Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Second Sunday after Easter. We listened to a comforting Gospel, John 10:11+, for Our Lord says he knows his sheep and his sheep know his voice. He will lay down his life for us. He will gather us into one fold one day. And there are sheep not of this fold that shall be gathered. And “there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.”
One wonders naturally who the other sheep are, and perhaps they are the People of Israel, or other Christians, or pagans on the way to becoming Christian. Perhaps we, you and I, are the other sheep.
And so we listen for his voice. How will we know our good Shepherd’s voice? Through Scripture, Sacrament, and song; through other Christians; through regular worship in church; through prayer and practice. We desire to immerse ourselves and our souls in this wellspring of Word, His voice.
Today, May 1, is also the Feast Day of St. James and St. Philip.
James tells us in his epistle (James 1:1+) today that we must be unwavering, for the double-minded man is unstable, “for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” The command is clear, if a bit stern, and in itself, unwavering and single-minded. And so we pray for faith, abundant and unwavering faith, in these times of turmoil.
Philip is mentioned in the Gospel for this feast day, May 1 (John 14:1+). It is Philip whose faith wavers, or perhaps he simply can’t grasp the truth in front of him. Christ is explaining about Heaven, and the “many mansions.” He tells us He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (in answer to doubting Thomas), the only way to the Father. Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus asks why Philip still does not recognize his divinity: “I am in the Father, and the Father in me,” he explains patiently, and his voice is full of love for his children.
So many of us waver, unseeing, unbelieving what is right in front of our eyes. Our minds are a bit scattered and fragmented by our world and its daily challenges. Louder voices claim our attention. And so we pray for sight – insight – that we may recognize Christ, when the time comes for our Shepherd to bring us home.
The afternoon sun is glancing off the silvery olive tree outside my window. A breeze is stirring an oak tree beyond and the wild green grasses sloping to the valley below await their yearly trimming, for we live in fire country. I look around. What else have I missed today? My cat has curled up behind the warmth of my laptop, her head resting on my glasses case (she had been resting on Bishop Morse’s prayer book, until I opened it to read.)
I recently reviewed Francis Etheredge’s collection of prose and prayers, Within Reach of You (Enroute), in this space. One gift given in this book is the vision of being in God’s presence at all times, by praying without ceasing, or even having this intent. For Mr. Etheredge writes that simply the intent to pray opens a space for God to enter and dwell with us. And so I pray the Jesus prayer as often as I can remember, breathing the Name in and out as Father Seraphim and Vicki of Nazareth House in Kentucky taught me. I have adopted this habit over the years, breathing the Name, and now I realize that this opens the space for Our Lord to be present. This places us within reach of Him and He within reach of us. I find this immensely comforting and gratifying and joy-inspiring, all brought to me by an British theologian (with a family of ten) and my Kentucky hermits (with the whole world their family).
How simple it is to unite the Holy Name to my breathing. I cannot live without either.
For we are creatures of flesh but also mind and spirit, and the three are one, in you and me. It is true these will separate at the moment of death, but they will also be reunited, later in Eternity, in holy perfection.
I recently read an early copy of Mr. Etheredge’s new book, soon to be published, Reaching for the Resurrection: A Pastoral Bioethics, to provide an endorsement. He writes about this very idea, that we are one person – body, mind, and spirit. But our materialist world seeks to divide our human person, resulting in loneliness, anorexia, suicide, abortion, and euthanasia. The materialist says this is all we are, mere matter; there is no meaning to life; there is no purpose.
It is up to us – Christians listening to Christ, hearing the Shepherd’s voice – to counter these materialist claims, to give meaning to lives of despair, purpose to pain, and salvation to souls who cannot walk on water, cannot reach Christ’s outstretched hand. They are wavering and unbalanced.
There is a lovely prayer I sing to my cat Angel when we turn out the light each night. Actually, I sing it to Our Lord. It is written by Fernando Ortega, and I hope he doesn’t mind my sharing a bit of it with you:
“Jesus, King of Angels, Heaven’s light/ Shine Your face upon this house tonight./ Let no evil come into my dreams./ Light of Heaven, keep me in your peace.
With all my heart I love You, sovereign Lord./ Tomorrow let me love you even more!/ And rise to speak the goodness of Your Name,/ Until I close my eyes and sleep again.
Jesus, King of Angels, Heaven’s light/ Hold my hand and keep me through this night.”
To know the voice (and the song) of Our Lord we must hear it often, interweaving the many graces given to us, all around us, the many Christians who help us hear him. Take these simple baby steps: go to church, minimum weekly, better more often; read the Gospels; read other Christians who witness to Christ; immerse yourself in the Eucharist, being fed by Christ’s Real Presence in the Mass, a beautiful poetic prayer, a medley of Scripture and song that opens a space for God to dwell within you (and me).
I think I am more like Philip than James, and I pray that if I keep asking, keep breathing his Holy Name, Christ will be with me always, even until the end of the earth.