Sunday, April 26, 2015

Good Shepherd Sunday: Discouragement is Not Allowed

If I were to guess, the most oft-repeated counsel that I offer to people is: "Discouragement is not allowed."  Those who really attempt to follow Christ are more aware of how far they fall short of their goal than those who make no attempt.  The longer one walks in Christ's company and the more we come to know Him, the more we see our own faults, feel the weight of our sins, and recognize the breadth of our weakness.  Such self-knowledge should not, however, cause us to be discouraged.  Instead, it should lead us to a great humility and a greater dependence upon Christ.  We should weep over our sins, but we shouldn't be conquered by them.  Let our tears be tears of sorrow, but not tears of discouragement.

At the beginning of the spiritual life, we might find ourselves shocked by our capacity to sin.  But, the more we grow in the spiritual life, the more we become humbly aware of just what we are capable.  A beginner says, "I can't believe that I've committed this sin."  Someone further along the road looks at his sin and says, "Yeah, that's exactly why I constantly need a Savior."  The more we grow in our Christian discipleship, the more we realize how great our need for Christ is.

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is also referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday.  The readings provide an abundance of antidote to the spiritual sickness of discouragement.  In the Gospel, Jesus declares himself to be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.  We are loved so much by Christ, that he lays down His life for us.  He lays down His life for us even though we are sinners.  Jesus doesn't lay down His life for us because we are good and deserve it.  He does it--as St. Paul says--while we were sinners.  

In the Acts of the Apostles today, Peter announces that it is in Jesus' Name--and only in Jesus' Name--that we are to be saved.  We can call upon this Name and be saved.  This is extraordinary.  In moments of danger, temptation, failure, sin, and discouragement, we have a Name that we can call upon and be saved.  All we have to do is call upon Him.

In the Letter of St. John today we hear words that should bring us great comfort: "Beloved, see what great love the Father has bestowed upon us that we may be called the children of God.  Yet so we are."  No matter what--no matter how often or significantly we fall--we are God's children now.  We have God as our loving Father.

He is our Shepherd who lays down His life for us.  He has allowed us to call upon His Name and be saved.  He has made us children of the Father.  Why does He do this?  He does it out of pure love.  The more we come to know this intense and pure love of Christ, the more sorrow we feel for our sins.  But, this love also banishes discouragement.  Discouragement suggests that we rely more upon ourselves than on Christ.  Hope is to place one's confidence in the Shepherd, in the Name, and in our irrevocable status as God's beloved children.

If we find ourselves feeling a bit discouraged by our faults, weaknesses, failures, and sins, let's remember that--as the opening prayer of today's Mass referred to us--we are a humble flock.  We are a humble flock of sinners in need--constant need--of a savior.  We are God's children.  He has sent us a shepherd who lays down His life for us.  His Name brings salvation.  Let's be less shocked about our sinfulness and more astounded by His Love for us.  

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  Discouragement is not allowed.

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