“Truly, truly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep” (Jn 10:1-3).

The Door is Jesus himself, and yet Jesus is also the Shepherd who enters. The gatekeeper is the Father, and yet each one of us is also the gatekeeper of our own heart. What does this multi-layered meaning imply? Something so deep and beautiful that it is hard to put into words. We have spoken of the heart of each one of us as a sanctuary, as a profound inner dwelling-place within each of us where our true self abides, sacred and inviolable, unique and unrepeatable. In a real sense, we are the only person who has the key to access this place; not even God can force himself in against our freedom.

The heart is precisely the place of our deepest freedom, the place from which we pronounce our “yes” or “no” to God’s invitation. Here we truly reveal our inner attitude toward the truth, toward God, toward his call. Here we reveal our attitude toward the value of other persons, through whom God addresses a profound word to us. Here we reveal our receptivity or lack of receptivity to the authentic beauty and goodness of creation—in allowing it to penetrate into ourselves and to awaken an authentic and heartfelt response, or in being apathetic and letting it simply wash over the more superficial aspects of our being without touching our heart, or, finally, through grasping and attempting to appropriate creation to our own purposes. In other words, it is in the deep place of the heart that the decision is made between being a sheep or being a goat (cf. Mt 25:31-46), between belonging to the good Shepherd or going instead after the strangers who seek to steal, kill, and destroy.

To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (Jn 10:3-4). How beautifully these words unfold before us! If the sheepfold is, in its deepest sense, the heart of each one of us, it is here that we hear the authentic voice of the Shepherd. We hear his voice echoing in our depths, vibrating in the deep places of our spirit, echoing in every fiber of our being. He calls us by name and leads us out. He calls us by name! He calls me by name! Yes, the Shepherd alone knows my true name, and he says it with such love, such tenderness, such affection. My heart thrills at his voice. My being is filled with his peace. I allow him, this loving Shepherd, to penetrate the deep places of my being, to enter into my inmost heart. Here I allow him to love me, to shepherd me as he alone can do.

I bear this deep personal solitude within myself, this inner world of subjectivity that, in its uniqueness, its beauty, its unrepeatable mystery in the eyes of God, surpasses everything around me and reaches out toward heaven. Indeed, my inmost heart is a sanctuary, a dwelling-place in which the Most Holy Trinity abides, unceasingly looking upon me, loving me, embracing me in tenderness. And yet this place truly blossoms in its authentic interiority only through welcoming the gift coming to me from the outside (or, better, from the Other who is also “more interior to me than I am to myself”) and through surrendering myself to him in return. In welcoming the Shepherd coming into me through the door of my heart, I truly discover my deepest self. This self has always been there, full and beautiful—for God has always known me and loved me, even when I myself did not know this. But in becoming aware of his love, in becoming aware that his eyes are ever gazing upon we with gentleness and love—and in letting myself be loved in such a way—my whole being is irradiated with his healing and redeeming light.

A bond of intimate love is established between us, as I let myself hear my unique name spoken by him, so lovingly, so beautifully—and, on the other hand, as I begin to delight in pronouncing his name, in repeating it and, as it were, pressing him close to my heart through the unceasing repetition of his name: “My Jesus…” Yes, and this most intimate union allows my heart to blossom in great freedom, in the freedom to look out, to be led out by the Shepherd-Bridegroom, in order to see the world, to see others, in the light of his love. And this external encounter, this self-transcendence, leads me anew—how amazing!—into the depths of my heart once again. I welcome others there, I welcome the whole creation and press it to my heart. I, in turn, make a gift of my heart to others—indeed, in the donation of myself my surrender to others and my acceptance of them is one and indivisible.

The countenance of my Beloved is impressed upon the whole creation, and I reverence, love, and embrace everything out of love for him. And most of all, other persons—my brothers and my sisters!—are unveiled before me in their unique and intimate beauty, for I discover them in the eyes of God, in the gentle and loving gaze of the tender Father and the loving Bridegroom.

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This very interiority of union with the Shepherd in my depths, in the depths of my own inmost mystery, blossoms forth in a beautiful “exteriority,” in the vulnerability of self-surrender, in which my being expands outward in love! “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Yes, the Lord penetrates my being and reveals his presence here, and, in doing so, awakens in me the ability to open myself in love for him and in profound and loving responsiveness to the beauty and value of all that lies outside of me. He leads me out of the narrowness of my own fallen ego, out of my own narrow fears and preoccupations. Yet he does so, not by destroying my inner heart and making me lose my identity—but quite the opposite! He reveals to me, in this most intimate place, who I truly am…my name. And only on the strength of this identity, as its blossoming outward in confidence and love, can I allow myself to be led out, following him, unceasingly docile to the Shepherd’s voice.

The beautiful reality of personhood again opens before our eyes through these reflections. We discover again the rich duality in the nature of our personhood. I am, in my very essence, one who is loved by God—one who is known by him and loved by him in the most intimate way. I only know myself as I am when I enter into this inmost place of my heart and throw open its doors to welcome the love that gives me life. In this way my narrow loneliness blossoms into a rich interiority—my inner life comes alive in beauty and grace! I discover within myself a profound mystery, the mystery of my own personhood as a beloved child of God, as a spouse of the Bridegroom Christ. I discover the joy of being loved, the joy of loving God in return, the joy of being united to him in this mutual love. And as this interiority becomes so rich through the loving and healing touch of God, I also discover the ability to transcend myself or open myself in vulnerability toward the other, toward both God and my brothers and sisters, indeed, to “step-out” in responsiveness to every value that addresses me. I discern in every thing, according to its proper truth, the voice of the Shepherd.

Interiority and vulnerability—each one of us bears these two beautiful realities within ourselves. Or, rather, these are simply two aspects of the single rich mystery of personhood: the deep inner solitude in which each one of us dwells and experiences life, and the inherent openness of this solitude to loving relationship. It is precisely these two that distinguish us as persons, that make it clear that we are so much more than mere animals. And we all yearn for the truth that blossoms from the union of interiority and vulnerability, or, even better, from the vulnerable sharing between persons of their interior mystery: the joy of intimate communion. We live in a continual movement, a continual dynamic union between these three experiences: solitude, nakedness, and unity, which, as we have seen, are the “original experiences” of our existence a human persons created by God.

This is the threefold mystery that reveals and brings to full blossoming the mystery of our personhood, our existence as beings who were created to live in knowledge, in love, in relationship—in other words, in the joy and intimacy of interpersonal communion. It is here that we recognize ourselves as the image and likeness of God! For here our own interiority, vulnerability, and intimacy reflect and participate in the original Solitude, Openness, and Communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three divine Persons each possess in themselves an infinite abyss of interior Solitude, the unique mystery of each individual Person, and yet this Solitude is totally and unreservedly open in vulnerability before the Other, shared with them in total self-gift and welcoming of the Other into itself. And this complete mutual self-donation, this meeting of Persons in perfect exchange, blossoms eternally in the intimacy of a Union so absolute and total that nothing separates them from one another, but they dwell entirely with and in one another in the bliss of a single divine life of happiness and joy.