Tuesday Homily: Believing in the Love God Has For Us
Christ, his obedience to caring for and feeding Christ's sheep, is seen above all, therefore, in his teaching the truth of Christ authoritatively in his name.
And each of us is called to love the sheep and lambs Christ entrusts to us in a similar way.
Just as Christ, the Good Shepherd, looked with compassion on the crowd and taught them, so the Church's compassion for the crowd is to teach them this truth as well, the truth that sets them free, the truth that helps them become more and more like Christ, who is the Truth incarnate. Our compassion for those in need must involve this element of teaching.
To "instruct the ignorant," is one of the spiritual works of mercy that the Church has carried out from the beginning. It has inspired those in the Church to pass on the truth of Christ, by founding Catholic schools and universities, by doing catechesis, by RCIA, by talking one on one with friends, by leavening the "marketplace of ideas" with the truth that comes from Christ.
Today, in the face of so many people in our culture who are lost, who don't know the purpose of their lives, who often go from one pleasure to the next so as not to confront the most fundamental questions of existence, who don't know the difference between right and wrong, who do not even realize that there is a heaven and a hell not to mention what actions could land them in either place - in the face of so many people who are indeed like sheep without a shepherd, the great act of compassion that the Lord wants from us is to teach them about him, to share our faith, to share the good news of great joy that God is love and that we have come to believe - and are inviting others to believe - in that love that God has for us..
But we cannot give what we don't have. In order for us to be able to give the truth of Christ to others, we first have to know Christ and what he teaches us, and through living that truth come to abide in Him who is the truth. Just as the Good Shepherd goes in search of his sheep, so good sheep must go in search of the Good Shepherd. For us to be capable of bringing Christ to family members and friends, coworkers and fellow students, we need first to bring ourselves to Him, to spend time with Him, to be fed by Him and the Church he founded so that we can in turn feed others. This points to the importance of one of the most important aspects of the Year of Faith now underway.
For us to believe in the love the Lord has for us and to love others as he has loved us by continuing his mission of compassion in the world for all sheep without the Good Shepherd, we need to know the truths of the faith very well. And since - except in the case of a few rare saints - God does not give this knowledge by infusion, we, like the first disciples, need to allow the Master to teach us. How does he do so? He educates us through Sacred Scripture, particularly the Gospels and the writings of his first apostles. He teaches us through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, written for adults in the 1990s, which is the summary of everything the Catholic Church he founded and sent the Holy Spirit to guide believes. He teaches us through the successors of St. Peter, who in their various homilies, encyclicals and other documents, apply the truths of the faith to modern questions and problems. He teaches us locally, through our pastors, through Catholic newspapers and solid websites, through adult education opportunities, through religious education.
To be a good sheep of the Good Shepherd, to receive rather than refuse his compassion, we need to be faithful disciples. The word disciple in Greek means "student." To be a good disciple means to "study" our faith, to sit at the feet of Jesus the Master and allow him to teach us. Recent surveys have shown that very few Catholics, including those who are very faithful, study their faith. One recent poll showed that only three percent of Catholics who come to Mass faithful every Sunday ever read the Bible on their own. I think the percentage of those who have studied the Catechism or read papal encyclicals is much lower. While most American Catholics would never be satisfied with merely an elementary school education in math or reading, many do not seem to be troubled at all if their education in the faith stopped in the eighth or tenth grade with Confirmation.
When "adult issues" come up - like whether it is moral to have recourse to in-vitro fertilization, stop nutrition or hydration for a terminally ill loved one, conduct embryonic stem cell research, support same sex unions, defend torture, do unnecessary work on a Sunday, and so on - many adult Catholics do not know what the Church teaches; after all, these issues are not normally taught in fifth or sixth grade catechism classes.
When friends confronting similar situations are lost and confused and ask for our advice, while we can extend a certain sympathy, we cannot extend Christ's compassion, because we do not know Christ's teachings well enough to do so. All we can give is our "honest opinions," but - and now we have to be honest - often these opinions are formed more by popular culture than by the Gospel.
Rather than imparting the truth revealed to us by God, we, despite our good intentions, often pass on a popular falsehood. On other occasions, even when we know what Christ's teaching is, we do not know it well enough to be able to answer common objections; as a result, lest we embarrass themselves and the Church, we often stay silent. Our friends and family, who are often searchers without a guide, end up remaining lost.
A truly compassionate doctor or nurse seeks to learn everything possible to care for patients and help them get better. A truly compassionate Christian needs to know everything possible about the truth Christ reveals to care for their family members, their friends and acquaintances, their fellow parishioners younger and older and help them not only get better spiritually but get to heaven.
Today Christ the Good Shepherd, the incarnate love of God, looks on us with great compassion and gives us out of love an invitation to make a commitment to study our faith hard and well, so that we may be able to love others as he loved us, by passing onto others all of the truths he has passed on to us. Love and truth go together. We believe in the love God has for us! We believe in the truth he has taught us! We believe in him and all he has done and said!
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on catholicpreaching.com.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Year of Faith, daily catholic homily, father roger landry
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