The Colombian seminary I attended was a long five-story structure like a hotel building. The main door was big enough to allow cars to go in and was closed at night. Seminarians could not go out most of the time, except with permission. On Friday afternoons and Sundays, we could go out without permission. We knew of seminarians who would escape on occasions, especially at night.
The difficult part was arriving late at night. The gatekeeper, an employee, would open for them and never report to the priests. What fugitive seminarians would fear the most was to be found by a priest while getting in. I recall this fact from my seminary years each time I come across the following verses from psalm 120, “The Lord will guard you from all evil; he will guard your soul. The Lord will guard your coming and going both now and forever”. This prayer could have been on the lips of those fugitive seminarians who hoped for no trouble on their way back.
In today’s gospel, we read an excerpt from the parable of the Good Shepherd. Saint John tells us that the Lord identifies himself as the gate of the sheepfold. He says, “I am the gate for the sheep… Whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture”. Reflecting on the Lord as the gate of the sheep is an illuminating exercise. Doors are one of the first things we look for in buildings. Doors allow us to go in and out. We need to go through them.
In his teaching at the Last Supper, the Lord gives us one of his most important revelations, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. Saint Augustine said that by becoming a human being the Lord became the way. Saint Paul gives the Lord the title of the Mediator between God and human beings. A mediator should be understood as a bridge. As is the case with a bridge that is totally anchored to both sides, the Lord, by being fully divine and fully human, became the bridge that allows us have access to God. To get to the heavenly Father we cannot go but through the Lord.
One may ask, how can we get through the gate that is the Lord? The answer is that we get through him by believing in him. The gospels of the previous Sundays highlight the importance of believing in the Lord. Saint Thomas the Apostle and the two disciples of Emmaus had difficulty believing what they were told by the other disciples. The other disciples were the sheep that were saved in the sheepfold while the doubting disciples were outside the sheepfold.
One more clue to understand the way we may get through the gate of the sheepfold is given by the Lord at the Sermon on the Mount, “Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few”. To follow the Lord is hard. It requires self-sacrifice. It requires accepting the Lord’s teachings and totally adapting our lives to them.
“I am the gate for the sheep… Whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture,” says the Good Shepherd. The “go out” the Lord refers to here is our daily lives. Those who go through him (meaning, believe in him) live their lives following the Lord’s lead as the sheep follow the shepherd. The Lord’s orders, his commandments, give us plenty of room to live happily. If we remain within the boundaries established by the Good Shepherd, we will be fine reposing on the verdant pastures of his grace. When we go beyond these boundaries, we run the risk of being in danger, danger of spiritual death included. In those circumstances we find ourselves not able to return by our own means to the sheepfold, the church.
“I came so that they [the sheep] might have life and have it more abundantly” says the Lord. Let us humbly ask the Lord to give his grace to remain within his boundaries so that we may always have the spiritual life he alone gives.