30 April 2012

Listen to the Shepherd not the Stranger

4th Week of Easter (M)/St. Pope Pius V
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

At Mass yesterday, we heard Peter's proclamation of the name and nature of our Savior. Speaking to the partisan Jews and their leaders, Peter says of the Christ, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." Today, we heard Jesus say, “I am the gate for the sheep. . .Whoever enters through me will be saved. . .I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Given these two proclamations and the concurring proclamations of the remainder of scripture, it would difficult—probably impossible—for us to conclude that the name of Jesus is just one of many attractive yet equally effective names we might call upon for our salvation. It seems abundantly clear that the name of Jesus is only name we might utter for the good of our spiritual health. And yet, we are still tempted to scratch our itchy ears with the names of the thieves and robbers that promise us an easier way over the fence and through the gate. Jesus says of his sheep, “. . .they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Do we recognize the voices of the strangers who try to steal us from the Lord's pasture? 

One way of approaching this question is to name names. Who are these strangers? Name them so that we might know them. That would be futile since strangers come and go. Though the lies they tell never change, their names do. We could run through a list of recognized heresies, but how many of us could identify modern versions of Arianism, Donatism, or Pelagianism? We could rehearse the Creeds of the Church and point out contemporary examples of those who would have us believe that our redemption and holiness proceed from sources other than the Self-gift of the Holy Trinity. But that too would be useless b/c—as I've said—the names change. What never changes is the lie; the falsehood that there are names other than Jesus upon which we might call for our salvation. So, the best way of approaching our original question—do we recognize the voices of strangers?—is to be very clear about what it means to hear the voice of our Shepherd, Christ Jesus. What does it mean to call upon his name for our salvation? 

Everything we need to begin and end the awesome work of cooperating with God's grace for our salvation can be found in scripture, our faith-family's history of living and dying with Christ. To ensure that the preaching and teaching of the Good News would continue after his resurrection and ascension, our Lord commissioned his apostles to go out into the world and teach everything that he had taught them. With the fiery assistance of the Holy Spirit, they did exactly that. Their students became apostles and theirs after them and so on until we arrive in 2012 with the successor of St. Peter and a College of Bishops who succeed the apostles in the teaching and preaching ministry of Christ. Our history of living and dying with Christ, authentically interpreted by the magisterium of the Church, tunes our ears to hear the voice of our Shepherd, to recognize his voice, and follow him into his pastures. When it comes to leading us on The Way, no other voice speaks with this authority, with this legitimacy. No philosopher, theologian, politician, scientist, guru, apparition, or best-selling author possesses the singular grace of our bishops in teaching us to hear the voice of the Lord. If you will hear his voice and follow his lead, then listen to his Church, his Body on Earth. And treat the thieves and robbers as the wolves they really are!

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