May 2, 2004
A young man was out with his date and snuggled up close to her. “I love you,” he said. “I need you. I cannot live without you.” The girl gently pushed him away and said, “Joe, let’s not go there. I’m not ready to get serious.” Joe responded, “Who’s serious?” We live in a world where games are always being played with words, where people frequently say one thing and mean another. Whether we consider Washington or Madison Avenue, whether we examine our jobs or even our families, we do not take words at their face value. Therefore, it is inevitable that this doubt about sincerity would influence us when we hear the Word of God.
Each week we gather here and hear the Word of God, which tells us God loves us, God cares for us, God will never let us perish. Today’s Gospel is a perfect example. Jesus uses the image of the shepherd and the sheep to emphasize the close, personal relationship that binds us to him. Just as the sheep can recognize the voice of the shepherd and follow him and trust themselves to his care, Jesus says that we stand in a close, personal relationship with him. He will give us life and protect us. Jesus’ words are clear. The question is, do we think that he is serious? Or do we hear them as a kind of religious jargon or a modified sales pitch that only partially applies to us? To hear them in that way would be a fatal mistake because the basis of all that we believe depends upon our acceptance of that personal relationship with Christ.
What it means to be a Christian or a Catholic is not simply that we show up for church on the week-end or engage in a number of pious devotions. It is not simply giving mental ascent to a series of theological truths. It is not that we accept John Paul II as our Pope or you accept me as your pastor. It is not even primarily about living a good moral life, because millions of people do exactly that without any religious conviction whatever. What it comes down to, what is at the heart of our religion is that we know that we are daughters and sons of God. We believe that we have a personal relationship with Christ. We trust that regardless of who we are or the mistakes we have made, God will remain faithful to us and protect us. We believe that Jesus knows the pitch of our voice and knowing everything about us, still freely chooses to love us and protect us. Outside of that relationship, faith is simply a matter of words and religion a system of ideas. Words and ideas are not going to save us. Only love can save us. This is why we must be grounded in a relationship of love with Christ. We need the strength that flows from that love because we live in world where there are all kinds of threats. We face the threat of terrorism, the threat of illness, the threat of rejection or prejudice from others, the threat of addiction, of violence, of injustice. How do we expect to cope with the fears that these threats can destroy us? How do we expect to gain the strength by which we can oppose the evil in our world and work towards God’s Kingdom? How do we expect to remain optimistic and positive, believing that life is worth living?
Words and ideas can only bring us so far. It is only when we ground ourselves in God’s personal love for us, that we can find peace. It is only when we believe God has chosen us and can recognize the very sound of our voice that we can live in freedom. Jesus’ words are clear. We belong to him. He knows our voice. He will always care and protect us. We need then, to stand in that personal relationship. We need to draw the strength that comes from Christ’s commitment to us. Jesus says, “I love you.” We need to believe that He is serious!