Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Fold of the Good Shepherd: Easy to Get Into, But Difficult to Stay In

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on May 7, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 2: 14a, 36-41; John 10: 1-10.)

[For the audio version of this file, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2017]

In his book, “The Song of the Bird,” Fr. Anthony de Mello writes the following little story:

A sheep found a hole in the fence
and crept through it.
He wandered far
and lost his way back.

Then he realized he was
being followed by a wolf.
He ran and ran, but the wolf
kept chasing him, until the shepherd
came and rescued him and carried
him lovingly back to the fold.

In spite of everyone’s urgings
to the contrary, the shepherd
refused to nail up the hole in the fence.

That little anecdote illustrates a very important truth that I think God wants us to ponder on this “Good Shepherd Sunday”: It’s very easy to get into the sheepfold, but it’s very difficult to stay there.

Baptism, of course, is the way in, as St. Peter told the people of Jerusalem after he preached to them on Pentecost Sunday.  We heard the last line of Peter’s sermon in today’s first reading from Acts, chapter 2.  And it was obviously an extremely powerful talk that Peter gave that day, because the Bible says that those in attendance were “cut to the heart” when they heard what Peter said, and they immediately asked the apostles to tell them what they needed to do.  Peter responded by saying, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

And three thousand did!  Praise God!  On Pentecost Sunday three thousand new “sheep” entered the fold: the safe and secure fold of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. 

But how many of them stayed there?

The answer is: We don’t know.

I pray that all of them did!  I pray that all of them faithfully followed Jesus Christ for the rest of their earthly lives, and are now living with him forever in heaven—but I also know that that might not be the case, because, as I said a few moments ago, “It’s very easy to get into the fold, but it’s very difficult to stay there.”

That’s because there’s always a hole in the Good Shepherd’s fence, as Fr. de Mello’s story makes clear.  In other words, there’s always a temptation to walk away from Christ and his truth.  We always have that freedom.  And this hole in the fence—this temptation to leave the Good Shepherd and his Gospel—seems to be getting bigger every day.  It’s a growing problem, especially for our young people.  In this regard, Bishop Robert Barron wrote the following in an article recently.  He said:
Anyone looking for concrete evidence of the crisis [in our culture] doesn’t have to look very far or very long. Twenty-five percent of Americans now identify as religion-less, and among those thirty and younger, the number rises to 40%. The majority of people under fifty now claim that their moral convictions do not come from the Bible, and traditional prohibitions, especially in regard to sex and marriage, are being aggressively swept away.  In fact, legally speaking, the momentum has shifted so dramatically that now those who defend classical views on sexuality are subject to harassment, even prosecution.

Welcome to the world of 2017.

By the way, have you noticed how “out of control” many people are these days?  Have you noticed the lack of control that many contemporary men and women have over their emotions?

It’s scary!

Think of the violent protests we’re seeing in major cities and on college campuses all over the country, and the inability of many people to listen to a person who has a different opinion from theirs—the kind of thing that we saw at UCal Berkeley last week (a university that used to be known for its promotion of free speech!).

This disturbing trend, I would say, is not coincidental.  We are living in a society right now in which a lot of people have run—and are running—through that hole in the fence of the Good Shepherd.  They’re rejecting anything and everything associated with Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

Well, as the sheep in Fr. de Mello’s story found out, running through the hole in the Good Shepherd’s fence has consequences—one of which is the loss of control over your emotions.

It’s very easy to get into the fold, but it’s very difficult to stay there—especially nowadays.

So how do we do the difficult thing and remain in the fold?  In the midst of all this turmoil and pressure to give in to the culture, how do we remain strong in our faith and close to the Good Shepherd?

Well, if you’ve taken the time to read the book Fr. Najim gave to you last Christmas, then you already know the answer.  That book (in case you weren’t here) was entitled, “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic”.  It was written by the well-known Catholic author and speaker, Matthew Kelly.  In that book Kelly says that, through his study and observation, he’s come to the realization that Catholics who are really serious about living their faith, Catholics who are deeply committed to Jesus and his Gospel—in other words, Catholics who are making the effort to stay in the fold of the Good Shepherd—engage in four important activities in their lives: prayer, study, generosity and evangelization.  These are what he calls the four “signs” of a “dynamic” Catholic.

First, PRAYER.  Dynamic Catholics, he says, pray—and not just once-in-awhile or when they’re in trouble.  They have a prayer life that’s disciplined and consistent.  Personal prayer is a regular part of their day-to-day experience.  Sunday Mass, of course, is a top priority for them as is the sacrament of Reconciliation—which they receive ASAP if they do happen, on occasion, to wander through the hole in the fence by committing a mortal sin.  Yes, serious, dynamic Catholics might, in a weak moment, wander away from the fold—but they don’t stay out there in the wilderness for very long.

Number 2, they STUDY the truths of their faith so that they can understand them better, live them more completely, and defend them against the lies of the culture in which they live. 

Number 3, they practice GENEROSITY in terms of their time, talent and treasure—which basically means they’re generous in their love for their neighbors.

And number 4, they take EVANGELIZATION seriously, and are deeply concerned for the spiritual well-being and salvation of others, beginning in their families.

It’s very easy to get into the fold, but it’s very difficult to stay there.

Difficult, but not impossible.

Prayer, study, generosity and evangelization make it possible.

May the Lord give us the grace today to put all of those “signs” into practice in the future—and to read Matthew Kelly’s book, if we haven’t done so already.