Ars praedicandi: IV Easter, Year A

Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, April 7, 2017

Gospel: John 10: 1-10

“The Good Shepherd walks ahead of the sheep, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”

“I don’t know where you are leading me,” say I. “Trust me,” says he. We go through a wonderful meadow. “I trust you,” say I.

And then time passes. And his voice has led me to my primary school. And a big kid pushes me. And another kid makes fun of me because I throw like a girl, says the kid.

I don’t like where you led me into this school,” say I. “Trust me,” says he. “I don’t think I like you very much,” say I. “Trust me,” says he.

I go to high school and to college, and I love new friends, new studies, and I say, “I like where you have led me. I guess I will follow your voice a while longer,” say I. “That’s good,” says he. “Keep trusting me.”

I fall in love. And everything seems wonderful, and I shout out to the one whose voice is leading me on, and I say, “I will love you all the days of my life, and I will never abandon you.” “Keep trusting me,” says he.

But then the one I love goes off with someone else – not even telling me why. And I say, “Is this the way that you treat those who follow your voice.” And he says, “Trust me.”

But then I find a new love. Someone says to me, “I will love you all my days, till death do us part. And I feel that the voice is leading me exactly where I want and need to go. “Now I reaally trust you,” I say to the voice leading me.

And then he leads me into the valley of darkness. And I say, “I don’t see you; I don’t hear your voice anymore. I think you are not real.” And he says “Trust me.”

And deeper and deeper he leads me into that world of darkness, and I say, “Give me some sign that you have not abandoned me, that you are alive and leading me through this pain and suffering.” And he says, “Trust me!” And people die or leave the road and follow other roads. And I look longingly after them. And he says, “Trust me.”

And then I find injustice and suffering all around me, people I love treated unfairly, people scheming to do evil to others, and even the tiny bit of trust drains out of me. And he says, “Trust me.” And I say, “I can’t anymore.” And he says, “Trust me,”

And then I get involved in evil, in hating others, in keeping myself away from them, and I rejoice in the evil because it feels so good to break the bonds of that voice.

And then someone starts to walk along side of me, and I tell him all my woes, and together we emerge from the dark forest, and the person I am walking with is still there and I weep and say, I can’t trust the Lord anymore. And that voice comes back: “Trust me.”

And then we come to the end of the road, the stranger and I.  And somehow that stranger shines with a brilliant glory.  And at last, at last, it is easy.

Let me end with a poem of Emily Dickinson:  a poem for the days that I or you emerge from the valley of darkness.

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.

Fr. Rene McGraw OSB is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey and professor of philosophy at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. 

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3 comments

  1. First reaction on reading this: beautiful!

    Second reaction: This is really as much a homily on Psalm 23 as on the Gospel, really, isn’t it? That’s not a critique, but a wondering: is John 10 doing any work for you here? Is the connection with Jesus the glimmering stranger at the end? Does a congregation need this to be made more explicit for them?

    Third reaction: That’s a lot more first person singular than I’ve ever used in a homily. Sorry if I’m missing something, but there’s no first plural, and the only 2nd person is reported speech addressing God. Does a congregation need to be more explicitly invited into seeing this journey as their journey too, really as our journey together as the pilgrim people of God? Or is “show, don’t tell” enough here?

    All questions that can’t be answered without knowing the particular gathered assembly you were preaching among. Did you get any feedback from them?

  2. I heard this homily yesterday. First reaction: thank you for putting your hand in my wounds. Second reaction: yes, this is the shepherd. The layering: the shepherd is the lamb whose bleating the shepherd knows intimately. Third reaction came from hearing Fr. Rene proclaim the gospel: the profound element of recognition, of trusting because I recognize the voice. I heard my own voice; I heard the shepherd’s voice almost at the same time.

    As for the “I” – the “I” is spacious in this usage. It gives room for me to find myself, perhaps not in each “I” or every “I” but at least in one or two spots along the way. And thank you for NOT answering all the questions.

    Too many homilies answer all the questions, close down all the space, get in the way. This one didn’t. And the Prayers of the Faithful that followed magnificently moved into “we” …

  3. I related to the person speaking throughout the homily. It caused me to reflect on my own faith journey and each of the valleys I have encountered. Thank you for such an effective and beautiful homily.

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