Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday
Today’s liturgy is particularly comforting. It shows us the face of Christ as the Good Shepherd. Ego sum pastor bonus – I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd tells Himself what he does for us: He gives His life for His sheep. He knows it. The words of Jesus always come true. He truly knows and loves us. Knowledge and love imply a certain closeness. The knowledge of a being is the possession of this known being by the intellect of the one who knows. A perfect knowledge involves a very close closeness, or intimacy if it is about persons. For example, the Bible uses the word ‘to know’ to signify the union between spouses. Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain.
In this way, we can say that knowledge is productive. As Saint Thomas Aquinas points out, we use the same word to express the conception of a baby and the conception of an idea. In God, knowledge is eminently productive, simply because the act of His intellect is His own substance. In other words, for God, being and knowing are the same thing. God’s knowledge of Himself is so perfect and so intense that it produces something which is similar to Himself. There is always a similitude between the object known and thought and the intellect which knows and thinks it. And because in God, the act of knowing or thinking is the same as the act of being, the fruit of the knowledge of Himself by God is God Himself, known as the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Father conceives His Son from all eternity.
And God also knows us. There are so many things to say about this. He knows us means He has created us. In fact, He creates us would be better, since there is no time for God. He knows us; He loves us; he creates us: all these expressions are synonymous. God thinks about us before we already exist, and because He thinks about, us we exist. the Psalm 138 says: Mirabilis facta est scientia tua. In English we say: Thy works are wonderful. But the exact translation for ‘scientia’ is science or knowledge. Nevertheless the word ‘works’ is not false because the science of God is His works. And the Psalm 138 signifies this fact very well. Praising the knowledge of God, this Psalm claims His supremacy. Thy knowledge is become wonderful to me: it is high, and I cannot reach to it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I descend into hell, thou art present. More precisely God knows each of us very well: Lord, thou hast proved me, and known me: Thou hast know my sitting down, and my rising up. Thou hast understood my thoughts afar off: my path and my line thou hast searched out. And thou hast foreseen all my ways: for there is no speech in my tongue. Behold, O Lord, thou hast known all things, the last and those of old: thou hast formed me, and hast laid thy hand upon me.
God knows us. He also loves us. God’s act of loving is one and the same with his act of being, as it is also for His knowing. God is love. Deus caritas est, as Pope Benedict XVI recalled it recently. Father Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, said, in his sermon for Good Friday in Saint Peter’s Basilica, that if we had to keep only one sentence from the Bible, it should be this one, from the first epistle of Saint John: God is charity. This is the perfect summary of the entire Bible because it expresses what God is. God is charity.
We have to use human words to speak about God and our words are often inadequate and not precise enough. In fact, who God is can be perfectly and totally expressed in only one word, which is His Son, the Uncreated Word. The Father sees Himself in the Son and delights in this contemplation as the Son delights in reflecting His Father. And from this mutual love between the Father and the Son, the Holy Ghost proceeds.
The Incarnation of the Word is the visible expression in the world of the Divine Life within the Blessed Trinity. God is now visible, through the Person of the Son, the Good Shepherd who knows and loves us.
Dear Brethren, I think we can wonder. And we should wonder. How is it possible that God loves us so much, to such a degree, that the Son assumed our nature, became one of us and died for us? As Saint Paul asserts, it is truly a stumbling block unto the Jews, and foolishness unto the Gentiles. Whatever the reasons are for God’s love for us, it is a fact that He loves us. The reason for His love is perhaps, simply, that He is love. Or maybe there are no other reasons for loving than love itself!
The Good Shepherd knows us and loves us. But what about us. Do we know Him? It is important to think about this because the sheep know their Shepherd. I mean, they really know Him. They can recognize His voice and they listen to it and heed it. It is not about a kind of academic knowledge that everyone can obtain just by opening a catechism. Well, Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Son of God made man, true God and true man and who came into the world to redeem us. Excellent! You know your catechism. But the true and good sheep know more about their Shepherd than these basic definitions printed in a catechism. They recognize His voice as Mary Magdalene did when He called Her Mary. The sheep have more than an intellectual knowledge of Jesus. They have the knowledge of the heart, the knowledge which allows us to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth as Saint Paul Says again. This is the kind of knowledge that comes with love, which is not necessarily the case with the mere intellectual knowledge of God. You can know your catechism perfectly as well as the teachings of the Church, just as you can know Mathematics or History, and live far from God. In spite of your erudition, you are not able to recognize and hear the voice of Jesus when he calls you.
But the deep and true knowledge of God, which is obtained not only by studies but also through prayer and meditation, necessarily goes with love. In fact, they call each other. The more you love God, the more you want to know about Him and the more you know Him, the more you love Him. Then, you follow your Shepherd spontaneously, just because you love Him and you trust in Him. You acknowledge that He is your Shepherd and that only He can lead you to the eternal pasture where you will be for eternity introduced into the great mystery of the Love of the Blessed Trinity.
So dear Brethren, let us turn to Our Lady, so that she can teach us how to open the ears of our soul and hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. It is the invitation that Saint Benedict addresses to us in his rule: Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father. Incline the ear of thy heart…. This is the condition for following Jesus. May Our Lady help us to do it!