Even if we can't explain it, most of us are aware that Einstein's theory of relativity threw a monkey wrench into Newton's "modern" physics. What we may not have thought about is the devastating effect the theory has on the individualism that characterizes modern philosophy.
René Descartes intended to tell the truth when he said, "I think, therefore I am." But his theory was seriously flawed, and not just because of the old joke that goes like this: "Descartes walked into a bar and the bartender asked if he wanted a beer. Descartes said, 'I think not,' and he disappeared."
|Fourth Sunday of Easter|
|Acts 13:14, 43-52
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
What is no joke is that the individualism Descartes believed in was unsound from its inception. He would have had no ability to speak or formulate his thoughts if someone had not taught him to talk. Descartes, like all of us, was not the sum total of his thoughts, but the sum of his relationships, and that's what today's Gospel is about.
While we call this "Good Shepherd Sunday," our readings are more about good sheep than their shepherd. Jesus' short discourse comes in reply to the question a not-so-friendly crowd put to him about whether or not he was the messiah.
Refusing to fall into the trap of allowing himself to be defined by their messiah concept, he replied that they could not understand him because they were not among his sheep and then went on to describe those who are his own.
In the few verses we hear today, Jesus says a great deal about the love he bears his own and its effect on them. We can hear these words as an invitation to move from individualism to mysticism.
First of all, in the Gospel, as in our reading from Revelation, the faithful are referred to as a people, even a great multitude, rather than as individuals -- a pretty solid hint that salvation is not simply a "Jesus and me" affair.
In terms of what Jesus' sheep do, there's not much to put on your résumé. According to Jesus, they hear and follow him. That simple assignment draws us into an amazingly multifaceted world of relationships.
Pope Francis tells us that a committed relationship with God "at the same time commits us to serving others … learning to find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas" ("The Joy of the Gospel"). Obviously, then, following the shepherd means really listening to the voices of others.
Do you know what's going to happen when you listen? When you really listen for a long time? Your accent is going to change. You are going to start to sound like the people you listen to. (Descartes probably spoke first like his grandmother, and then like his Jesuit teachers.)
That change of accent will be one that not only affects your speech but also your vision. You will start to see things the way others do. Little by little, your identity is going to change. You're going to find yourself as part of the multitude.
That is an unfathomable community (so much for individualism). They are a seemingly unruly throng of multiple nations, races and languages. Their only source of unity comes from passing through the tribulation that makes them belong to the One who gives them everything they need, including one another.
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, our readings invite us to reconsider our identity, to abandon ideas about self-sufficiency in favor of solidarity.
Acts uses the example of some stubborn synagogue members to warn that clinging too tightly to what we know will blind us to the newness God is wont to offer.
The reading from Revelation will draw us into its dream about the joyful communion to which God has destined all of creation. (Dreaming is another way of listening, one we might call contemplation.)
Finally, Jesus' description of his sheep is an open invitation for us to join them. As he said, we need do no more and no less than to listen and to follow. That is all it takes to be transformed into one of his own. That's what it means to be a mystic -- someone who participates in Jesus' union with the Father.
Happily, we don't have to be Einstein to fulfill this incredible vocation. All we need to do is choose to be part of the right flock. We'll know them by the way their diversity deepens their experience of unity, by how their multiplicity of cultures and tongues enriches their harmony.
In their midst we'll understand that love makes us who we are and that all we can know for sure is that such love will grow and last forever. And that's the vision of the mystics.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]