Time after time in the New Testament, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, a shepherd who has infinite care for all of his sheep and strives to keep them together and bring them forward to union with God. In the 23rd chapter of Jeremiah, the image is used again. In it Jeremiah is warning the religious leaders of the Old Testament that they need to be very careful and fulfill their responsibilities serving God’s people well and protecting them from sin and idolatry. Yahweh tells those shepherds:
“You have scattered my sheep and driven them away! You have not cared for them but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I, Myself, will gather them in the midst of my flock from all the lands to which I have drive them and bring them back to their meadow where they shall increase and multiply.”
Look at that sentence! “I, Myself, will gather….of my flock.” We are so used to having a subconscious awareness of Jesus’ divinity that unless we make a determined effort to grab that fact and hold on to it with greater clarity, its importance can be missed. “I, Myself (the second person of the Blessed Trinity) will gather my sheep.” We believe that the second person of the Blessed Trinity, God, stepped into the human story in order to be one with us, unite us to Jesus and, through that union, draw us all towards God. This is a tremendous cause for optimism.
A quick glance at the Gospel shows how gentle and concerned Jesus is for his followers. Our Lord and his apostles have been working their way through hectic, demanding crowds and, aware of their tiredness, he says:
“Come by yourselves to an out of the way place and rest a little.”
Those words can be good advice to nearly all of us. We need to take some time for quiet, to make a retreat, to sit in a comfortable living room chair and just think about Jesus and our relationship to him and through him. Who among us does not need to listen to Jesus’ words? Take it easy. Take it easy. Rest a little. Think about the ultimate reality of God’s love for each one of us.
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January 29th, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Most viewers of this blog are probably familiar with the fact that I only post them six times a week. On Saturday, I make some comments on the Scriptures of the following day and then take Sunday off. I hope that you also have an easy Sunday!
This is always the easiest day of the week for me to post a blog because I have my choice of three different readings. The first and second readings are usually drawn from the Old Testament and from one of the Epistles while the third reading is always from one of the four Gospels.
Today, I am passing all of those over and going to the Responsorial Psalm which I think is beautiful, optimistic and a guide for anyone’s life. The first refrain tells us, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Oh, my friends, what a wonderful challenge. Each of us has experienced temptations to do something that our conscience warns us against and, on the other hand, we sometimes see an opportunity to do good and yet feel that it wasn’t our job or our responsibility. When we have those thoughts and we don’t give the right response, what we are doing is exactly what the psalmist calls us not to do. We are hearing his voice but we have hardened our hearts.
This particular psalm comes from the 95th psalm and it is so beautiful. The psalm tells us:
Let us sing joyfully to the Lord
Let us greet him with thanksgiving
Let us bow down and worship
He is our God and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides
These few words are both a challenge and a source of joy and confidence. We are part of the flock. He does shepherd us and we should endeavor to be open constantly to the various invitations to be better, to walk in his footsteps.
Once again, if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
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Sunday, November 20th
Today is a glorious day in the life of the Church. It also brings to a close another liturgical year. The first and third readings are so inspiring that it is hard for me to choose one or the other today. I will try to touch on both even though the smallness of the space here can’t possibly do justice to the concepts that are unveiled before us today.
The Gospel excerpt is one of the most popular in the Christian community. It is that wonderful scene in Matthew’s 25th Gospel in which Jesus himself describes Judgment Day when He himself judges the nations, judges humanity, judges each and every one of us. What is His criteria for reward or failure? Simply, our commitment to our brothers and sisters, our willingness to help them, our willingness to sacrifice on their behalf. This text provides a great motivation to be both just and generous. We will all be there one day and we certainly do want to hear Jesus say to us, “Come you have my Father’s blessing!”
But let’s at least take a moment to look at the first reading from the book of Ezekiel, where the image is sheep, an enormous flock of sheep with Jesus as the shepherd. This text is written centuries before the birth of Jesus but the Church has applied it to Jesus himself as the shepherd of his flock, and that flock is the great community of faith also called the Church
In the final day of Judgment, the relationship between Jesus and his people is decided and the criteria is love and generosity. Let’s make the cut!
Viva Cristo Rey and Viva Christ the King!
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The joy of Easter continues as these weeks of liturgical celebration lead us to the Feast of the Ascension and then on to Pentecost Sunday. This weekend, we celebrate the 5th Sunday of Easter and the sacred texts turn our attention to the concept of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Over the centuries, the Church has used many images to convey the ideal relationship between ourselves and Jesus Christ. One of the most popular and most common is the idea of Jesus the Shepherd. This flows principally from the fact that he described himself as being the Shepherd.
In the first reading from St. Peter’s first epistle, states that through his suffering and death Jesus reaches out to us and draws us to himself as a shepherd would draw in straying sheep. Peter states, “Now you have returned to the shepherd the guardian of your souls!”
The Gospel is that delightful text from the tenth chapter of St. John where Jesus describes himself not only as a shepherd, but a brave shepherd and defender of his followers. Reminding us that the world is filled with thieves and marauders, we are not to worry because his strength is with us and will continue as long as we are faithful. This relationship is not merely one-sided. Jesus reminds us that while he knows his sheep that we are also to KNOW him. Our minds and hearts are to center on the historic reality of God present in the human story in the person of the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus is with us, he is our Shepherd, but we must follow his leadership with faith and determination.
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Tomorrow the Church across the world will celebrate the glorious feast of the Kingship of Jesus Christ. In preparation for this, I began the subject last week, pointing out that although we use the word KING, we don’t mean that the Kingship of Christ is anything like the military or political leader as we have ordinarily seen on this planet. What the expression is trying to say is that Jesus of Nazareth, as the Son of God, has universal jurisdiction over all creation.
However, I would like to skip the term. Let’s go to the first reading, from the book of Ezekiel, in which the prophet describes the Lord God as a shepherd. A shepherd that takes direct care and for the sheep. We are those sheep, and our Shepherd cares for each one of us with infinite loving care. I feel confident that when I am face to face with God on judgement day I’ll be much more comfortable if He is standing there with a shepherd’s crook and not a king’s scepter!
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