“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (Jn. 10:1-16)
I’ve heard this explained several times that a shepherd walks calmly into the center of the flock of sheep. Speaking with them, he then walks out of the center. Those in the center follow his voice, and eventually, the others do as well.
Jesus has been exhaustive in attempting to convince us He is our Shepherd:
- He wants to come into the center of us, into our heart and soul, and reside there permanently. Never overpowering, like the Shepherd we come to know Him and His voice intimately. The primary ‘doors’ by which Jesus enters our hearts are the Sacraments and prayer.
- He then leads us to follow Him in the world. But to follow, we must follow His design rather than try to make it ours. There will be thieves and robbers attempting to steal us away from Him. To be separated from Him is death just as it is to the stolen sheep. The thieves of our soul usually use subtle tactics. They coax us towards things that have the appearance of good but are not. After all, a lost sheep rarely has galloped away from its sheepfold. Rather, the sheep that has strayed does so one step at a time. It sees a clump of tasty-looking grass and moves slightly away from the flock. Then another clump, then another clump, head down just following their sensations. In a short time, that sheep is far away from its flock and the protection of its Shepherd.
Jesus came as a child and lived a hidden life. He entered quietly coming into the center of it. Then as he went around, people followed. He gained their trust by interacting with them in ordinary ways. He led the sheep in that fashion. And he does so for us today too.
Be sure of this children, there is not a single instant in which God does not pour into us some divine influence, which we would plainly feel if we were but more attentive; for God is borne on by His nature to communicate Himself unceasingly, and all the nature of our spirit is formed to receive Him. (Father John Tauler, O.P. (+1361)
We stray because we don’t know the life this Good Shepherd wants for us. He wants to give Hope through healing, peace through perfection, joy through freedom. God isn’t an experience; He is an existence.
For this week, beginning with Gaudete Sunday, we rejoice as we prepare for the coming of our Saviour Lord Jesus Christ. There is a longing in each of us for Advent to be a little different this year and for Christmas to truly be joyful. To authentically prepare the heart going forward, it is a day for looking back at these past weeks of Advent.
“And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth” (Ex. 13:9)
To rejoice is to take delight in, to feel glad or joyful. How can I avail myself to that overflowing Joy God is already showering upon me, so that I take it in instead of it seeming to pass me by? By embracing the penitential sense of the season. Gaudete is a day of thanksgiving that our deepest Hope is to be fulfilled: that of being wanted and loved by Love Itself. Keeping that truth on the forehead and back of hand, we can make the best use of the days to come:
- How has the thief of my soul attempted to lure me away with lesser-good choices? Towards things that appear good? And did I ignore the Holy Spirit’s warnings poking at me?
- How have I developed a dependence upon others (even if Catholic) rather than God? Followed their misuse of the Sacred scripture because their ideas are consoling? Accepted partial truth, thinking “I know my faith and can ignore that”? When God sends advocates warning of the truth, do I respond “don’t be ridiculous, that doesn’t matter”?
- Do I ever take time to really think about what my choices are doing to my soul? How can I expect to grow, to heal, to have peace? Who is God to me–just a sugar daddy or Santa Claus? What has been His primary role in my life—rescuing me from myself, my own bad choices?
Ouch! These are tough questions! But for the straying sheep to return to the fold, he must first get his head out of the tasty grass and look up. God is always waiting to have these conversations, but He wants us to start them.
Advent is a time of awaiting new life: our own. “New” is change; “life” is God. The only way to change a dynamic in any relationship is to first change ourselves, which is precisely the beauty of Advent. The gift of Christmas is this new relationship with God.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.