There is a movie that came out late last year, and it’s now available on DVD, called August Rush. It tells the story of a young boy who is bounced from one orphanage to another, never able to find his place in this world. All his life he has had this deep and abiding sense that his parents are out there, perhaps even looking for him, and that if he just reaches out enough, then they will find him.
One of the major themes of the movie is music. This boy has the most remarkable ability to master any instrument he touches: the guitar, the piano, an elaborate church organ. He is even able to lead an orchestra at the age of eleven.
Now, he has no idea that both of his parents are also very accomplished musicians. Still, he believes that if he can play his music for enough people, eventually his parents will hear him and come to take him home.
It doesn’t take long for the people around this young boy to recognize his musical genius. He is a true child prodigy, like a Mozart or a Beethoven. One of the characters in the movie understands that gift all too well, and tells the boy that he can pretty much write his own ticket; the sky is the limit. Whatever he can dream is well within his grasp. He asks him:
“What do you want to be in the whole wide world?”
The boy answers him immediately, with one word:
That is all he wants, all that he desires in the whole world: to be found, to be loved, to be taken home where he belongs.
That desire is something that every one of us holds in common. It is an innate desire, something planted deep within by God Himself: the desire to be found, to be loved, and to be brought home to an eternal life with God. No matter how far we run from Him, that desire will never go away.
What we celebrate on Good Shepherd Sunday is that God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. He has come from heaven to this earth in order to seek us out, to reveal the great mercy and love of God, and to lead us home to eternal life.
St. Peter explains it well in our second reading this weekend:
For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
—1 Peter 2:25
We have been found. Even in the midst of our own sins and our brokenness, Christ the Good Shepherd has come for us. Into a world that is so often forgetful of Him, that has “gone astray” in so many different ways, the Good Shepherd has found us and is leading us even now to eternal life in God.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent encyclical letter, Spe Salvi, writes about this mysterious and hopeful intervention of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and of what it means for our lives here on earth (see Spe Salvi, #6).
Pope Benedict talks about the experience of the early Church. In the first few centuries, when a person died their body would be placed in what is called a sarcophagus. Very much like a coffin, these sarcophagi were often made of stone or marble. They would then chisel various Christian images on the outside of the sarcophagus, to remind themselves that death did not have the final word. Our Christian faith gives us hope for a life beyond this world.
One of the more common images to be found on the sarcophagi from this time period was the image of Christ, the Good Shepherd. The message was clear: that He is able to shepherd us throughout our lives, and even from death into eternal life with God.
Pope Benedict quotes our responsorial psalm this weekend, Psalm 23, to emphasize how Christ truly is the Good Shepherd who can lead us through “the valley of darkness” and “the shadow of death” and into eternal life because He’s been there!
Jesus Christ has Himself experienced the depths of suffering and the deepest darkness, so He can certainly shepherd and guide us through anything in this life, and lead us into the abundant life that God has always intended for us. As He tells us in the gospel this weekend:
I came so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.
Christ shepherds us and guides us in that abundant life with God in so many different ways, but for us as Catholics, perhaps never more so than in the person of our Holy Father, the Pope. One of the most beloved titles of the Pope is Chief Shepherd of the Flock.
It is no accident that I have quoted two people at the beginning of this homily: St. Peter and Pope Benedict XVI. From the first century, in the person of St. Peter, until our present day, in the person of Pope Benedict XVI, Christ the Good Shepherd has continued to lead and guide the Church into abundant life.
In just a few short days, Pope Benedict XVI will set foot on the soil of our own nation in order to strengthen the faith of the Church in America and to guide us all ever closer to Christ. He comes not to bring his own message and opinion, or his own words, but the message and the words of Christ Himself.
I would offer three practical suggestions on how we can prepare ourselves most completely to receive that message and allow Christ the Good Shepherd to guide us in this Apostolic Visitation this week.
Firstly, pray! Pray for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Pray for his health and his safety. Pray that our nation, our families, and we ourselves as individuals, would be open to what God is saying to us this week through the Chief Shepherd who comes to walk among us here.
Secondly (and I never thought I would ever say this in a homily!): watch TV! Finally, we have something worth watching on television. Perhaps to spend 30 minutes or an hour each day watching the coverage of the Pope’s Apostolic Visitation this week (and focus not so much on the various commentators and what they have to say about Pope Benedict XVI, but try to listen well to the words of Pope Benedict himself, and what He is saying to our nation, our families, and us personally this week).
Finally, I would suggest that we spend at least five or ten minutes a day meditating on the theme of the Apostolic Visitation: “Christ, Our Hope.” What do those words mean to you?
Is Christ our hope because He comes to us in the Sacraments of the Church and strengthens us on our journey of faith?
Is Christ our hope because he walks beside us in the valley of darkness, and never leaves us alone? Is He our hope because He has been through all the darkness that we will ever experience here, and we can count on Him to lead us to eternal life in God?
Is Christ our hope because of the promise of the resurrection, because he will raise us up to eternal life? Because we will see our loved ones once again, those who have “gone before us marked with the sign of faith”?
To spend five or ten minutes a day meditating on why Christ is our hope, and what that means for our lives here on this earth.
Christ, our hope, has come to us. We have been found, we have been loved, and even now He is leading us ever more deeply into an abundant and eternal life with God. May we be open this week to the way that He will do that in amazing and remarkable ways in the Apostolic Visitation of Pope Benedict XVI.