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3 May 2009

“‘A hired hand who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them.’” (John 10:12)

In the name …

Last week was my birthday.  When I go away to a church function, if I find a calendar in a church hall or somewhere, and no one is around, I may have on occasion, gone to the date of April 30th and wrote in something like “Fr. Calvo’s Birthday.”  I have sat next to Fr. Sen. Soltysiak at a number of church meetings.  If the opportunity presents itself, I may open up his daybook and jot down a little reminder on the date of April 30th just mentioning in passing that it’s my birthday.  The calendars around my house have “Birthday Octave Begins” written in on April 30th because in the church the major feast days are acknowledged by an octave celebration of 8 days rather than just one single day.  Then when I get a phone call saying “I heard it was your birthday,” it’s always nice to know that you’re remembered on your special day, that you’re special, even if I did have to go all around the diocese leaving hints here and there as reminders.  It’s still nice.

But forget all the horsing around about birthdays, it is in fact nice to realize that you’re special to someone.  And that brings me to Susan Boyle.  I forgot where I heard the first mention of Susan Boyle and her performance on something called “Britain’s Got Talent,” but a couple of weeks ago Mrs. Gnat e-mailed me the You Tube video of her singing “I Dreamed a Dream.”  The video-clip has been shared world-wide about 100 million times, she’s been on American television morning-news-programs, Larry King, and I’m sure a host of other spots.  I was in the check-out line at the grocery store and I saw her on the cover of People Magazine.  I hope you know who I’m talking about.  If you don’t, the link to her performance will be included with this sermon on our website.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY  She has a beautiful voice, but in our pop culture that’s often not enough.  The beautiful voice must also be accompanied by a beautiful body.  Sometimes the body even trumps the voice, or at least that’s the impression I get from listening to a lot of the music being played.  Susan Boyle, however, is not well-known because of her body. 

One of the reasons that she has gained instant celebrity is that audiences are amazed that such a gift of music comes out of such an ordinary looking package, which doesn’t say something very nice about us and our culture.  Fr. James Martin, an associate editor of America magazine, has commented about this recent phenomenon of Susan Boyle’s success, and he has used it to help explain Christian theology.  He writes:  “The way we see Susan Boyle is very nearly the way God sees us:  worthwhile, special, talented, unique, beautiful.  The world generally looks askance at people like Susan Boyle, if it sees them at all … But God sees the real person and understands the value of each individual’s gifts:  rich or poor, young or old, single or married, matron or movie star, lucky or unlucky in life.  God knows us.  And loves us.”  I think his comments are right on the mark.  God sees and appreciates what’s special about us even when others, even when we ourselves, can’t see it or won’t see it.

That same message of being special is also told to us today in the Gospel when we hear Jesus describe Himself as the Good Shepherd.  He contrasts His devotion to us with that of the hired hand who runs away for his own safety when he sees danger approaching.  Jesus, on the other hand, is completely devoted to us, to all of us.  As He says, “‘I will lay down my life for the sheep.’” (Jn 10:15)  Then as He continues with the analogy of the Good Shepherd, He goes even further.  He’s not only talking about the sheep who are His own, Jesus is concerned as the Good Shepherd with all the sheep, wherever they are.  Jesus, in other words, cares about all people, to Jesus all people are special and cared for.  In a world where too many people can’t imagine themselves as special in any way whatsoever, I just wish people would take Jesus’ message more seriously. 

When I think about people who are bullied mercilessly so that they think themselves worthless, some will be quietly miserable, others will turn violently against themselves, and others will make the newspaper by turning violently against others, when I hear these things I just wish people would take Jesus more seriously.  There are too many people who will not see the good in themselves or their accomplishments because it isn’t as good as some commercial says it could be if we used this product or that one.  The message of the Good Shepherd says an awful lot about Christ, but it also says a lot about us too.  It’s like that Susan Boyle story of Fr. James Martin:  We’re special to Jesus warts and all.  We’re not perfect, but the perfect love of Jesus has no problem with that.  He sees us as special anyway, and I just wish people would take that message more seriously. 

When we hear the phrase:  “We’re all human,”  I’m assuming that our first impression is that it means we all make mistakes, none of us are perfect, “we’re all human.”  When God thinks about all of us humans down here struggling on earth, it’s just the opposite.  He sees past the mistakes that we will inevitably make and will probably repeat, past the fact that I’m standing here not as buff as those manly-men in the shaving commercials, past the limitations that all of us have in our own particular ways, and instead, says God to us through Jesus’ example of the Good Shepherd, He sees us as special, not perfect, but special.  I just wish that more people would take that message more seriously.  Religion too often comes across telling us only about all the wrong stuff we’ve done, how we’ve failed and sinned.  The analogy of the Good Shepherd isn’t an excuse for our chosen faults, but it is the healthy reminder that even though we’re not perfect, in the eyes of Christ, we are special.  May we strive to see ourselves and others accordingly.  For this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)


Fr. Randy Calvo


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