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4th Sunday of Easter

The Good Shepherd ~ 4th Sunday of Easter~ 2020

0054230_the-good-shepherdThe Good Shepherd by Artist:  Yongsung Kim

Bible Readings for Mass:  I:  Acts 214a, 36-41; Psalm: Ps. 23;  II: I Peter 2:20b-25; Gospel: John 10:1-10

This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Easter.  It is a distinct and powerful celebration of Jesus, The Good Shepherd, risen from the dead, victorious over the grave, sin and Satan.  The lessons and truths from the Shepherd of our souls are always relevant.  And this particular Spring of the year 2020 Christ the Living Word is profoundly relevant.

It is vital to remember God shares the Eternal Truths in Scripture in many diverse ways.  Some are literal.  Many are figurative, mystical.   Most are frankly mysterious.  All are true and valid Truths to be believed and experienced in the Spirit of God and in the time in which God has us hear them. Context, language, culture are also prisms through which the beauty of God’s light shine with better clarity and power.  One other expression of God’s Word would be the metaphor, a verbal expression shared to help illustrate a truth or lesson.  The Scriptures for this day embrace the graces of the metaphor, the symbol of deeper truths, in a very significant way.

JESUS, the GOOD SHEPHERD is the clear theme of God’s message this 4the Sunday of Easter.  It is a lesson with which most Christians are very familiar.  We all relate to our Good Shepherd leading, caring for us, His sheep.  Many the times we have been reminded that sheep are not the brightest of animals for which to care. [A lesson to which some of us may too easily relate.]   We also are warmly familiar with the profound mercy of our Shepherd searching and finding the lost wounded sheep.  Jesus spared no effort to find and bring us into His healing embrace.  Thanks be to God!   These and many other familiar lessons are important and very valid.  However they may cause us to forget that this holy, eternal Truth is, again a metaphor.  Yes Jesus is truly the Shepherd of our souls, our lives.   Yes we are His sheep.  But God uses this lesson to bring us, His sheep… His children to learn, realize and grow to live the fullness of Life for which we are created and redeemed.  We are like sheep.  In some ways.  But we are people, men, women, girls, boys.  We are created , not for mindless, blind following of a shepherd but to become, to be the people of God we are called, by name, to be.  As God’s sheep we are never to forfeit our God given gift and responsibility to Listen, Hear, BELIEVE, THINK, LOVE and follow.  History is tragically illustrated by too many horrid lessons where people either blindly forfeit this grace or are robbed with subtle deadly lies.  This metaphor is best understood as yes the Good Shepherd and His sheep.  But we must also allow the Truth that our Shepherd is also The victorious Lamb Of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus is our Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God who leads us to face the enemies of His Kingdom as His warrior sheep.  Yes, the metaphors are mixed as are  the threads of the fabric of the mantle of which God provides and gives us.

“The Lord is my Shepherd…” so begins the ever familiar 23 Psalm.  But we need to allow the truths of God’s Word to be alive in our lives instead of on some dusty bookshelf of our soul.  So it is with this famous Psalm.  Many people hear and think of the 23 Psalm as THE funeral Psalm.  Indeed the comforting promises it shares are well suited for those times of mourning.  But this Psalm of David, the Shepherd King, is so much more.  Perhaps in the most basic, distilled way this Psalm is a Confession of Faith.  One could perhaps say it was a creed of King David, and the faithful Hebrew people over the ages.  And for the soul hungering, seeking God or the devout Christian it is a powerful confession or creed.  It is a clear creed, a confession of each of us as sheep following the Good Shepherd.

While this reflection is not the place for a verse by verse study it is clearly a time to allow our Shepherd to speak and invite each of our hearts to let Him speak.  In this time of “sheltering in place” we can more easily take some quiet time to prayerfully read and allow the whispers of the Holy Spirit to penetrate or soul and spirit.  To help open this invitation we can reflect on some key thoughts.

Our Good Shepherd promises to…Lead His sheep.  It is significant that of the farm animals sheep are the only ones that the word applies to the individual AND the flock.  While each, singular sheep is of eternal worth to God that worth is best realized within the care, protection and nurture of the flock.  Jesus will lead His sheep, individually and collectively.  God will lead us to the verdant green pastures of rest, nurture and healing.  And while God will lead us to those green pastures He will not bother telling us which blades of grass to eat.  Again we are people, the sheep of His flock [Psalm 100].  We have great responsibility for our growth and nurture.  And this brings us to learn our Shepherd leads to  and THROUGH these green pastures.  We, as His sheep, must never allow ourselves to think this particular pasture is it, to become too comfortable!

Jesus will lead every soul hungering for God in His paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Christ makes very plain many are the sheep of His many flocks.  We must remember just because some sheep may look or seem odd or different from our flock they are still His sheep. [And truth be told we probably may seem weird to them!]  As the shepherding graces of the Holy Spirit work in our lives we soon learn that the path is not always easy.

Even in the darkest valley we will fear no evil.  Please note the element of confession of faith once again.  We as people seeking God are called by our Shepherd to have courage.  It is for each of us to choose… “I will fear no evil”.  We are NOT called to trust our self, our religious understanding or even to have blind faith in science or medicine.  All those are but gifts given by God.  None of them are ever meant to be God.  Our very secular world has been expressing great trust and hope in science and medicine as the Covid virus saga unfolds.  Those blessed disciplines will indeed be essential in the healing the world needs from this pandemic.  But to exclude God’s mercy, grace and wisdom is to allow a peril of even deadlier power.  Christ our Lord and God is the Shepherd who must lead.  And we must follow!

As we choose to follow Him His rod and staff, His Word and Power gives us the courage flowing from His Love that conquers our fears [I John 4:18].  And in that courage we follow, at times into the presence of our enemies, to the tables God has set before us.  Of course we understand that this would mean the Altar of Sacrifice upon which the Lamb of God was slain.  It applies to our Lord’s most holy Body and Blood.  But in this time in which it has been decreed that we must not gather for worship for the Eucharist is the promise of the Shepherd also quarantined?  Only if we allow it to be with our doubts and fears.  For the nurture of the Eucharist is an eternal meal.  Many the times and places of humanity where evil has sought to restrict or rob the hungering soul from this holy meal.  But in those dark valleys the provision of God, even if a rarity, nurtures for all eternity.  It is also in these times and places we grow in the nurture and power of Christ’s Real Presence  also found in God’s Word and in His Body the true Church.

As we gather at this table we must take the time to feed upon and grow stronger in the fullness of the holy confession about our living relationship with Jesus our Good Shepherd.  And it is in our Gospel for this day we further grow in this confession.

Jesus in John’s Gospel affirms He is Truly the Good Shepherd, the Shepherd of our Souls.  He clearly express the practice and power of this relationship.  He proclaims this relationship will lead, always, to eternal life.   But He concludes the dialogue with an important truth.  Jesus warns of the thief, the one who would seek to instill fear, to rob God’s people of the Heavenly Kingdom.  It is here we realize from our victorious resurrection Shepherd we are indeed called to follow He,  who for the love of His sheep, took up His Cross and died and rose again on the third day.  We are called to be warrior sheep courageously following and serving our Lord in the same holy passionate love with which He sought us in our wounded ignorance.

We are called, in the confessions of our soul, in word and action, to proclaim,”Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

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CALLED to JOY ~ 4th Sunday of Easter

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This holy Mass began as Father prayed our Collect:  “Almighty and ever-living God lead us to share in the joys of heaven so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.”  That prayer and our readings from the Word  of God clearly help us to realize  God Calls us to Joy to, as our Psalm proclaims:  Sing (in word and action) Joyfully to the Lord!”

Following our Risen Lord this season of Easter we share a journey fraught with great challenges.  Our readings from the Acts of the Apostles speak of times of great blessing coursing though trials of persecution, and internal turmoil in the Church but through it all they “were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit”.

St. John in the Book of Revelation speaks to us of those Christians, having survived times of great distress, are worshiping God in the beauty of holy joy. These lights from God’s Word shine on our short Gospel and bring us to understand:  Jesus our brave Risen Shepherd calls us to follow Him in joy. 

The Gospels speak repeatedly of our Good Shepherd.  Anyone who has worked around sheep or livestock know well that voices and manners of anger, hate and fear will not work to bring these creatures to their needed place with any degree of health and well being.  So it is with us.  Yes Jesus, our Good Shepherd knows and warns, guides us from the perils and evils that may abound.  But God calls  in, through and to Himself in joy.

The great Jesuit scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said:  “Joy is the most infallible sign of the Presence of God.”  (fruit of obedience and the Holy Spirit) Jesus calls us to follow and grow in His joyfully holy Presence.  This is not a joy of a TV style silly happiness or of ever easy and cheerful circumstance.  It is a joy rooted deep in the love of God that enables the soul to know, even in what the storms and crosses life may bring that joy of God  grows in the truth that God created us, knows us and calls us..to His healing embrace.

The great 16th century saint and doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila lived in a time of great challenge for the faithful.  Many in the Church had settled into lives of ease and neglect of the pathway of God.  Her own Carmelite Order was struggling with spiritual weakness and lack of faith.  Called by God to reform her order and in many ways the greater Church she became a great saint of passionate, contemplative love for God.  But there was a distinct aspect of her witness for her Savior.  She had a profound sense of humor and recognition of the need for God’s gift of humor and joy.  One of her famous quotes was:  From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord deliver us.”

In our faith of today so often inundated with the messages of deep sadness, anger, fear and confusion many are the temptations, the voices, that would call us to despair, doubt and to turn away from the Lord and His Church.  It is for each of us to realize deep within our soul the voice of our Good Shepherd calling us to joy.

Nothing in life, the world, our soul surprises God.  He knows what we face every day of our life.  God created us,  Jesus calls us, to follow and, as the Gospel proclaims, to be known by God.  It is as we grow ever closer to He who died on the Cross and conquered death and sin we are filled with His joy. Let us, with His holy saints resolve to follow Him and proclaim and share in the joys of heaven, now and for all eternity.

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