The Good Shepherd (stained glass), Unknown

Translation of the Epistle for the Second Sunday After Easter

Dearly beloved, Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow His steps who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. Who when He was reviled, did not revile: when He suffered, He threatened not, but delivered Himself to him that judged Him unjustly: who His own self bore our sins in His body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live in justice; by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going stray: but you are now converted to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to John

At that time Jesus said to the Pharisees: I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming and leaveth the sheep and flieth: and the wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep: and the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling, and he hath no care for the sheep. I am the good Shepherd: and I know Mine, and Mine know Me, as the Father knoweth Me, and I know the Father: and I lay down My life for My sheep. And other sheep I have that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.

Transcription of Sermon

The Saving Words of the Gospel.

And they shall hear my voice.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen.

St. Augustine says in one of his sermons, Cantare, amantis estOnly the lover sings and I imagine that dreadful day of Original Sin when Adam and Eve had just alienated themselves from God, from each other, and from themselves, heard the voice of Our Lord calling out to them, Where are you? that it was something of a song, a song calling them home more than a geographical question of “Where are you situated?” Our Lord certainly knew in what bushes they were hiding, but it was an existential question “Where are you? Where do you stand? What do you really want?” And that same lilting voice calls out to each one of us.

Zephaniah says about the sheep that’s found, The Lord Thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save; He will rejoice over thee with gladness; He will be silent in His love; making no rebuke of sin; He will be joyful over thee in song. And the found lamb doesn’t remain silent but is invited into this exchange with Our Lord. When St. Joan of Arc heard the heavenly voices during her locutions, she said they were always singing. And the timber of the voice, the beauty of the timber of the voice, was determined by the degree of desire that that soul had for Christ in this life. She said of all the voices that she heard, the most beautiful was Mary Magdalene. When the Found Lamb, when you and I allow ourselves to be found by Our Lord, and we join in His song, we can say with Psalm 12, But I have trusted in Thy mercy. My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation:’ I will sing to the Lord who giveth me good things: yea, I will sing to the Name of the Lord most high.

Whenever St. Augustine speaks about that famous song “Sing to the Lord a New Song,” he says that this newness of the song is a depiction of the life of grace, that grace which restores us, which rejuvenates us, grace which gives us a new life, requires that we respond in song. He says,

Sing to the Lord a new song. His praise is in the assembly of the saints.” We are urged to sing a new song to the Lord, as new men who have learned a new song. A song is a thing of joy, more profoundly, it is a thing of love. Anyone, therefore, who has learned to love the new life, he has to learn a new song. And the new song reminds us of our new life. The New Man, the New Song, the New Covenant all belong to the One Kingdom of God, and so the new man will sing a new song and will belong to the new covenant.

And all of that is beautiful, but there is a danger that there are other competing voices. There’s not only the voice of the Good Shepherd that calls us back to Himself, there are other competing voices of the world, the flesh and the devil. And the dangers, those things that can prevent us from discerning the voice of the Shepherd. Sometimes we have been so enmeshed in the world, the flesh, and the devil that we might mistake the Shepherd’s voice for that of the Stranger because we are not used to hearing it. And what are those things that can keep us from hearing His voice properly?

It’s anxiety. St. Francis de Sales says that after venial sin the worst evil that can befall us is anxiety. It’s kind of a false religion because it demands everything, whereas Our Lord demands everything through faith, hope, and charity. Those are virtues that demand totality. We’re not allowed to parse or mitigate faith, hope, and charity. They demand completeness, totality. So, you can’t be absorbed by two totalities. You have to make a choice. Who’s the one I follow? 

Also, the disordered attachments – those plans, those creatures, anything that’s not our Lord that has a hold on our heart. It could be my plans, could be an idea, could be a possession that I want to get, or something that I already have. Those disordered attachments, that we’re not indifferent about, can also stifle the voice of the Good Shepherd in our souls.

Another obstacle to hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd is a lack of forgiveness. If there’s anybody in my life that I have not forgiven, and forgive doesn’t mean I like the person, doesn’t mean I trust the person, to forgive somebody means I hold no grudge and I wish Our Lord, I pray that Our Lord will bless that person, and, where forgiveness is, distribute His pardon. 

Other obstacles to hearing the voice of the Good Shepard are curiosity. Thomas Aquinas says that curiosity is a vice, which is an inversion of a virtue called studiosity. Why? Because studiosity is an ordered thought. So, studiosity is part of the path to adoration. He says that all study and all art ought to lead to adoration. How much we confuse the terms of study and curiosity. Just looking things up on the phone because it’s right there, it’s handy, and what it’s doing, it’s crowding out the voice of Our Lord with factoids that we’re gonna forget anyway. 

Sloth is another obstacle. Sloth is not mere laziness. Sloth is actually a spiritual problem in which I give undue importance to inanities instead of to Our Lord. And so, sloth is whatever activity I do that keeps me from my spiritual duties. When we, and this is helpful too, I think, in our adoration time and Mass, pay attention to the nature of your distractions because those distractions often point to a certain disordered attachment in one’s heart. And so, it’s Our Lord’s mercy that shows us a problem. And He doesn’t present to us problems that have no solution. He’s the solution. And so, when He shows it to us, that’s His mercy, showing us that, “Listen, this is too important to you. This is empty. I’m the One that you should give your heart and your mind.”

Imagine for every capital sin, there’s an app. For every capital sin, there’s some means of social communication, some social media for every capital sin. How the devil is laughing at us when we give ourselves to this emptiness And that’s it’s not for nothing that the Greek Fathers would define sin as αλόγον (alógon) to be anti-logos- that which gets in the way of the word, that which gets in the way of that which is ultimately and definitively intelligible which is the Word Himself – He is the Good Shepherd. How different our lives would be if all of the time we spent looking at screens if that time we were spent in mental prayer, in adoration, in recollection, how different we would be and how integrating that would be to bring together all of these imaginations, our memory, our affections, our thoughts, our passions, bringing it all together and distilling it and channeling it towards the Heart of Our Lord. All of these aforementioned things speak to our passions but Our Lord when He speaks, He sings, and He speaks to our soul at a greater depth than the things of this world.

Adam and Eve were enticed by a new voice, a different voice, one that they’d never heard before. And the novelty of the serpent’s song should have been actually the first red flag. This is something they had never experienced before. And this voice was enticing them to become shepherds of their own souls, shepherds of their own flock. And ever since the Fall, the singing voice of the Good Shepherd has something of nostalgia about it. Nostalgia is a fascinating word. In German it’s Heímweh, which means home-pain. So, nostalgia is the pain for one’s lost homeland. Somebody said nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Well, what Our Lord has in store for us is greater than that which we lost in Eden.

And if we simply trust His voice and we let ourselves be found and we let Him hoist us onto His shoulders to bring us home, we’ll discover how great this paradise is, how great this intimacy in this union with Him is. Our passions are blind, they’re also blinding, but they’re not evil. We have to also channel our passions towards the Heart of Christ no matter the nature of the passion, whether it’s concupiscence, it’s irascibility, it’s a tendency to gluttony or excess, whatever the nature, the passion itself when it’s channeled towards the heart of Christ leaves the path of disorder and becomes virtue.

And so, then the voice of the Shepherd becomes much more discernible. His beckoning voice reminds us of our origins. It reminds us of our dignity. It reminds us of our value, of a place where we once walked with God, and what Our Lord has in store for us. The Father sang to his son, Behold, My beloved Son, listen to Him. He says, Listen to Him, precisely because of these other voices, these competing voices. And so, we’re constantly starting anew in our mental prayer, in our adoration, in our Mass, in settling our interior, channeling our hearts, our minds, our imaginations, our passions towards the heart of the Shepherd, so that we can hear His voice again. And then hearing it, we know what to do. St. Augustine says,

My dear brothers and sons, fruit of the true faith holy seed of heaven, all you who have been born again in Christ and whose life is from above, listen to me; or rather, listen to the Holy Spirit saying through me: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” “Look”, you tell me, “I am singing.” Yes indeed, you are singing; you are singing clearly, I can hear you. But make sure that your life does not contradict your words. Sing with your voices, your hearts, your lips and your lives: Sing to the Lord a new song.  

Now it is your unquestioned desire to sing of Him whom you love, but you ask me how to sing His praises. You have heard the words: “Sing to the Lord a new song,” and you wish to know what praises to sing. The answer is: “His praise is in the assembly of the saints;” it is in the singers themselves . If you desire to praise Him, then live what you express. Live good lives, and you yourselves will be His praise.” 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen.

— Fr. Ermatinger