the masks we wear

It is amazing to see how much we can learn about human nature by observing our children. A year ago my sister gave birth to a baby girl. Something very interesting occurred one day when I was visiting. My Mom was holding my baby niece in her arms and they were embracing. One of my sisters walked up and, glancing at me as if to say, “Hey, check this out!”, hugged my Mom while at the same time turning to my baby niece and saying, “Mine!” The baby girl lifted up her head. She looked at my sister as if to say, “What did you just say!?” She slapped my sister on her hand saying “No!” and then she hugged my Mom and said, “Mine!”

Today’s Gospel reading is quite charged; it is the Gospel of the “Good Shepherd” and we will reflecting on it by focusing on four key words.

  1. “Mine”

There is something unique about the word “Mine.” It is one of the first words we learn to say as children, along with “Me” and “No.” Thomas Aquinas says that we seek to possess that which we love. It is not always out of selfishness that we look to appropriate the things and people that we love. We say, “My car, my toy, my Mom, my spouse, and my house.” All of those are good things but as we grow up we gradually learn to share the things we love. Over time, we go from saying that she is my daughter to saying she is your wife, from my house to our home, from my life to our marriage. In this way love is perfected.

“Mine,” is a phrase constantly used in the Bible. We say, “my God,” because we seek to appropriate the love of God and to have a personal relationship with Him. To Him we say “You are my God” (Ps 63:1), “I am yours,” (Ps 119:94); and He responds in the same manner: “You shall be my people, and I shall be your God” (Jer 30:22).

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice” (Jn 10:27). God, in his infinite love, is appropriating us, “My sheep,” to himself. In the words of the prophet Isaiah. “But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have saved you. I have called you by your name; you are mine.” (Is 43:1)

How easily we fall into the false conviction that we are the sole owner and master of our life. We tell ourselves that “I am an adult. I can choose and determine myself to whatever I may want.” In fact, we are something much greater than that: we are the sons and daughters of God. Our life only has meaning precisely because we are his.

Good Shepherd lunette
The Good Shepherd, The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, 425 C.E., Ravenna, Italy
  1. “Listen to my voice.”

In the first reading we hear about the Word of God, the unstoppable force and energy that compels Peter and Barnabas. I’m sure that you have experienced it too. I’m sure you too have known this insatiable pondering that there has to be something more to life than just what the world has to offer, or the feeling that there has to be a depth and a profundity beyond what is visible to us. That is the same Word of God that is speaking to us, compelling us, and challenging us to listen to it.

St. Paul says that to preach the Word was something that he “has to do”  (1 Cor 9:16): It was for him a necessity. The Word of God is something that we cannot stop proclaiming, experiencing, and sharing with others. It is real. It calls to us. “My sheep hear my voice” (Jn 10:27). He asks that we hear that voice, that we listen to it, and that we bring ourselves into his holy presence, carrying with us our daily problems, our disappointments, our plans and dreams, our joys and our celebrations.

Reflecting on how to better listen to God and speak to him, Pope Francis was asked, “How is the best way for a person pray?” He responded, “Any prayer is authentic, real, and true as long as it starts with the words ‘Our Father’.” As long as we place ourselves under the gaze of our Father, every prayer is authentic. Sure, we can come up with excuses, we might say “I don’t know how to pray,” or “I was not born for this,” or “Nobody has taught me.” But if we can learn how to speak, and if we can learn to listen within ourselves, then we can learn how to pray; because that is where the Word speaks.

  1. “I know them.”

There is a “division” between who we are and how we present ourselves. Quite frequently, we end up conforming ourselves to expectations, probably stemming from a fear of rejection; this can lead us to believe that other people don’t really know us, or that not even we really know ourselves. But the Good Shepherd does know us. He formed us. He knows the desires of our heart. He knows even those things we try to hide from others and even from ourselves behind those masks. He knows our deepest desires, and he knows our capacity for self-destruction. He is the good shepherd who sees our hearts and all that they thirst for.

The shepherd knows his sheep because they are his. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer 1:5).

 If we are the sheep of his flock, then He is the one who guides our lives and He is the one in control. Which brings us to our fourth word.

 

Good Shepherd masks
Christ the Good Shepherd, St.Blaise Chapel of St.Mary’s Cathedral, Duncan Grant, 1958.

 

  1. He gives us “eternal life”

Many times I have asked myself, what can we really control in our lives? The truth is that we are the protagonists of a life that is not our own. He is the one who gives us purpose even in those times when we deceive ourselves by thinking that we can give purpose to ourselves, times when we say to ourselves that “I am living the good life because I myself am in charge.”

If we see ourselves as the sheep of His flock, if we listen to His voice, then we know that He, and only He, is the one who gives us eternal life. He is the one who is in control. Many times the best way to allow God in our lives is to “let go,” and to allow his Word to take hold of our lives. He knows us and he can guide us. So we must follow his voice, the voice of the good Shepherd.

We can’t make sense of life until we make sense of what happens when we die. If we believe that when we die our consciousness somehow dilutes itself into nothingness and that life ends when our earthly life finishes then, “Go at it!” Then you do, in fact, “only live once”; and you must milk life for all that you can in this one quick breath. But, if you believe in an eternal life, if you believe in a fuller life after this one, then this life is only a “warm-up”; a kind of training ground to prepare you for the one to come. “Heaven is about the fullest form of love,” says Cardinal Newman, “so for the one who hasn’t learned to love God and others then Heaven would be Hell, an infinite boredom.”

Let us ask through the intercession of Mary that we may listen to the word of God, that we may know the word of God, and that we may follow the word of God. Let us ask that we may hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling us every day, not just when we meet at Mass and not just when we read Scripture, but that we may also, like Peter, hear him just as loudly in our workplace and family life. May we hear His Word, know His Word and follow His Holy Word.

This post is also available in: Spanish

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