Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd is not always a pleasant experience!

Augustine (Allesandro Preziosi) and Monica (Monica Guerritore) in "Restless Heart"

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 21, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 13: 14, 43-52; John 10:27-30.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2013]


Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd is not always a pleasant experience!

Every Christian—every human person—needs to understand that.

Jesus said to us in today’s gospel reading from John 10, “My sheep hear my voice.”

That, of course, is true.  But Jesus could have added the line, “however, it’s not always a pleasant experience for them when they hear my voice”—and the statement would still have been true.

Last weekend many of us saw the film, “Restless Heart” at the Westerly Middle School.  The movie was about St. Augustine, whose pre-conversion life was definitely as “colorful” as any modern-day reality show or soap opera!

Before his conversion at the age of 33, Augustine often prayed the famous prayer, “Oh Lord, make me chaste—but not yet!”

Needless to say, he gave his mother, Monica, fits!  But she never stopped praying for her son; nor did she stop telling him the truth—whether he wanted to hear it or not (and most of the time, as you might imagine, he did not want to hear any of it!).  For the young and hedonistic Augustine, Monica was the voice of the Good Shepherd; but, until he was ready to open his ‘restless heart’ to Christ, Augustine usually had a very unpleasant experience when he heard the Good Shepherd’s voice through his mom!   We can discern that from these words which he wrote many years after his conversion: “I remember my mother warned me in private not to commit fornication, and especially not to defile another man’s wife.  These seemed to me womanish advices, which I should blush to obey.  But they were yours, O God, and I knew it not.”

But they were yours, O God, and I knew it not.

In today’s first reading from Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel message to the people of Antioch.  Through these two apostles, the people of that city were blessed to hear in a very clear and powerful way the voice of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

But not all of them were thrilled by what they heard, were they?  Quite oppositely, many of them were apoplectic!  They were enraged!  That led some of them to verbally abuse Paul and Barnabas while the two men were trying to preach God’s word to the crowd; and shortly thereafter it led others to start a persecution of Paul and Barnabas that finally resulted in the two apostles getting kicked out of town!

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd was definitely not a pleasant experience for the hard-hearted men and women of Antioch.

So, I ask you, my brothers and sisters, why should we expect things to be any different in our world today?  If the Catholic Church is what she claims to be—in other words, if the Catholic Church in her official teaching really speaks with the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ—then shouldn’t we expect to hear a challenging message from time to time?  Shouldn’t we expect to hear from the Church the same kind of message that Augustine heard from his mother; the same kind of message that the people of Antioch heard from Paul and Barnabas?

I laugh when people in the media criticize the Catholic Church for its stance on issues like abortion, or euthanasia, or embryonic stem cell research or so-called gay marriage—as if her teachings on these issues are negotiable and subject to change.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!  So if Jesus doesn’t change, how can we possibly expect his Church to change on these and other fundamental moral matters?

Is it always pleasant to hear the teaching of the Church?  No, it is not!  But remember, hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd is not always a pleasant experience!

And yet it can always be a healing experience!  It can be a healing experience if we respond to the Good Shepherd’s challenging message in a positive way.

People who rebel against the voice of the Good Shepherd do the kinds of evil things those 2 men did in Boston this past week; whereas people who respond positively have live-changing experiences—of the good kind!

Let me conclude my homily now by sharing with you an example of this from the writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Sheen, as many of you know, preached on the Seven Last Words of Jesus on many Good Fridays at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  That’s the context of this particular story.  Sheen wrote:

After I had been preaching on Good Friday at St. Patrick’s one year, a woman came to the back of the main altar, her hair disheveled, a haunted look on her face, and [she] cursed me violently.  I said, “Why did you come in here?”

She said, “To steal purses.”

I said, “Did you get any?”

“No,” she said, “that second word of yours got me—the word to the good thief.”  Then she said, “Why am I talking to you, you blankety-blank?  You’ll just tell the cops.”

I said, “Why do the cops want you?”  She pulled out clippings from the Los Angeles Times and FBI folders.  Three of her confreres were in San Quentin, and the FBI was looking for her.  I asked her if she had ever been a Catholic, and she said yes, she had, up until the age of fourteen.  So I heard her confession, and she became a daily communicant.  But she was unable to work.  I supported her for about twenty years until she died.  Well, I was harboring a criminal, so after some time I said to her, “I must make known to the FBI that I know about you.”  She agreed, and I told the FBI.  I said, “You’re looking for a woman.”

“Do we want her badly?” they said.

I said, “Oh yes.  Her name is so-and-so.  She’s a daily communicant at St. Patrick’s.”

They said, “You have done far more for her than we or the prisons could have done, so we’re letting her go.”

That woman heard the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking to her through Bishop Sheen on that Good Friday many years ago—and it was a very unpleasant experience!  She literally hated what she heard—until she let the message change her heart and her life!

Then she experienced forgiveness, and mercy, and healing—and she got on the narrow road that leads to eternal life.

So did Augustine, eventually—which is why we now refer to him as “St. Augustine.”

May each and every one of us respond to the challenging voice of the Good Shepherd in the same positive way.