find ourselves listening to the voices of lots of other people who are leading us out into the desert rather than into green pastures, then when we hear the voice of Christ we will say, "That is a strangerís voice and I will not listen to it." But if we hear the voice of Jesus and we follow Him, then when we hear the conflicting voices out there we will say, "No, that is not the voice of my Shepherd. Those are the voices of strangers, and those voices I will not listen to."
We cannot have it both ways. Catholics in America have been trying for all too long to play this game where we can be Catholic and we can be worldly at the same time; we can follow Jesus and Satan at the same time. No, we cannot, and it is time that we make a choice. Who do you want to be the shepherd of your soul? Make the choice and make it radically. Donít play the game any longer. The game is offered by Satan, be clear about that. It is not Jesus saying, "You can listen to Me part-time, but do the other things part-time." It is the devil who says, "If Iím going to drag you away from Christ, Iíll do it a little bit at a time. Start out by following Him most of the time, but then do a little bit over here. Then Iíll get you to do a little more and a little more and a little more; pretty soon itíll be 50-50. Then itíll be 75-25." And pretty soon we will not hear the voice of the Lord at all.
Jesus does not tell us that we can have two shepherds. He tells us that there is only one, but he leaves it to us to make the choice of who it is going to be. We know who the Shepherd of our soul is, and we know the way that He walked. He has left us an example of suffering for us to follow in His footsteps. His footsteps lead to the Cross, the only gate that leads to Heaven. We have a choice to make. Are we willing to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, the footsteps that walk along the rough and narrow path? Or are we willing to follow in the footsteps of Satan, the wide and easy path that is offered to us all day long? The choice is entirely ours. The sheep of Jesus Christ hear His voice and they follow Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.