Friday June 18, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Sacred Heart
Reading I (Ezekiel 34:11-16) Reading II (Romans 5:5b-11)
Gospel (St. Luke 15:3-7)
In the first reading from the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord tells us that He Himself is going to shepherd His sheep. The reason for that is because His human shepherds have failed Him. They have used the sheep, they have taken their wool, they have taken the milk, and they have not shepherded the sheep because they shepherded themselves. What happens when that occurs is that the sheep scatter all over the place, and the Lord talks about how they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. Well, that is the day we are living in. We have lots of human shepherds who have taken the money from people. They have driven the people in a way that is completely uncharitable and selfish, but they have not shepherded the people of God. And so God Himself will intervene, but it is not yet. He is going to allow things to get completely cloudy and dark. He is going to allow the sheep to be scattered all over.
Now we would think that if He is the Good Shepherd that He would not allow this, but He allows it for one reason, and that is for us to recognize that we are not strong enough by ourselves. When He talks about what He is going to do, how He is going to bind up the sick and heal the broken and so on, He says, But the strong and the sleek I will destroy. Those who think they do not need the Lord, those who think they can handle this by themselves, they will have no part of Christ because they do not accept His salvation. They do not accept His way and therefore they will be cut off.
Unfortunately, probably many of us fall right into that category. In our heads we would say, “Oh, no, no, no, I need Jesus,” but by the way we live I would suspect that we betray the truth rather frequently. That is, we think we can do it by ourselves. We cannot. And so if we look at the Gospel reading, for instance, and we hear that there will be more rejoicing over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine who do not have need for repentance, we realize that if we think we have no need to repent we are among those strong and sleek. If we want to sit back and point our finger at everyone else and say, “Look at the way that they’re trying to live their faith! Thankfully, I’m not like them!” we are the strong and the sleek. We are going to be destroyed if that is the case. We have to realize that the only reason any of us can live our faith at all is because of the grace of God, and the only reason any of us can remain in union with Christ is a gift of the Lord.
So we can look at our own selves and just ask the simple question, “Am I following Christ, or am I following myself while convincing myself that I’m following Christ?” In other words, are we seeking Him in prayer, are we listening to His voice, are we following where He is leading? Or are we simply using our own minds to be able to say, “This is the right path and I’m going to be on it”? In which case, we become self-righteous and we become strong and sleek. We think we can stand in judgment of everyone else and we do not need to repent because we have got it together and no one else does.
Until we recognize that we are weak, we are sick, we are broken, and we are in absolute need of our Shepherd – that we need to listen to His voice and we need to follow where He is going to lead us, not where we think we ought to be, but where He leads us – we will have no part of Him. But when we get to that point, we will be among those sheep that recognize the need to repent. That will bring great joy to heaven. When we finally get rid of our own self-righteousness, we recognize our own weakness and we repent. That is our call. That is exactly what Our Lord is asking from each one of us. And it is not just simply saying, “Oh, yeah, I’m a sinner. I know that I go to Confession,” but it is to look deep into our hearts and truly repent and be humble before the Lord. That is what He is looking for because when we can get there then we will be the first to admit: “I cannot do this myself” – not just say it in our heads, but mean it from our hearts. When we do that then we will be willing to listen to His voice, then we will be willing to follow where He leads because we realize that where we have led ourselves is completely astray from our Shepherd.
So that is what Our Lord is looking for from us: to be humble, to be repentant, to be weak, to be broken so that we recognize our dependence on Him and that we will listen to Him and be obedient to Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.