Shepherding Is Not Peaceful

Posted on April 21, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 26, 2015, 4th Sunday of Easter

Shepherding

I was recently reading a book review by Horatio Clare on the UK’s The Telegraph website about a recently published title, The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks. I can’t say I really know a lot about sheep and shepherds. A few years back, I was traveling the Australian countryside to work with parishes and I know I saw more sheep than I ever imagined I would in an entire lifetime. However, I didn’t see many shepherds, at least not matching the image I have in my mind.

Two things struck me when reading the article. The first was the statement, “Shepherding is not peaceful.” Psalm 23 has always seemed to me to be the peaceful psalm. Its reading consoles those who are troubled. It gives hope to people who are downtrodden. It eases the grief of those who have lost a loved one. The statement that shepherding is anything but peaceful gave me reason to pause. The writer went on to share about difficult weather, buzzards and crows attacking sheep, men screaming for order, and more. That is not what I think of when I see all those paintings of Jesus holding a snuggly little lamb on his shoulders and all the other snuggly little lambs as his feet seemingly wanting nothing other than hugs!

The second thing that struck me in the article was a paragraph about was how Rebanks portrays the work of a shepherd. Clare wrote:

The “clever, purposeful” ways in which men shear sheep, and the feeling of being “alive, necessary, needed” when the winter comes (Rebanks steps out into “that Brueghel painting of the snow and the crows”), the stress of haymaking and the fulfillment of a full barn, the sweet bounty of the meadows and their grasses, timothy, common bent, fescue and yellow rattle, all baled and stacked like the obedience to “a commandment from God”, are beautifully told.

It struck me that in the face of a professional experience that is not peaceful, the shepherd receives a divine mandate to create that which is not there: peace.

Then I got it! Psalm 23 gives almost a false sense of peace because that is what shepherds do. The paintings I have seen, and continue to hold in my mind, represent the point of view from the sheep. They do not see the critters that choose to attack them. They do not have enough intelligence to understand the disorder they create with their own natural movements. They are sheltered from the harshness of the weather by someone who leads them to safety. If the paintings reflected what really is happening, they would show chaos, fear, and danger, and then the shepherd whose job it is to protect them from those things.

When my own three children were young, I had a responsibility to protect them from the realities of the world. When you are first awakening to the world you do not need to know about the wars, the poverty, the suffering, and the sin in this place. You need to know love, patience, and comfort. When my children placed their heads on their pillows at night, fear needed to be the last things on their mind, even though the world can be a scary place.

Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John 10 and he brings to us what cannot be truly found in this world: peace. Death could not even keep him from tending his flock. The risen Lord is alive so we can rest on his shoulders, so we can walk freely without being the prey of evil, and so we can have peace in the face of chaos.

But there are still those in our world that know all too well the peril that surrounds them. They have not had a chance to enter into the world with a naiveté that allows little ones to know what safety feels like. They do not know the peace of a shepherd because they have never seen one. Consider the experience of those growing up on the streets of the US, those who hear explosions all day and night in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe. Consider the orphan who has never had a real hug, or the children who saw their parents murdered before their very eyes. Consider the children in hospitals who suffer from terminal illness and experience short lives of constant pain.

These are his lambs. They need Jesus. These are those who need real peace. And who will bring to them the Shepherd? Perhaps we should adopt a new moniker for ourselves in addition to the body of Christ: the body of the Shepherd. He is leading his flock this very day into places where weather, buzzards, and chaos threaten. If we have been with him for any real time, we know how peace feels. We can bring Jesus to these places. Consider the paintings of the Good Shepherd. Everyone deserves at some point to be the snuggly ones who just call out to be hugged.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

A psalm of David.
I

The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

II

You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.

 

—Psalm 23. Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Pope Francis and his growing litany of modern-day martyrs

Posted on April 21, 2015 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

By Elise Harris

Vatican City, Apr 21, 2015 / 09:54 am (CNA/EWTN News). – Amid a torrent of recent news reports on persecuted Christians, Pope Francis reflected on those killed for their faith and said that these modern “Stephens” suffer as the Church’s first martyr did.

“The Church today is a Church of martyrs: they suffer, they give their lives and we receive the blessing of God for their witness,” Francis told attendees of his April 21 Mass, held in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse.

“In these days how many Stephens there are in the world!” he said, referring to the first apostle who was killed for proclaiming Jesus Christ, and is hailed as the Church’s first martyr.

“Let us think of our brothers whose throats were slit on the beach in Libya; let’s think of the young boy who was burnt alive by his companions because he was a Christian,” Francis said.

He also brought to mind “those migrants thrown from their boat into the open sea by other migrants because they were Christians; let us think – just the day before yesterday – of those Ethiopians assassinated because they were Christians…and of many others.”

The Pope also called attention to the many Christians suffering silently inside jail cells just because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Among them is Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, who in 2010 was convicted of violating Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, an allegation she denies. Her husband and daughter traveled to Rome last week, where they met with Pope Francis and received his blessing during his Wednesday general audience.

In February the Islamic State released a video depicting the decapitation of 20 Coptic Christians after they had gone missing near the coastal city of Surt, also known as Sirte, in Libya.

On Sunday another video was released by social media accounts associated with the ISIS showing the mass executions of Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

In an April 20 message sent to Abuna Matthias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, Francis offered condolences and said that “It makes no difference whether the victims are Catholic, Copt, Orthodox or Protestant…Their blood is one and the same in their confession of Christ!”

The Pope’s comment on the Christian boy burned alive referred to a 14-year-old Pakistani named Nouman Masih, who passed away April 15 after being set on fire by two unknown men. After inquiring about his religion, the men doused Masih in kerosene and set him alight.

April 16 marks the day that another tragedy on Francis’ list took place when 12 passengers on a migrant boat traveling from Libya to Italy were thrown overboard by fellow migrants for being Christians.

Reports indicate that a disagreement sparked among passengers on a rubber boat bound for Italy and carrying 105 people, during which 15 Muslim passengers threatened to abandon at sea the Christians, who came from Nigeria and Ghana, based on their faith.

After a fight broke out 12 of the Christians were thrown overboard to their deaths, while others survived the attack by resisting the drowning attempt and forming a human chain. The Italian coast guard has arrested 15 people in association with the attack.

In his homily Tuesday, Pope Francis said that “the true history of the Church is that of the Saints and the martyrs.”

He recalled how the Apostle Stephan had to deal with false witnesses and the anger of those accusing him.

Stephan, the Pope noted, reminded the elders and scribes how their ancestors had persecuted other prophets, and when he described his vision of the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God they didn’t want to hear it, so they threw him out of the city and stoned him.

“God’s Word is always rejected by some. God’s Word is inconvenient when you have a stone heart, when you have a pagan heart,” he said.

Francis noted how the whole history of Revelation is marked by the many martyrs who have been killed “for their faith and loyalty towards God’s Word, God’s Truth.”

He closed his homily by pointing out that there are also many “hidden martyrs,” who are the faithful men and women that listen to the voice of God and look for new ways to help their brothers and sisters love the Lord.

These people, the Pope said, are often viewed with suspicion, vilified and persecuted by the modern “Sanhedrin’s” who think they possess the truth.

What Happens Next?

Posted on April 20, 2015 by - Everyday Stewardship

Fork in the RoadWhen you place everything in God’s hands, you don’t always wonder what happens next.  What happens next is part of the miraculous journey of life. If it is a blessing, to God give the thanks.  If it is a challenge, accept it head-on and with the fortitude God gives you.  If it is a burden, let God help you carry it.

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We Do Believe, Alleluia

Posted on April 19, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19

Do we really believe in the Resurrection? Jesus’ resurrection? Our own? During the past three weeks I’ve traveled in India and am currently in Uganda, Africa. In India, our tour group boarded a wooden boat at dusk and shoved out into the Ganges River. It was Tuesday of Holy Week, the evening of the Chrism Mass in my diocese back home. Our group of Americans was quiet as the guide explained the customs surrounding the death of a Hindu. Many of the elderly in India move to Varanasi so that they can be close to the Ganges at their time of death. If they are cremated there, they are guaranteed a happy afterlife.

As we motored up the river, we came to the area of cremation. Ghats (steps) went upward from the river. Fires burned on intermittent platforms. At that moment, five bodies were being burned. The chief mourner, wrapped in white cloth, with head shaved, ignited the sixty pounds of wood beneath and above the body. He had come from the top of the ghat where the eternal fire burned, down to the pyre where his loved one lay. After igniting it, the burning lasted about three hours. A sobering sight.

Three hours. The traditional time that Jesus hung upon the cross. It was Holy Week. My thoughts turned to Good Friday.

Three hours led to three days. In that interim, I moved from India to Uganda, Africa. My travel partner and I arrived at Stella Maris College for Girls after a five-hour ride, mostly on dirt roads churned by spring rains and hardened by the sun. There are over a thousand girls here from ages six to eighteen. On Good Friday, we spent almost five hours with them as they sang and prayed. All one thousand walked the outdoor stations, some barefooted as penance. The road was rough and rocky. This was followed immediately by the liturgical service. Every girl venerated the cross as they sang hymn after hymn from memory. There was no fidgeting or talking among themselves during those five hours. Unbelievable!

That five hours turned into another three hours the next night. The Easter Vigil. A thousand candles caught the light from the new fire atop the Easter candle. ALLELUIA! Sung in full voice with drums and clapping! “HE IS RISEN!” “HE IS RISEN!” The rejoicing was deafening! At the baptisms and confirmation they clapped their support! The faith and joy of these young women and their teachers was tangible! My heart rejoiced and my arms could hardly be restrained from joining their raised arms and voices of joy!

I thought of America, of my experiences of the Easter Vigil … my wondering why we are so restrained. Then I also remembered a number of times hearing fellow Christians say, “When I’m gone, I’m gone. That’s it. There is nothing else.” I thought of the Hindu belief in the afterlife. I also remembered seeing a human body floating in the Ganges and wondering how that person had died and where his or her mourners were and what about his or her afterlife. In these days, in this season, we all ponder life and death and our beliefs in the afterlife.

These are perennial questions of all thinking human beings no matter what age or nation or century. Even in today’s Gospel, St. Luke tells of a resurrected Jesus encouraging the disciples to touch him and to give him something to eat. Commentaries suggest that Luke was greatly aware that his Greek readers were skeptical about Jesus rising from the dead.

Are we skeptical? At the vigil here in Uganda, Father Joseph asked the universal questions, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ … he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day?” A joyous shout rose from a thousand young throats. “WE DO BELIEVE!” And he continued, “Do you look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come?” Again, the joyous shout thundered, “WE DO BELIEVE!”

Today’s Gospel concludes with Jesus affirming his own history of suffering, death, and rising from that death. He then commissions his disciples to go to all nations as witnesses. In my experience, these young African students have witnessed to me their belief in the Resurrection. Can I catch their joy and enthusiasm? Can I bring it home halfway around the world?

In America, it seems that in our youth-oriented culture we don’t want to recognize or think about death. In India it is very present. We Americans tend to keep our public grieving as short as possible, some not even having a funeral. We talk about a person “passing” rather than dying. There’s an obituary and then it’s time to move on. How can we celebrate resurrection when we pass over death? Maybe we need to learn from our brothers and sisters of India about death. Maybe we need to learn from our young sisters in Africa about resurrection. Maybe we need to think about, meditate on, and talk with each other about these taboo subjects.

Do I really believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Do I really believe in my future resurrection? In this springtime of new life, in this Easter season, when we hear the Resurrection stories, we need to contemplate these deep mysteries and, hopefully, shout with full voice, “I BELIEVE, ALLELUIA!”

Pat DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

Lord God,
you are attentive to the voice of our pleading.
Let us find in your Son
comfort in our sadness,
certainty in our doubt,
and courage to live through this hour.
Make our faith strong
through Christ out Lord,
Amen.

—Order of Christian Funerals © 1985, ICEL.

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Everyday Stewardship

Posted on April 19, 2015 by - Everyday Stewardship

Have you ever participated in or witnessed activities that were supposed to instruct you on the topic of trust? Some of these activities feature people falling backward with their eyes closed, sometimes even falling off a chair or table. One variation is when the voice of the person asking for trust trails off into the distance. Secretly other people have crept in and are ready to catch the subject when they fall backwards, but they are being asked to trust the voice that they know is no longer near them. It is often not easy for the person who is being asked to trust, especially if they have never done this before.

Trusting in God is not always easy either. Sometimes we are scared to give up our freedom. Other times we are consumed by doubt. After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared a few times to his disciples. One time when he appeared right after some of them had encountered him on the road to Emmaus, he asked them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” Even with him in front of their eyes they had a hard time trusting. They were being asked to trust and believe, but just like those in the trust activities mentioned above, that was easier said than done.

What is keeping you from trusting in God? To live a stewardship way of life, trust in God is necessary. There are times when we will begin to question if we can persevere or if this way of living is even valid and worthwhile. That is only human. But through the church, sacred Scripture, and the sacraments, our hearts and minds will be opened to the real crucified and risen Lord. And then, if he asks, we will be able to trust and fall back into his loving arms.

Proof of the Resurrection

Posted on April 8, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 12, 2015

2nd Sunday of Easter or Sunday of Divine Mercy

April 12

Saint Thomas might just be one of the figures in the New Testament who is the easiest for us to relate to. Like him, we have all had our doubts. We’ve wondered how we can know for sure that God exists. We’ve asked ourselves how, with all the Christian denominations, we can feel secure about the one we’ve chosen. We may have even doubted the bodily resurrection of Jesus, as Saint Thomas did. No matter how pious, we have all entertained doubts at some point in our faith journey.

As well as being the easiest apostle to relate to, Saint Thomas might also be the most envied. After all, Jesus gives him the proof he asks for: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” How many of us in our fears and doubts have called up to heaven asking for a sign? Few of us, I imagine, received one so clear and unmistakable as Saint Thomas and the rest of the apostles did one full week after the first Easter.

In the Gospels, Jesus is constantly being asked to give a sign. When he casts out the money changers from the Temple, he is asked to give a sign of his authority to do so. The crowds that jeered him at his crucifixion taunted him to prove that he was the Messiah by coming down from the cross. Hearing these accounts we may wonder why Jesus did not do more to convince the people of his day of his power and divinity, especially at the Crucifixion. In honest moments, we may also ask God why he doesn’t do more in our day to make his existence known.

Jesus understood human nature very well. He knew that signs and wonders only work for those who already have faith. As Stuart Chase’s quote puts it, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.” We see this reality play out numerous times in Jesus’ ministry. When he casts out a demon, the religious leaders say his powers come from Satan. When he heals the blind man, the religious leaders condemn him as a sinner for performing a miracle on the Sabbath. When he appears to his disciples after rising from the dead, they think they are seeing a gardener, a ghost, or a stranger. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, even at the Ascension, there were disciples who still doubted. Unless we are already disposed to believe, we will make any excuse to deny whatever proofs might appear to us, whether they be miracles or appearances of our risen Lord.

Faith works differently from empirical sciences. In biology or physics, we gather the proofs and then the theory is believed. With faith, we believe and then the proofs present themselves to us. Only with the sight that faith gives can the evidence be understood for what it is.

In Christian iconography, Saint Thomas is often pictured holding a spear. Tradition tells us that he traveled to India to spread the Gospel and was martyred by having his skin peeled off. The one who doubted found enough conviction to lay his life down when it mattered most.

Last week, gunmen killed 148 students at a Kenyan university. Many victims, when asked whether they were Christian, answered “yes” even though they must have known it would mean their death. Like all of us, they had questions about their faith. They doubted and wondered whether God existed. However, when it mattered most, they put their doubts aside and answered from the heart. They were not provided with any more proof than we have been. Yet they believed enough to make the ultimate sacrifice in witness to their faith.

Hopefully, we can do the same when we are called upon to defend our faith or even to step out of our comfort zone to help another human being in need. When we do so, we provide the most powerful proof that the risen Lord is alive and in our midst.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

Almighty and ever-living God,
who strengthened your apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection:
Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God,
that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
—Prayer to St. Thomas the Apostle. Source: http://www.stthomas.webhero.com/.

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A New Eden

Posted on April 1, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

April 5

Lately, it has seemed as if the world is spinning out of control.

Planes plummet from the sky. Buildings crumble. Wars rage. Peace seems, at best, elusive.

Into the midst of this, though, comes Easter. All expectations are defied. We are reminded again and again that the astonishing reality of the Resurrection holds forth the promise of life—bewildering, triumphant, unstoppable life. Churches burst with flowers. Choirs sing “Alleluia.” Families gather to feast. As if on cue, the weather begins to warm. The earth shifts, and new growth begins, and the days lengthen, and everything seems suddenly renewed.

The One who was dead is alive. And we live with him.

It is fitting that the Gospel this Sunday unfolds in a garden—a place of life, not death, and, not insignificantly, an echo of the garden where man’s journey went off track in Eden. Easter gives us a new Eden, a new beginning, a new opportunity to make what went wrong right.

“This is the day the Lord has made,” the responsorial psalm sings, “let us rejoice and be glad!”

At this moment, who could resist an invitation like that?

As we marvel at what God can do, and watch the world being reborn during this sacred season, we find joy and reassurance in the middle of a world so often clouded by disaster and doubt. The Resurrection gives us reason to hope. He is risen. And he raises us with him.

To which we can only respond with a word that has been too long absent from our lips:

“Alleluia.”

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

O God, who on this day,
through your Only Begotten Son,
have conquered death
and unlocked for us the path to eternity,
grant, we pray, that we who keep
the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection
may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit,
rise up in the light of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
—Collect for Easter Sunday from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.

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Everyday Stewardship

Posted on March 29, 2015 by - Everyday Stewardship

Christian stewardship began this night in the upper room. Ordinary humans witnessed the Son of God humble himself to a point they could not have imagined, all with the purpose of serving them. That night the ordinary became extraordinary. Jesus demonstrated for them true love and how to share that love with those outside that room. But how could they win hearts for Jesus when they saw themselves as so much less than their teacher? The answer is that he would then feed them with his very self. They would not see him much longer, for the events that began with that evening would lead to his torture, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father. But in his body and blood they would be nourished for the task at hand: to witness to the whole world the good news of Jesus Christ.

In one night, Jesus gave us a true example of stewardship and the path to follow. By his example he showed us how to empty ourselves to the point of becoming the servant of all. The path is the holy Eucharist, through which all is possible. When we partake in his banquet, we become Christ to a world in need of Christ. It would be a truly daunting task if he hadn’t shown us how to BE Christ. A simple act of washing feet taught us more than any sermon or sacred writing.

As good stewards we believe all we have is a gift from God. That night, before the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus commanded us to wash one another’s feet. In essence, he gave us to one another. If we claim to belong to him, then we by definition belong to one another. May the Christ in each of us propel us to our knees so that we may never stop washing one another’s feet.