Sr. Shane Phelan, Companion of Mary the Apostle
Easter 4C - Sunday, April 21, 2013
|Icon of the Good Shepherd.|
From the web site of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd.
I need someone to tell me that love continues, that life continues.
I’ve been listening to NPR and reading the New York Times. You might have been watching CNN. I’m grateful not to have a TV this week, because I’d be watching and listening to those voices.
I need to hear my shepherd’s voice.
I need to hear Peter tell me to get up and get back to work.
I need to join the throng before the throne, lifting my voice in response.
To do any of that, I have to fight my way through the other voices. You know those fancy noise-canceling earphones? I want those.
I think of being in an airplane. You get earphones, and you can listen to music or movies, but you never really get rid of the sounds around you in the plane. To do that, to really enter the world of the music and the film, you need special earphones.
I want those.
This week has been unusually horrific for those of us who live in normally quiet places, places with housing and food and some sort of safety. But what we are facing with shock is other people’s everyday life. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in some neighborhoods in Chicago, people are shot or blown up every day. In Greece, where unemployment is running at 27%, many people are too hungry to study or to work. In places where women are expected to stay hidden, many run the risk of rape or attack just to go to school or work. So this week I grieve for Boston and for West, Texas, but I also grieve for all those places where violence and loss and oppression are normal.
I need to hear my shepherd’s voice.
I’ve been reading Charles Taylor’s magnum opus, A Secular Age. He traces how Western Christendom came to the place where atheism seems not only possible, but reasonable. How did we get to a place where so many can’t hear God in their lives, where God became irrelevant? And what does that have to do with the violence around us?
There have been two stock answers to this question. The traditional, fundamentalist answer is that violence is a result of people turning away from God, that bad things happen either because God is angered (in the case of natural disasters and accidents) or because sinful people do sinful things.
The atheist answer is that religion is a cause of intolerance and hatred, that violence flows out of religion.
These two extremes, which seem like opposites, actually share a conception of God. In that conception, God is angry and quick to punish. God is allied with one tribe and rejoices in the destruction of others. People who hear the voice of that God are indeed likely to justify violence, at least when it comes on their behalf.
But the people who reject that God too often miss the shepherd's voice, the loving voice that calls us all. They put on the noise-canceling earphones, but they don't open the channel to the sound of love.
Taylor suggests that in fact the two sides, secularists and fundamentalists, share a drive to purge the world of evil, to erase the messy parts of us. When that drive is at work, we narrow our world into two categories: evildoers and victims. And that feeds our hunger for violence. The riot of violence on our TV and movie screens, in our schools and in our streets, testifies to the real, deep attraction of violence. Our desire to deny that in ourselves ironically plays into the need to purge, and so we become part of the problem.
As long as we need to purge, we will keep killing. Some will kill for safety, some for honor, some for the sheer adrenaline high. Some will kill in a sick version of religious ecstasy, the only form available in a world where sacred mystery is seen as superstition.
In such a world, we cannot hope to hear our shepherd’s voice.
For Jesus consistently went to people on the wrong side: not only the poor, but to the many who live their lives in a shape greater than evildoer or victim.
He came to Peter, who was not done with weakness and failure.
Through Peter, and through a chain of others, he came to Dorcas.
He came to the throng before the throne, who in their lives heard that voice and answered.
Jesus knew that violence lives in us. He did not seek to purge it. He transformed it. By undergoing violence, he transformed the violence. He overcame the fear of violence not by controlling it for his own ends, but by overcoming fear and offering himself. He faced into the violence with love, and in so doing he changed everything. The shepherd laid down his life for the sheep, and opened the gate to life.
The noise of the world tells us that our safety lies in revenge and extermination. It tells us that we need bigger gates and walls. It drowns out the voices of need, and silences the voice of hope and mercy.
The louder that noise gets, the more we need to listen for the shepherd. We need quiet time, prayer time, time with friends and family. We need to seek out the voices of forgiveness and reconciliation. And we need to add our voices to the choir of worship and praise.
What we do here, in this monastery and in this extended community, is life saving work. Helping people hear the shepherds voice is not just nice. It is part of repairing the world. In a world of meaninglessness and rage, the shepherd calls us to transforming love.
The only sound louder than violence is love.
We don't really need the noise-canceling earphones, as attractive as they can be. We need the ones that let us hear the cries of need, let us hear the chaos of the world, but still send us the sweet sound of our shepherd's voice.
We need the sound of love.
Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever!