4th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 13:14, 43–52; Revelation 7:9, 14–17; John 10:27–30
Love story God invites us to learn about him, fall in love with him, and live with him happily ever after.
Years ago there was a popular movie called Laura. You can still see it occasionally on television. The movie is about a young detective who’s called in to solve the murder of a beautiful young woman named Laura. One night someone knocks at Laura’s apartment door and fires a shotgun into her face, killing her.
For the next few days, the young detective spends all of his time in Laura’s apartment. He checks through everything she owns: her clothes, her books, her record albums, her photographs. He even reads her letters and personal diary, trying to find a clue that might lead to her murderer.
Then something strange happens. The detective begins to become totally preoccupied with Laura. He begins to become emotionally involved. He finds himself falling in love with Laura. He finds himself falling in love with a dead person.
One night he’s sitting in Laura’s apartment, trying to sort things out. Suddenly he hears a key turn in the lock. The door opens. The detective can’t believe his eyes. There stands Laura.
“What are you doing in my apartment?’’ she demands. The detective explains to her everything that has happened.
To make a long story short, Laura had gone to the country for a few days, to get away from everything.
In all that time she hadn’t heard a radio or read a newspaper. She hadn’t heard about her own death.
It turns out that the murdered woman was someone who had used the apartment during Laura’s absence.
The movie ends with Laura and the detective falling in love, getting married, and living happily ever after.
That movie contains a three-part scenario.
The first part is the detective’s study of Laura’s apartment, which leads to his falling in love with her.
The second part is Laura’s appearance in the doorway of the apartment and the detective’s recognition of her.
The third part is the detective’s courtship and his marriage to Laura.
That three-part scenario is the very same scenario that God has planned for each one of us.
First, God created us and put us in the world to learn about him, just as the detective was put in Laura’s apartment to learn about her.
Second, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, entered the world to be recognized by us, just as Laura entered her apartment and was recognized by the detective. Finally, God planned for us to fall in love with him and live happily ever after with him, just as the detective fell in love with Laura and lived happily ever after with her.
The scenario of the movie Laura and the scenario of God’s plan for us help us appreciate better today’s gospel, which reflects the same three-part scenario.
First, God put his chosen people in the Old Testament world to learn about him.
Second, at the appropriate time, God himself appeared at the doorway of history in the person of Jesus Christ.
Finally, those people who recognize Jesus to be God hear his voice, follow him, and receive from him eternal life.
This is what Jesus refers to in today’s gospel, when he says of those who recognize him:
“My sheep listen to my voice; and they follow me. I give them eternal life.” For “the Father and I are one.”
Let’s now see how all this applies to our lives. For this, let’s go back to the detective in the movie.
Recall how carefully he studied everything in Laura’s apartment. He left no stone unturned to learn everything he could about her.
As a result, he fell in love with her, even though he’d never met her face-to-face.
That’s what we should be doing in our world. We should be studying everything about it. And through this study of the world and its many mysteries and beauties, and even sorrows, we should be falling in love with God, even though we’ve never met him face-to-face.
Second, we should also be studying everything about Jesus Christ. We should be learning everything we can about him. For in Jesus we meet God face-to-face, just as the detective met Laura face-to-face in the doorway of her apartment. “Whoever has seen me,” says Jesus, “has seen the Father.” John 14:9
Finally, we should be striving to commit our lives to Jesus, to receive from him eternal life, and to live with him happily ever after, just as the detective committed his life to Laura, married her, and lived happily ever after with her.
In other words, today’s gospel invites us to learn about God through the things he created in our world. They are clues telling us what God is like, just as Laura’s clothes and books were clues telling the detective what she was like.
Today’s gospel also invites us to learn about Jesus Christ, to fall in love with him, to follow him, and to live happily ever after with him, just as the detective fell in love with Laura, married her, and lived happily ever after with her.
Let’s conclude with a prayer:
God our Father, you created us and gave us life. You put us in this beautiful, mysterious world to study it, ponder it, and learn about you. But often just the opposite happened. The beauties of life kept us from you, rather than drew us to you. But you did not abandon us.
You called to us, you shouted to us; you broke through our deafness. You flashed before us, you shone about us; you took away our blindness.
And suddenly we began to hear your voice in every sigh and in every song. We began to see your reflection in every star and in every flower.
Then came that unforgettable day, when we heard your voice and saw your presence in Jesus, your Son.
Help us listen to Jesus, follow him, and receive from him eternal life. Help us fulfill your plan for us and to live happily ever after with you.
Series II 4th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 13:14, 43–52; Revelation 7:9, 14–17; John 10:27–30
Emperor’s search What the human heart has always sensed, Jesus confirmed: Our destiny is eternal life with God.
In 1974, workers in China accidentally discovered an incredible treasure. Digging in China’s Yellow River valley, they found scores of life-sized painted statues of warriors, horses, and chariots. The treasure they discovered was a 2,000-year-old burial ground.
Experts now estimate that when the entire burial ground is excavated, it will yield up an army of over 6,000 life-sized clay warriors. They have also learned that this amazing army was ordered and produced by Emperor Chin to protect him from his enemies after death.
Chin is the same emperor who built the Great Wall of China. If this remarkable wall were transported to the United States, it would reach from New York to California. Chin ordered it built to protect his empire from invaders.
Chin had a great fear of death and spent the last years of his life frantically searching for a “fountain of youth.’’ His magicians told him that such a magical fountain existed on an island in faraway seas. Of course, Chin never found it.
Since the beginning of time, the human heart has resisted the idea that death is the end of life. It has dreamed of eternal life. Some deep-down instinct tells us that this life of sorrow and disappointment is not an end, but a beginning.
What the instinct of the human heart tells us is the very thing that Jesus also tells us in today’s gospel. He tells us that this life is not the end. There is, indeed, something more to come. We were made for eternal life. Elsewhere in the gospel, Jesus tells us that he himself is the source of eternal life. He says:
“[W]hat my Father wants is that all who see the Son and believe in him should have eternal life. And I will raise them to life on the last day.” John 6:40
And a few verses later, Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever.” John 6:51
But our understanding of eternal life does not stop here. What the human heart tells us, and what Jesus tells us, modern science also tells us.
When scientist Wernher von Braun died, Time magazine called him the “twentieth-century Columbus.’’ More than any other scientist on earth, von Braun deserves credit for putting a human being on the moon.
Von Braun’s career began in Germany. He developed the famed V-2 rocket that devastated British cities during World War II. Toward the end of the war, he was working on a rocket that would reach New York City. As the Russians advanced toward Germany, von Braun and his staff fled to Bavaria, where they surrendered to the United States. Within months, von Braun was in the United States, where he would eventually launch our space program.
Before von Braun died, the talented scientist made a statement that surprised the public. He said:
“Many people seem to think that science has somehow made ‘religious ideas’ untimely or old-fashioned. But I think science has a real surprise for the skeptics. Science, for instance, tells us that nothing in nature, not even the tiniest particle, can disappear without a trace. Nature does not know extinction. All it knows is transformation.’’
Von Braun continues:
“Now, if God applied this fundamental principle to the most minute and insignificant parts of his universe, doesn’t it make sense to assume that he applied it also to the human soul? I think it does. And everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death. Nothing disappears without a trace. Nature does not know extinction. All it knows is transformation. . . . Nothing disappears without a trace.’’ Quoted in Reader’s Digest (June 1960)
And so what the heart has always taught, and what Jesus taught, modern science is also now teaching: This life is not the end. We were made for something more. We were made for eternal life.
This raises an important question. If God’s plan is for us to live forever, what kind of an impact should the reality of eternal life have on our daily lives right now?
In other words, if God’s plan is for us to live forever, how ought this affect the way we live? How ought we to live in this world, so as to attain eternal life in the next world?
St. Paul answers this question by saying that we ought to live our lives the way Jesus taught us to live and the way Jesus himself lived. Spelling this out in concrete terms, Paul says:
You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as . . . immorality . . . [and] evil passions. . . . [In place of these] clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, . . . and patience. Be tolerate with one another and forgive one another. . . . And to all these qualities add love. Colossians 3:5, 12–14
This is the practical impact that the reality of eternal life ought to have on our lives right now.
We ought to strive to live as Jesus lived, to love as Jesus loved, to pray as Jesus prayed, and to forgive as Jesus forgave, so as to attain the eternal life that he has promised.
This is what Jesus means in today’s gospel when he says:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never die.”
This means that if we belong to Jesus, we will hear his voice and follow him. It means that if we live according to his teaching and his example, he, in turn, will give us eternal life. This is the good news contained in today’s gospel. This is the good news Jesus came to bring into the world.
This is the good news we celebrate together in this liturgy: Everyone who sees Jesus, believes in him, and follows him will have eternal life.
Series III 4th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 13:14b, 43–52; Revelation 7:9, 14–17; John 10:27–30
The shepherd’s voice How do we hear the shepherd’s voice and when do we usually hear it?
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me.” John 10:27 (NAB)
Jamie D’Allesandro died of cancer when he was eight years old.
In the final stage of his illness, he began talking out loud, especially in the middle of the night, when he could not sleep.
Whenever his mother, Tina, happened to hear him, she would rush to his room to see if he might need something.
He would thank her and assure her that he was just fine.
One night she heard him talking out loud twice. The first time she came to his room, he thanked her and assured her that he was fine.
The second time she came, he said:
“Mom, you don’t have to come every time you hear me. Usually, I’m just talking to God.”
Jamie’s father began to worry about his son’s response, wondering if he might be hallucinating.
So one day when they were talking, he asked his son:
“Jamie, when you talk to God, does God talk back to you? For example, do you hear his voice, just as you hear my voice now?”
Jamie looked at his dad with a somewhat puzzled look and said:
“Dad, I don’t hear God’s voice with my ears, but with my heart.” America magazine (August 16, 1997)
That beautiful episode brings us to today’s Gospel, where Jesus says:
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” John 10:27–28 (NAB )
One way we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd is the way Jamie heard it, with the inner ear of his soul.
It is this same inner ear that picks up the “voice” of our conscience, which someone called the “walkie-talkie set” by which God can speak to us at any moment of the day or night.
Referring to the “voice” of our conscience, Cardinal Newman had this to say: We have no power over it,or only with extreme difficulty. We cannot destroy it, we may refuse to use it, but it remains.
Its very existence throws us outside of ourselves, to go seek and search for him, whose Voice it is. John Henry Newman, Cf. Apologia Pro Vita Sua
That brings us to a second and the most important way of all that the Good Shepherd can speak to us. It is through the ears of our body.
He does this through the Scriptures, especially the Gospels.
Because it is the most important way, we stand when the Gospel is read.
This also explains why the reading of the Gospel is preceded by the gospel acclamation.
Finally, this is also why we trace the sign of the cross on the forehead, lips, and heart just before the Gospel is read.
While tracing the sign of the cross many people say these words:
“May the word of God be ever in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart that I may worthily proclaim it through word and example.”
Years ago a Broadway play, called The Royal Hunt of the Sun, dealt with Spain’s conquest of Peru.
In one scene a Spaniard gives an Incan leader a Bible, saying that it is God’s word.
Filled with curiosity, the leader raises the Bible to his ear and listens attentively.
When he hears nothing, he slams the Bible to the ground, feeling that he has been made the butt of a joke.
This raises the question: How ought we to listen to God’s word?
First, we listen with our body. That is, we listen to it with reverent attention. An early Christian preacher, Origen, circa 200, used to tell his congregation:
“You receive the Body of the Lord with special reverence, lest even a tiny crumb fall to the floor. You should receive the Word of the Lord in the same way.”
Second, we listen with our mind. That is, we try to make the passage come alive in our imagination.
We try to visualize the scene and feel the excitement Jesus’ disciples felt as they watched it unfold.
For example, we put ourselves in the shoes of one of the apostles or a bystander. Third, we listen to the Gospel with our heart. That is, we “take it to heart.” For example, several prisoners in Riker’s Island prison in New York were listening to the parable of the Good Samaritan. The room was cold and an inmate dressed in only a T-shirt was shivering. Suddenly another inmate, wrapped in two blankets, took one and gave it to the shivering inmate.
Finally, we listen with our soul. This means we listen with faith.
We believe God’s word is true and has the power to touch us and transform us.
And so we listen with faith and hope, knowing that if we persevere in listening to it as we should, the day will come when it will touch us profoundly and change our lives in a way we never dreamed possible.
And so, in brief, we listen with our body, our mind, our heart, and our soul.
Let us conclude by listening with our body, our mind, our heart, and our soul to this amazing promise of Jesus from the Book of Revelation.
“Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice and open the door,I will come into their houseand eat with them,and they will eat with me.” 3:20