“Think of the Love” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, April 21, 2024

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are”. Theseopening verses from our second reading today are among my favorite from all the Bible. It speaks to our specialness in the eyes of God, how much he cherishes us and wants us for his own. In fact, the words “has given us” is rather a weak translation of the Greek. It should read, instead, something like “lavished” so “think of the love that the father has LAVISHED upon us”.  Again, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he uses the same word: “according to the riches he has LAVISHED upon us.” (Ephesians 1:7) How often do we as grandparents love to lavish gifts upon our grandchildren, because they are so precious to us. The book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 43, verse 4, has God saying over us, his people: “you are precious in my sight, I honour you and I love you.”

If only we were able to receive those words of God, to hear him say over us at our baptism, as he did at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom my spirit delights” (Mark 1:11). How many of us would be healed instantly of our self-rejection, self-condemnation, our guilt and our shame, if we knew how much our heavenly Father loves us. And yet, our God is waiting to speak these words over us at our baptism, and all through our lives, but we fail to hear them, for so many reasons. The truth is that we do not really believe in God’s special love for us. I remember talking to a young man of 13, whose mother had brought him to me because he was always getting into trouble at school. I said to him: “Do you know that God loves you?” and he said to me, indifferently, “Yeah, well, I know he loves everyone.” And I said to him: “Forget about everyone; he loves YOU personally”. And then I said to him: “You know that Jesus died for your sins” and he said, “Yes, I know that he died for all our sins”. And again, I said to him: “Forget about everybody else; he died for YOUR sins, and even if there was no-one else in the whole world, and it was necessary, he would die for YOU”. It just didn’t penetrate. He knew the catechism answers, but it didn’t mean anything to him. He wasn’t able to make it personal to him. 

So many of us fail to take the love of God to us personally. I read our gospel today, and I struggle to understand it. Because I grew up in an urban environment.  I knew nothing about the ways of sheep and shepherds. The nearest I got to sheep was a couple of lamb chops on a dinner plate. But when I started to read about how a shepherd related to his sheep, I was blown away. The shepherd has a personal relationship with each of his sheep. I remember watching a video of a shepherd with his sheep, and each of his sheep would come up to him and nuzzle him, while the shepherd caressed him, checked for any wounds or cuts on his head, and would speak words of endearment to him. I learned that the shepherd would do that to each of his sheep, several times during the day, whilst wandering from pasture to pasture. 

I recently read these words of St John Bosco, who established schools for boys abandoned by their parents, who had never known the love of a father. St John Bosco wrote: “Do you want our Lord to give you many graces? Visit him often. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament are powerful and indispensable means of overcoming the attacks of the devil. Make frequent visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the devil will be powerless against you.” I remember a Catholic author and speaker, Matthew Kelly, talking about how a friend , at a time when he was a business man, but  looking for a greater experience of God in his life, suggested that he should go into a nearby Catholic Church and spend five minutes just praying to God. He took this advice, and eventually, five minutes became ten, and then twenty and then an hour, and, finally, several hours, by which time he was totally wrapped up in the love of God and became an international Catholic speaker and writer. We provide the opportunity, here at St Philip’s, for you to come before the Blessed Sacrament every Monday and Thursday afternoon and evening. How many have taken advantage of that opportunity? And how many who have not, feel they are somewhat estranged from relationship with the Lord. Do you feel there may be a connection?

I have spoken before of visiting a spa, many years ago, in Israel, and watching, fascinated, as a young boy ran to the edge of the pool and jumped, shouting: “Abba, abba, catch me!” And his father, waiting in the water, would catch him, they would laugh together, and then the boy would say: “Again, again!” And they would repeat this action again and again, and each time the father would be there to catch his son. He never failed. I realized that the boy was learning that he could “throw” himself into life, without fear, knowing that his father would always be there to catch him. I didn’t have that kind of relationship with my earthly father, consequently I never trusted that life could be kind, I never fulfilled all my potential, because I never was able to trust myself to taking risks with God.  But St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, tells us the true nature of our relationship to God, our heavenly Father: ”For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received, in your baptism, a spirit of adoption. So now, when we cry out “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8: 14-17).

The shepherd in Jesus’ time, had a personal relationship with each one of his sheep. He knew them by name, they knew his voice and trusted him to protect them always. If they were in danger of slipping while negotiating a mountain pass, they knew that the shepherd would stretch out his crook and catch them by the head or the stomach and yank them back into safety.  Jesus knew that his heavenly Father loved him and was always there for him. As a result, Jesus was able to surrender himself to death, because he KNEW that his heavenly Father would be there to “catch” him and raise him from the dead. As he did. To know God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, in a personal way, is to know that no matter what, we will never be forgotten or abandoned by God. He knows us each by name, we are his precious son, or daughter, and it doesn’t matter how often we get into trouble and call out to him, he will always be there to rescue us. To know that Jesus, our good shepherd, was even ready to sacrifice himself to save us, should tell us everything we need to know about how much he loves us. 

‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among human beings by which we must be saved “So finishes our first reading. Brothers and sisters, if you know anyone else under heaven who would be willing to lay down their life to save you, from sin and death and hell, go with them. If not, hold onto the truth that you are children of God, through your baptism, and that you are destined, at the end of your life, to see him as he is.