Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Good Shepherd and ‘The Other Shepherd’

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 3, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 10: 11-18.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2009]

Who am I?

Try to figure out who I am.

My head looks like a computer monitor or a television set. It transmits images to people constantly—but only the ones that I allow it to transmit. That’s because my mind is programmed to think in a certain way, and to reject any information that contradicts what’s already been put into my mental database—even if that additional information happens to be true. With my mouth I say some things that are correct and others that are completely false, but almost always with a purpose: to manipulate people into thinking and behaving in certain ways. Because of this my eyes are usually described as “shifty” by those who know me well. One other detail about my appearance is worth noting: in one of my hands I am always holding an iPod; in the other, I am always holding a daily newspaper.

So—who am I?

The correct answer is “the other shepherd.”

Now I know the individual I just described to you doesn’t sound very “shepherd-like,” but he is! In fact, he competes with the shepherd we heard about in today’s Gospel—the Good Shepherd—for our obedience and our allegiance every single day, whether we’re aware of it or not.

He’s got a head like a computer monitor or a TV set because those are two of his favorite methods of “informing” us and leading us. Another way he gets information to us is through the written word, especially through daily newspapers (that’s why he always has a copy of one in his hand). Still another way is through the lyrics of contemporary music, which is why he’s always got an iPod in his other hand.

Some of what he says, thankfully, is true—but a lot isn’t. And all too often the false information he gives is designed to manipulate us into thinking and acting in certain ways. He’s been pre-programmed to do this and he does his job very well. In fact, he usually does it so subtly and so effectively that most people don’t realize it’s happening. They think they’re being informed by an objective source of information, and they’re really being deformed by a subjective source of disinformation.

Let me illustrate the subtlety of this other shepherd with a very timely example.

One of the finalists in the Miss USA pageant this year was a young woman named Carrie Prejean. She was Miss California. In the interview portion of the contest, which was held on April 19, one of the judges—the openly-gay Perez Hilton—asked her the following question. He said, “Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?”

Carrie’s response, in case you didn’t already know, caused a national crisis—at least among a certain small, but very vocal segment of the population. She said, “You know what, in my country, and in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman—no offense to anybody out there. But that's how I was raised. And that's how I think that it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you.”

This, of course, is exactly what the majority of people in Carrie’s otherwise-liberal home state of California believe. Californians made that clear in the 2008 election. It’s what the majority of Americans believe; and, hopefully it’s (still) what we all believe.

But from the way the story was covered by “the other shepherd”—a.k.a., “the liberal media”—you’d think that only 5 lunatics in the local insane asylum actually still cling to the crazy idea that marriage should be between one male and one female!

And if you think I’m exaggerating, go home right after Mass and “Google” Carrie Prejean’s name; then read some of the news stories that have been written about this incident. What you’ll find in these articles is that most of the men and women quoted are strong supporters of gay marriage; people with the opposite viewpoint are almost never cited.

Is that a coincidence? Is that because they couldn’t find anyone to defend traditional marriage?

Of course not! That was done by design! Remember what I said at the beginning: the other shepherd only puts out the information that’s already in his mental database. Opposing viewpoints are not welcomed! Consequently, readers all over the country have been given the message (in a very subtle way) that most Americans right now believe in gay marriage—which isn’t true!

In addition, almost all the articles I’ve read on this subject in recent days have been filled with loaded, emotionally-charged language—language that is specifically designed to manipulate our minds on this subject. For example, one headline I saw read, “Miss USA Stirs Controversy”.

Now you might react to that by saying, “With all due respect, Fr. Ray, that particular title sounds pretty harmless to me.” To which I respond, “Don’t be fooled!”

Here we see a perfect example of the subtlety of the other shepherd. Think about it. What’s the subliminal message that’s being given to all of us in this one little headline? The message is: “If you want to avoid controversy (and most of us do), then don’t say anything in support of traditional, heterosexual marriage. Don’t be like ‘controversial’ Carrie Prejean! Just be quiet, say nothing—then people will always say nice things about you.”

In truth, of course, the only people who have found Carrie Prejean’s words controversial are liberal activists who have a definite social and political agenda to advance.

But the media wants you to think that everybody—or almost everybody—has that same agenda.
In this gospel Jesus tells us that his sheep hear his voice. But this is something that we, his sheep, need to “practice” daily! We need to continually train ourselves to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd when he talks to us—or we will almost certainly end up confusing his voice with the voice of that “other shepherd.”

The Good Shepherd speaks to us in the Sacred Scriptures; he speaks to us through the Catechism of the Catholic Church; he speaks to us through the pope and the bishops in union with him.

Those are the primary places where we hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and receive our instructions on how to live as his faithful and obedient sheep.

So obviously we need to be reading Scripture and the Catechism often.

If we aren’t, then we will almost certainly be easy prey for that other shepherd—who is really a wolf in disguise!

The day after she was denied the Miss USA title because of the answer she gave to the gay marriage question, Carrie Prejean was asked how she was feeling by one of the national news services. She responded, “Honestly, happy. This happened for a reason. By having to answer that question in front of a national audience, God was testing my character and faith. I'm glad I stayed true to myself.”

Those are the words of a courageous young woman, who, from all external indications, is sincerely trying to be a faithful sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock.

She might have lost the Miss USA crown, but it seems that she’s well on her way to winning another one—a much more important one—made of pure gold.

A crown that will last forever.

May God help us all to follow her example—and win the same crown.