Saturday, May 14, 2011

Good Shepherd Sunday, May 15, 2011, Cycle A

4th Sunday Easter Readings, Psalm, Gospel
I was blessed to live in Ireland during 2001.  It was not unusual when out for a country drive to see the scene depicted above.  Sheep in a road.  They actually have the right of way.  So occasionally you could come across a bit of a roadblock only to discover a flock of sheep being "shepherded" across the road by their lord.  Lord is a universal word for shepherd.

In our first Reading from Acts we hear about Peter who issues a challenge.  The formal Greek word for what he is doing is called Kerygma or proclamation.  He is laying it down, "Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus who you have crucified.

How stunning it is that Peter, who denied the Lord three times in his presence, at the hour of Jesus' "trial" is now standing before all of Israel in the Temple and saying these words.  What is more startling is their effect: 3000 join the ranks and are baptized, most likely all who were present.

The Psalmody we sing is a familiar one: The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want, he leads me to verdant pasture....he leads me to His kingdom.  For Jesus is the awaited Lord of Israel, the one who Peter proclaims to all who would listen.

When living in Ireland you appreciate the art of shepherding.  For the shepherds communicate very clearly to their flock.  They may whistle or tap the ground with their "crooks", they may signal with their hands or control the lead sheep with their eyes.  It is an art and the sheep in some mysterious way understand they are safe when they are guided by a good shepherd.

In our first reading we heard about Peter in the Acts of the Apostles and now in our second reading we hear from Peter in his first letter.  He tells us that we have been called specifically as Christians to follow in the footsteps of Christ, THE GOOD SHEPHERD.  Remember God is good, good is God.  What is not of God is not good. Period.

So just what is it that we are called to?  And how is it that we must listen?  (When I was 9 or 10 I felt called to the priesthood; it took me 25 years to listen) We learn from watching sheep that there are signals the shepherd may give us.  And the Good Shepherd, Jesus,  gives us many like the tender of the flocks.

He gives us his Word, He gives us His Sacraments, He gives us His Church, his Bride. In this Gospel reading from Saint John, Jesus attempts to explain the way a shepherd leads his flock to the Pharisees.  The Pharisees, in general, are not good.  They are confused by His words.  So He speaks very plainly.

He says, "I am the gate for the sheep".  Jesus is saying I am the authentic Messiah, the one who leads Israel into the promised land, who opens himself like a door to the kingdom.  He left His Church for us, the Church is the voice of Him that leads us to that door.  The other voices and signals are false, they are from robbers and thieves who want to ruin us not unlike the evil one.

Today on Good Shepherd Sunday let us ask ourselves, when do we notice the voice, gestures and call of our Lord God, Jesus Christ?  When do we listen and respond and when do we pray to learn His will better?  Do we recognize what He is calling us to do?  His voice leads us to "an abundant life" as the Gospel writer John tells us.  This is why he came.  This is why he comes today for us here in the Eucharist.  When we "recieve" Him, we receive his grace, his joy his promise of everlasting life.

The only question we should ask ourselves is, how do we respond?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Divine Mercy Sunday, May 1, 2011 Cycle A

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a holy day for our Church (special Solemnity) that was instituted by Pope Blessed John Paul II in the year 2000, when he canonized a polish nun, Saint Faustina.  She had received personal revelation’s from Our Lord Jesus Christ early in the 20th Century and was told to spread the word that God wants his message of mercy to spread throughout the world so that there may be healing, forgiveness and  reconciliation.  This is called the Divine Mercy devotion.  We are all called to dwell in the love of God, despite our sinfulness.  Praying this devotion helps us to receive grace from Jesus Christ, the sole savior of humanity, universal for all.

By God’s providence today is the day that Pope John Paul II has become Blessed, one step away from sainthood.  In his first Mass as Pope, Blessed John Paul II said do not be afraid to open wide the doors of Christ.  This phrase was shortened to the catch phrase, Be not afraid, which he preached all around the globe.

In 1990 I visited the Vatican as a pilgrim.  I happened upon a general papal audience in October of that year, “backpacking” through Europe.  I received tickets by following simple instructions in a simple tourist guide book.  It was so very simple, it said at the appointed time on Monday, go into the apostolic palace and ask the papal master of ceremonies for tickets to that Wednesday audience.  So I did it and I received some.  I have to be honest, the day of the Wednesday audience was my last day in Rome, and I was conflicted.  I thought I might rather go to the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo’s famous frescoes.  However, the guidebook I encouraged attending so I went.

To my somewhat surprise, it was stunning.  I can remember that Blessed John Paul II spoke in at least 8 different languages, including Japanese.  He responded when pilgrims of different ethnicities sang to him, which seemed to happen about half a dozen times.
Two moments particularly stood out.

After the hour long service in the Pope Paul VI audience chamber, which is an indoor venue that holds about 5000 people, the Holy Father made his way around the chamber.  For the next 90 minutes he stopped to greet all the pilgrims.  It was near the end of this impromptu stroll that he was closest to me. 

About 5 feet away I snapped several photos which would be developed when I returned home weeks later.  I remember that night being moved as I made an entry into my travel journal.  While reflecting on the day, I remember writing how beautiful his eyes were.  They were “icy blue” and seemed if they could look right through you, very powerful.  I also remember that his speech was very pure, his clear deep voice beholding.  The last thing I remember writing was that I had a profound sense that the Pope had a deep spiritual relationship with God; that he knew God.

Here is Pope Benedict XVI’s homily for today, Divine Mercy Sunday, where he declared his predecessor as Blessed Pope  John Paul II.

 Pope Benedict XVI: Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday and Beatification of John Paul II