In the gospel 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.” This is the assurance of Jesus that if we come to Him we will never be lost or be led astray. Is this true? How do we explain the many Catholics who have left the faith and the Church? How is it that in spite of being Catholic, many do not find fullness of life and are living in limbo or in darkness? This is true of our relationships with our loved ones as well. Can we be sure that our spouse will remain faithful to us, or that our children will continue to remain in contact with us?
How can we ensure that our relationships with God and our loved ones will last and remain intact? Even if it could last, it is not good enough. More importantly, how can we ensure that our relationships with God and our loved ones are rich and life-giving? Although many of us still have a relationship with God, it is stale and unexciting. It is one of routine. We keep up with the prayers but there is no love, no excitement and no joy. We try to stay faithful to our responsibilities. We observe the commandments, but there is no real relationship. This is true also of our marital relationships. Before marriage, we shared and talked much about our life, our joys and woes. But after marriage, we keep all our difficulties to ourselves. Our relationship with our spouse becomes routine. Why is that so?
What has happened to the free and loving communication? Human beings are very fragile and egoistic. We get hurt easily. Just an unkind word or a hurtful remark can make us wounded and become resentful of the person. Once that happens, regardless what good the person does, memories of the past hurt would prevent us from being receptive to what the person says or does. This is true also of marriage life. When we are hurt in marriage, we close up due to arguments and quarrels. We bear grudges which harden into resentment. We begin to lose trust in each other and no longer bare our souls to one another. This is also the case for our children losing trust in us. Because they have been hurt by our words, they no longer have confidence in us. They cut us off and stop sharing their lives with us lest we hurt them again.
This is what Jesus meant when He said, “I have told you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness; but you do not believe, because you are no sheep of mine.” Those who do not love Jesus are skeptical and negative. Not surprisingly, Jesus met with much resistance from His own people. They were not ready to listen to Him or to accept Him. They said to Jesus, “How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Were they really keen to find out the truth about Jesus or just finding reasons to reject Him? They wanted Jesus to declare Himself as the Messiah for malicious reasons, so that they could expose Him to be a liar. There are many who call themselves Catholics but in truth are not the sheep of the Lord. They might be baptized but they follow the voice of the world. They might be doing and performing some Catholic practices, but the voice they hear is from the world because they take directions from the world and not from the gospel of Christ, or the teachings of the magisterium. Those who openly disagree with the teachings of scripture and the Church are not His sheep. As they do not know the Lord, they cannot identify themselves with Him. They are not one with the Lord.
Similarly, if we want to ensure that we never lose our loved ones or our Lord, we must take heed of what the Lord is saying to us. “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” Only lovers can hear the voice of the beloved. If we are to be one with Jesus and be His sheep, then only love for the Lord will enable us to respond effectively to His call and His voice. If there is no love, the voice would not be heard. This explains why many Catholics do not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. They read the scriptures and are not moved. They hear a homily but their hearts are hardened. But if we fall in love with Jesus, then we become identified with Him. The Holy Spirit leads us to Jesus; the Spirit of love unites us with Him. That is why we must make time for prayers and especially to read the Word of God and better still, to share the Word with our fellow Catholic brothers and sisters.
So too in human relationships, when it comes to acceptance of each other. We only follow whom we know, like the sheep and the shepherd. To know means more than intellectual knowledge but inter-personal knowledge. When someone knows us well – how we feel, and not just what we think, our struggles and pains, our aspirations and desires – we can entrust our lives to them because we know they will always support us. They will do us no harm because we belong to each other and are identified with each other. That is the case between lovers and friends. For this reason, we cannot underestimate the importance of making time for our loved ones. No amount of doing can replace the sharing of mind and heart with each other. Whether with our spouse or children, we need to make time to be with each other, to talk about our life, joys and struggles. In the process of sharing we become more aware each other’s feelings. This will strengthen the bond between each other.
Sharing and bonding is what gives us life. When we trust Jesus, then we will be assured of eternal life. The promise given to those who follow Him is that they find “eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.” Those who follow Jesus will have a foretaste of the life of God. Walking with Jesus is to walk in truth and in love. To walk with Jesus is to share in His life and love. The more we walk with Him, the more we will never be lost because that relationship will grow from strength to strength. Most of all, we become one with Him, just as Jesus is one with the Father.
Jesus trusted in His Father’s fidelity. He said, “The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Father.” He was confident that everything that came from the Father will return to the Father. He knew that His Father would be faithful to His promises. As the Father gave Him the sheep to look after, He will also give Him the grace to bring them home. Jesus felt secure not in His own power but in the power of His heavenly Father. And this is because Jesus was united with the Father in everything. “The Father and I are one.” He was one in mind and heart with His Father. It was a willing of mind and heart because of the love between the Father and the Son. This union is a consequence of love. This is the union that Jesus prayed also for us. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Jn 17:11)
So today, if we are hurt by our loved ones and continue to bear grudges, we must learn to let go, like the disciples of Christ who were persecuted by the Jews. Instead of withdrawing and giving up on the mission, they were courageous and proactive. They turned their misfortunes into opportunities to spread the gospel beyond the confines of Palestine. It was because of the persecution that they were forced to announce the Good News to the Gentile world. We too must use our pain to heal ourselves and to heal others. We must not allow misunderstandings and the human failings of loved ones to keep us further apart. Instead of closing up, we must learn from such lessons and reach out to those who are hurting. In this way, we build trust, friendship, love and understanding. Only when we begin to love each other sincerely again, can we then share in the joy and life of others.