Monday, April 14, 2008

Embracing our "sheepliness"


I am a big History Channel buff and I recently saw one of the many programs they do on World War II. This particular program was about the sinking of the German warship Bismarck and it got me thinking about Good Shepherd Sunday which we celebrate today. If you know the story of the Bismarck, it was commissioned by the Germans at the beginning of the war. The Bismarck was meant to be unstoppable. It was the biggest fighting vessel the world had ever seen up to that time, and with it the Germans anticipated they would completely dominate the seas. Very soon after its commissioning, the Bismarck sank many Allied ships and aircraft. Its massive armor plating led to the boast that the Bismarck was unsinkable.

After the Bismarck had sunk the flagship and pride of the British Navy, the Hood, Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously issued the command, “The Bismarck must be sunk!” And eventually it was sunk. But, it didn’t take shock and awe; it didn’t take overwhelming fire power and weaponry. The mighty Bismarck was sunk due to one lone torpedo. A single torpedo hit the Bismarck in the rudder. As a result the battleship zigzagged through the sea, unable to set course for the safety of a German harbor. It was only a short while before the British Navy was able to overtake and destroy it. No matter how large the battleship; no matter how mighty, how strong, how many weapons, how thick its hull, it was doomed without a rudder to direct it.

“The Lord is my Shepherd…He guides me in right paths.” Floundering on the waters of chaos without a rudder, the Bismarck is a modern day image of a world without the direction of Jesus. Without the guidance of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we are all headed toward chaos. But with our Shepherd there is guidance, and direction and purpose to life.

Now, the Gospel today doesn’t speak about mighty battleships, instead it speaks about the other extreme: frail little sheep. During Jesus’ time, shepherds protected their flocks with their own bodies. A sheep pen was merely a wall of loosely connected rocks with a single entrance. At night the shepherd slept across the entrance so that his body protected the sheep from marauders and prevented them from straying. Whether we are mighty like the Bismarck or weak like a lamb, we need to rely on the Lord to protect us to give us direction through the troubles and traumas that we inevitably face in life. Life is too difficult to attempt to make it through safely alone. We need Jesus Christ. We call ourselves Christians because we are followers of the Lord, but we are also Christians because the Lord comes after us, helping us to get into line, protecting us from the elements of life that would destroy us.

The problem that we all have, whether we are sheep or battleships, is that we think that we are invincible; we think we don’t need direction; we think we are the shepherd. This is not true. What we need to remember about our relationship with our Good Shepherd is that our identity with Jesus is as His flock and not as shepherds. Even more, we – as flock – need to listen to Jesus. Listening to Jesus is the source of our unity, and our unity as a flock is necessary. We model our unity in the flock on Jesus’ relationship with God. They are in union with each other and with the Holy Spirit.

In advance of the visit of our Chief Shepherd, Pope Benedict, this week, the U.S. Bishops released just today a survey of American Catholics. It is a survey that reminds us how strongly we need to rededicate ourselves to our sheepliness, to following the True Shepherd. The study showed that only 23% of U.S. Catholics attend Mass every week. The number one reason people don’t attend Mass? “My life is too busy.” 64% of them don’t believe that missing Mass is a sin. I, of course, would direct them to a simple Commandment that remains in force – “Keep holy the Sabbath.” 43% of American Catholics believe that “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present” in the Eucharist. The report has similarly startling findings in regards to many other core Catholic beliefs. Our Shepherd is looking for us; He doesn’t want us to get lost. If ever we needed to turn again and follow the Good Shepherd, the time is now.

We are dependent upon the Lord. That’s why we pray every day. That’s why we come to church every week. That’s why we receive His True and Real Presence in the Eucharist. His is the strength that gives meaning, purpose and direction to our lives. He is the Gate that protects us and the Shepherd who leads us.

We must learn how to hear the voice of God through the noise and chaos of our world. Discerning the voice of Jesus our Shepherd can be difficult to do in our society. Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep…Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

May God give you peace.

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