The Church: Shepherding towards Eternal Life

Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)

Readings:  Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 99 Rv 7:9, 14-17; Jn 10:27-30

Gospel
I know my sheep and they follow me

Jesus said:
‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

NOT too long ago, I attended a forum on the Mass. Somewhere in the discussion the question on who is and who is not admitted to receiving Holy Communion came up. The invited speaker, a priest, answered the question by explaining the teaching of the Church. However, it seems the priest’s explanation did not sit well with some of the audience. Why, some ask, is the Church being so discriminatory—making some people feel excluded?  The Church, others say, should be in with the times, implying that the Church should change its teachings to be more palatable, especially in our current time.

There seem to be a mistaken belief of what being a Christian is all about, what the Church is on about. Some people seem to think that Christianity is simply about being nice. At times being extraordinarily “nice” or even heroically “nice”. Moreover, many seem to consider that the church merely as a human institution just like governments, schools, social clubs, businesses, and forgetting that the Church has a dimension that is also divine. Being nice is certainly part of our Christian life but it is not the core of that life. Yes, we are called to love. And to live a certain kind of life that involves doing good for our neighbour must be a result of our faith, but it is not the faith itself. The core of our faith is contained in the first two verses that we heard in our gospel reading: ‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost.’ And surely, like any other human institution, the Church seeks to promote the individual and social good. The Church wants us to be happy in living out our lives, to be the best that we can be, to live life fully! Because God wants us to be happy in the here and now!

But the great commission of the Church is not to make people feel good BUT to ensure that all of us achieve eternal life! The Church exists to be the Good Shepherd like Jesus guiding the world to eternal happiness with God. For the Church, it is not just about a 5-year, 10-year or even a 100-year pastoral plan. The Church looks at the horizon of eternity. More than our transient happiness and pleasure, the Church is concerned about the future of our immortal souls! Our Creed keep reminding us of this core of our faith when we say we believe that God is the “maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible”; when declare that Christ, “for us men and for our salvation… came down from heaven”; and when we profess that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

But this vision of eternity and the reality that we have immortal souls is what we seem to lose with the advance in knowledge and technology, with affluence and the delusion that we can control everything. If we can only regain that understanding and vision of eternity; if only we once again become conscious of the immortality of our souls, then perhaps we will be more mindful of how we think, speak and act, both in solitude and in relation with others. Perhaps, we can also appreciate where the Church is coming from with its teachings, what the Church is really on about. Perhaps we will stop accusing the Church—its ministers and faithful of being bigots, of being out of touch, of being out there just to make us feel uncomfortable and excluded. And perhaps we will recognise that we are the ones who make our own discomfort. We are the ones who exclude ourselves in the love of God and that we are the ones who condemn ourselves. In the end, to SIN is our choice.

A Christian is not basically someone who does nice things. A Christian is someone who has been called to know God’s promise of eternal life. Knowing it, really knowing it in the depths of our being, means we are trying to listen and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. It means that we will live a particular sort of life. And because of this, the Church does not fear the tongues or opinion or other weapons of the world. The same should also be said about each and every one of us. Because we know they are nothing compared to the eternity that we are aiming for. We can take the risk of loving other people, sacrificing our time, talents and treasures in their service because we know—WE KNOW we have eternity! We do good not because that is what makes us Christians but because what make us Christians –the promise of eternal life – free us to do good.

So Brothers and sisters, it is still Easter time. It is still the season of the Resurrection. It is still the season to recall that my life, your life, our lives are not a matter of the merely day-to-day, but of eternity! ###

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