"By his wounds you have been healed"

He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
(1 Pet 2:24-25)
The readings for Good Shepherd Sunday illustrate a basic paradox in the Christian spiritual life. On the one hand, walking the Christian path in an exterior sense is very simple to understand. Yet there is a subtle interior life with God that underlies and transcends that exterior life.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the apparent simplicity of the Christian call. Peter proclaims the Good News of Jesus to the crowd, they ask what they should do and he gives them a simple and straightforward answer: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

There is nothing particularly complicated here...certainly nothing that requires a theology degree or any kind of mystical understanding.

The Voice of the True Shepherd

This outward simplicity notwithstanding, the faith that underlies this call to repentance and baptism is a truly beautiful and mystical work of God in the soul. Jesus describes it by using the imagery of the sheep and shepherd in today's Gospel passage:
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.
This voice of the Good Shepherd in the soul is what turns inquirers into catechumens, catechumens into baptized Christians, and baptized Christians into saints. While the external practice of the Way of Christ is fairly straightforward to understand, this experience of the interior 'voice' of God can only be described by imagery and parable.

Even the word 'voice' is only a rough metaphor: the interior movement of the soul that leads to repentance and new life is like a kind of knowledge...a conviction that the Gospel message is true. The reading from Acts describes it as the hearers being "cut to the heart."

Though it may be difficult to describe, for those that experience it the conviction is undeniably real. It is, at its root, the sweetest and most sorrowful realization: that God was willing to offer himself completely out of a personal love for us, pouring out that love and blessing even with his own blood.

Unstoppable Love

In those moments of true repentance we realize the simultaneous horror and beauty of the Cross. Love and death collided on Calvary...Jesus had come to love the world and we repaid that love with hatred and violence. In a mysterious way, we, too, were in the crowd in the Praetorium shouting: "Crucify him, crucify him!"

Yet that unstoppable Love refuses to yield.

At any point, the Lord could have climbed down from the cross and simply said: "I am done with all of you." Instead, he offers even the last drop of his blood to prove the depth of his commitment.

On the Cross, Love won.

Late Have I Loved You

It is the deep realization of this fact, the internal conviction that we are profoundly loved by God, that brings us to true repentance. It is a common misunderstanding among non-believers (and even some misguided Christians) that the Christian motivation for faith is either a kind of servile fear of punishment in hell or a desire for heavenly reward.

True faith, though, is motivated by love. First, the voice of the Divine Lover that calls out to us in the depths of our being and then we respond to him. We long to live more and more completely in that love--to be united with Bridegroom of our souls. For the believing Christian, heaven is nothing more or less than the eternal fulfillment of that love...and hell is nothing more or less than the tragedy of refusing it forever.

Yes, there is initially a profound sorrow for our sins when we realize how many times we ignored and even refused the one who loves us more than we could ask or imagine. But that initial shock of sorrow gives way to an even more profound joy and peace that is the fruit of the 'abundant life' that Jesus promises. As St. Augustine puts it in his Confessions:
"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! 
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. 
You were with me, but I was not with you. 
Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. 
You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. 
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

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