The Sheep Gate
As you are aware, we have quite a large number of babies in our parish. It's fun watching them grow and seeing them take their first steps. Isn't it amazing how fast they can move. One minute you see them, the next minute they're twenty feet away getting into trouble. I remember giving friends the baby book called Baby Taming. It has a chapter entitled, "Walking and other dangerous past-times". Keeping the baby from falling down steps, running into the pool, etc, is a full time job of mothers and fathers. Every move the child makes is watched with a parent close by to keep the child from hurting himself or herself. The baby’s guard rail is the very body of his/her Mom or Dad.
During Jesus' time, shepherds protected their flocks with their own bodies. Many of the sheep pens were merely a wall of loosely connected rocks with a single entrance. At night the shepherds slept across the entrance so that their bodies became a protection for the sheep from their own straying or from marauders. The body of the shepherds kept the sheep from wandering out and getting hurt as well as kept animals and bandits from entering the pen and attacking the sheep.
Jesus makes an allusion to this in the Gospel for today when He says that He is the sheep gate. He is the sheep gate and we are the sheep. He is the guardrail keeping others from hurting us and keeping us from hurting ourselves. He is our protector. He is alive for us today, keeping us from hurting ourselves and from being hurt by others.
The Body of Christ protects us. The early Church was very much aware that the establishment of the Kingdom of God entailed a great war against the forces of evil. The Book of Revelation speaks about this in grasping, emotion- laden terminology. Armageddon would be the place of the final defeat of the devil by the army of the Lord. Each liturgy, each celebration of the Breaking of the Bread, each Mass, to use our terminology, was seen as one of the victories of the power of the Lord over the onslaught of the devil.
The Body of Christ protects us from the forces of evil.
This evil extends far more than our concepts of the devil. The Body of Christ protects us from the evil of our society. We cannot receive the Eucharist in a sincere manner unless we are willing to put up a fight against all the evils of our society that are continually assaulting us. The abuse of God's gifts, the worship of materialism, the plunge into the abyss of selfishness assault us every day. When we receive the Eucharist we are seeking protection from our spiritual enemies. We are seeking protection from the worst aspects of our own lives. The Body of Christ protects us.
Usually, the Lord protects us in far more subtle ways. Because His presence is important in our lives, we stay away from situations where we know He wouldn't be found. This might include questionable places or people. Because of our respect for the Lord, we put a tremendous faith in the leaders He has given us. The longer I’ve been a priest, the deeper my understanding is of all that I do not know. And the deeper my awareness is of how mistaken I can be when I’m on my own. It is a blessing to be guided by our Bishop, and an even greater blessing to be guided by the Bishop of Rome.
We need to put our faith in the Sheepgate, our Lord, and not believe what we hear, read or see in the media. We can’t be getting our religion from TV, the secular newspapers, or from so-called religious novels. Usually the scripts, articles or novels are written by non-believers or people with an anti-Catholic agenda. For example, a popular crime drama revolved around a case being re-opened because a priest said he was no longer bound by a confession he heard years earlier since the penitent had died. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The seal of the confession is permanent, forever, or the priest is de facto excommunicated. This wasn’t just bad research by the script writers, this was a subtle swipe at the sacrament that Catholics put their absolute trust in, confession.
Many popular TV shows are concerned about the power of the devil. It is good to be aware that the devil does have power, but this shouldn't make us anxious, or fill us with anxiety. We have the Divine Protector with us. Christ is more powerful than the devil. Just as He won't let us stray out of the sheepfold and hurt ourselves, He won't let the devil come in and hurt us. The Body of Christ, the Eucharist is our defense. He is the sheepgate. We are his flock.
There are fundamental questions of life: Whom am I? Why do I exist? How can I make a difference in the world? We cannot search for the answers to these questions in some sort of innate sense of knowledge we think we have. Nor can we trust in the garbage that we see on TV or read in the newspapers or the latest fad religious novel. We just need to trust in our Lord and Savior.
The theme of scripture this week is simple: Jesus is the sheep gate who continually protects us, both from intruders and from ourselves.