Homily for April 22, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Shepherding the Domestic Church
Today is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday”, after the beautiful Gospel we just heard. It is often typical to talk about the priesthood, which is one way in which some people are called to be shepherds. But let’s be realistic – most of you are called to the beautiful vocation of marriage. So I’d like to talk about shepherding a different kind of church – the Domestic Church.
“The Domestic Church” is the phrase that the Second Vatican Council used to describe the family. Such a great insight – the family is, indeed, the Church in miniature. It’s in the family that we grow in holiness; it’s in our families that we first learn about the love of God and the truths of our Catholic faith. Parents, then, are the shepherds of this Domestic Church – they are the ones entrusted with shepherding their family to Heaven.
Daunting task? You bet. But today’s Gospel gives us some insights on how to become that good shepherd of your family.
First, Jesus speaks about unity in the flock. And unity in the flock of the family can only come about through forgiveness.
Dr. Scott Hahn tells a great story. He’s a nationally-known Scripture professor at my alma mater, and as he was studying the Old Testament, he noticed that it was a Jewish custom called the “Jubilee”. Every fifty years, the Jewish people would forgive any and every debt that anyone had – basically hitting a “reset” button on all debts. So Scott Hahn decided to try that in his house.
He has six kids, and one day at the breakfast table he said to them, “Okay kids, your mom and I have decided that today is a day of Jubilee. You can come to us and tell us anything that you want to tell us, and we promise that we will forgive you, no questions asked.” His kids looked at him a little strangely, confused about what they meant.
A few hours went past, and Dr. Hahn was in his study, when slowly the door creaked open. It was his oldest son. With a timid voice he said, “Hey Dad…did you really mean what you said about a day of Jubilee? When everything would be forgiven?”
“Yes, son, I really meant it.”
“Great!” his son said. “Then I want to tell you that it was me who dented your car the other day with a baseball…and pushed my sister down the stairs…and stole your hammer and didn’t return it…and…”
The list went on and on. His dad just took it all in, his eyes getting wider and wider. He began to think this Jubilee wasn’t such a good idea! He was learning about some of his son’s sins that he never knew about! But then finally, his son wrapped it up and with a heavy sigh, said, “Whew! Thanks for listening, Dad. I feel so much better, knowing that I’m forgiven.”
Dr. Hahn sat back in his chair after his son left, just amazed. Amazed at the power of forgiveness. Amazed at how his son felt so free to unburden himself when he knew there would only be mercy. And as he was sitting there, stunned, he heard his door open a bit, and his second child peeked in and asked, “Dad, did you really mean what you said about a day of Jubilee?”
Forgiveness is the path to unity. If you want to shepherd your flock well, according to the Heart of Jesus, begin by forgiving your family members.
Jesus then gives us the example of sacrificial love: “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Cardinal O’Brien from Baltimore once told me a story. When he was a younger priest, he was invited to the retirement party of a four-star general in the army. This general was so tremendously loved and admired by all of his men. They really viewed this general as a true father. During the party, the men urged the general to get up and give them a speech. They asked him to share the secret to his success – why had he inspired such loyalty and admiration in everyone around him?
Reluctantly, the general got up to give a very short speech. He said, “You have asked me to speak about how to be a leader. When I was a young officer, I was told the greatest secret to leadership in the Army, and it’s very simple. Officers…eat…last.” And then he sat down. And Cardinal O’Brien told me that it was the most important lesson on leadership he had ever heard.
Officers eat last. They are more concerned about the men under them than they are about their own ranks, honors, and awards. In the same way if we wish to shepherd our families following the example of Christ, shepherds eat last. They only take their rest once everyone around them is well-cared-for. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep – a good father or mother lays down their lives for their family in self-sacrificial love.
Finally, a third insight into leading your families to holiness is to keep your flock away from the wolf – that is, the Evil One. As parents, we have a special duty to preserve the innocence and holiness of our children. Sin should have no place in your home. Allow me to be extremely blunt – one of the greatest causes of sin and lack of faith among young people is unfettered access to the internet. What parent would leave their child unsupervised in a library where many of the books are filled with filthy content, where many of the videos are rated R, where violence and lust and atheism prowl? No good parent would do that – and yet parents don’t think twice about allowing their kids to spend hours on the internet, watching Youtube or playing games with random strangers. My friends, any parent who gives their child an iPad or iPhone and does not put restrictions on it has allowed Satan to enter your Domestic Church. You’ve practically invited the wolf to sit down with the sheep for dinner. I have seen too many young people fall into sin and lose their faith because parents have not been vigilant to keep the wolf away. I’m not saying to get rid of all technology – I am saying that you need to put filters and restrictions on your kids’ phones and iPads, and be constantly aware of what they are doing with technology. If you need resources for filters or how to put parental controls on an iPhone, I’m happy to offer some suggestions.
My friends, all of us have people to shepherd. I have the parish and the high school; you have your families, coworkers, and friends. But in a special way, parents and grandparents are called to be shepherds of the Domestic Church – the family. When I see Christ face-to-face, I will be judged on how well I have led my flock to Heaven – and when you see Christ face-to-face, you will have to give an account of how well you have led your family to Heaven. Be not afraid, with God’s grace, to be the shepherds of the Domestic Church!