“There are Good Sheep, and there are ‘BAAA’-d Sheep!” – John 10:1-10 †


 

“Good Shepherd Sunday”

The fourth Sunday of the Easter

 

Today’s Content:

 

  • Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • Today in Catholic History
  • Joke of the Day
  • Today’s Gospel Reading
  • Reflection on Today’s Gospel
  • New Translation of the Mass
  • A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day
  • Franciscan Formation Reflection
  • Reflection on part of  the SFO Rule

 

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

Please keep me in your prayers today.  After three years of formation, I am “Professing” in the Franciscan Order of, and for, “Seculars”.  This will be my final “Rite of Commitment to the Gospel Life” in the Secular Franciscan Order.  This Sacramental will be within the Mass; and within, though, for, and with the Holy Spirit in my soul, mind, heart, and body in a very unique covenant with our Almighty and Magnificent Lord Jesus Christ.

After much contemplation, meditation, and prayer, my journey has come to a point of wanting to be fully immersed in the Holy Spirit as our Order’s Seraphic Father, – – St. Francis, – – showed to his brothers and sisters in Christ.  My journey of faith has been fruitful, emotional, exciting, thought-provoking, and divinely inspiring.

I want to thank a few people for assisting me with the special journey I took to get to this point – – and a journey I will continue for the rest of my life.

First, I want to express gratitude to my wife and Sons.  They have put up with a lot of strong emotions and turmoil from me at times over the past couple of years (for which I am truly sorry).  I love them so dearly. Next, I want to thank my SFO Fraternity (Our Lady of Angels), my Regional Fraternity (St. Clare), and all the people that I have come to know as dear friends and a true “family”.  We have had our times of frustrations, short tempers, and concerns.  (I am rather stubborn at times after all – however, I know most people would never believe this [hee, hee]).  As in any family, these sad and distressing periods only highlight and enlighten the love, trust, and respect which emanates when we are together as a group.

It is important for me to give a special thanks to a dear friend, confidant, and journey partner: my “Spiritual Director”, John Hough.  Though his education, philosophy, and theology is Jesuit-based (Sorry St. Francis), no one could have done a better job in walking with me on my formation path, truly holding me up at times (an achievement in itself), and helping me to grow in the love and awe of God’s Word – – Holy Scripture, Church teachings, and traditions.  And, I also want to thank John for helping me to understand my unique role in His kingdom on earth and in heaven.  John, I love our four hour breakfasts/talks at McDonalds each and every Saturday morning.  It is quite interesting to see individual’s reactions when they see two middle-aged Catholic men, with Bibles open on the table (next to the coffee and Egg McMuffin), discussing matters of faith and Scripture.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to unendingly thank, praise, and adore my God in the Holy Trinity: Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I surrender my “self”, – – my “ALL”, – – to You and to Your “will”.  As St. Francis joyously proclaimed throughout his entire earthly life:

“My God and My ALL!”

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The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar Sunday.  The name “Good Shepherd” derives from the Gospel reading on this day, which is also always taken from the 10th chapter of John.  In this reading, Christ is described as the “Good Shepherd” who, by dying on the Cross, lays down His life for His sheep.

Recently, today’s Feast Day has also become known as “Vocations Sunday”, a day in which prayers should be said for vocations to the priesthood and religious life by the Catholic faithful.  This also includes praying for me and other Catholic brothers and sisters who seek a more intimate and formally “consecrated” manner of living out our faith, our hope, and our love for the Holy One of Israel, our Lord, Savior, and friend, Jesus Christ.  That’s why I am asking you, my dear readers, and thanking you for praying for me and my brethren in the Secular Order of St. Francis of Assisi.  Thank you ALL!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Shepherd_Sunday

 

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Today in Catholic History:

†   884 – Death of Marinus I, [Martinus II], Pope (882-84)
†   913 – Death of Hatto I, Archbishop of Mainz (present day Germany)
†   1252 – Pope Innocent IV issues the papal bull “ad exstirpanda“, which authorizes the torture of heretics in the Medieval Inquisition.
†   1608 – Birth of René Goupil, French Catholic missionary (Canadian Martyrs) (d. 1642)
†   1665 – Pope Alexander VII proclaims the theology of Fr. Jansen as heretical (called Jansenism).  Jansenism emphasized predestination, denied free will, and maintained that human nature is incapable of good.
†   1773 – Death of Alban Butler, English Catholic priest and writer (b. 1710)
†   1800 – Pope Pius VII calls on French bishops to return to Gospel principles
†   1891 – Pope Leo XIII publishes encyclical “Rerum novarum“, the first document of the Catholic Social Teaching tradition.
†   1912 – Alexis Kagame, Rwanda, priest/writer
†   1931 – Pope Pius XI publishes encyclical “Quadragesimo anno” discusses the ethical implications of the social and economic order.
†   1948 – Death of Edward Flanagan, American priest and founder of Boys Town (b. 1886)
†   1961 – Pope John XXIII publishes encyclical “Mater et Magistra”  (Mother and Teacher) on the topic of “Christianity and Social Progress”.
†   Feast/Memorials: Saint Achillius; Saint Isidore the Labourer; Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle; Saint Reticius; Saint Denise; Saint Dymphna; In the Coptic Church: Athanasius of Alexandria

(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
otday.wordpress.com &/OR
“Today in Catholic History”
http://www.historyorb.com)

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Joke of the Day:

 

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Today’s reflection is about Jesus BEING the gate for His sheep.

(NAB John 10:1-10) 1 “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.  2 But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  3 The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  4 When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.  5 But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”  6 Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.  7 So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.  8 All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  9 I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  10 A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

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What do you know about sheep and shepherds?  Realize that shepherds and sheep have a very close, unique, and personal relationship with each other.  Still to this day, sheep only follow their own shepherd; they recognize his voice – – his word – – and will not follow a stranger.  The shepherd’s job is to protect his sheep, even with his life if necessary.  In some ways, the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep is like that of a parent and child (God the Father, and His children on earth).  In Jesus Christ, our personal “Good Shepherd”, we find protection from our dangers, and the reward of an abundant and everlasting life with and in Him.

The fourth Sunday of the Easter season is called “Good Shepherd Sunday”.  In each of the three lectionary cycles (A, B, and C), the Gospel reading invites us yearly to reflect on Jesus as the “Good Shepherd”.  In each cycle the reading is from the same tenth chapter of John’s Gospel.  This tenth chapter sets the framework and basis for Jesus’ teaching about Himself as the “Good Shepherd”, leading us, – – His sheep, – – to paradise in His kingdom on earth and in heaven.  Today’s Gospel reading falls between the stories of Jesus’ curing the man born blind (chapter 9), and the resurrection of His dead friend, Lazarus (chapter 11).  Both of these “bookend” Gospel stories were just proclaimed during this year’s Lenten Season.

Following the controversy which ensued when He healed the man born blind, Jesus directs His “figment of speech” about “the sheep and the shepherd” towards the Jewish religious leaders listening to Him: specifically, the Pharisees.

The Pharisees believed in a “divine origin” of creation, found in the Jewish Scriptures known to us as the “Torah.”  The Pharisees also believed in the oral traditions received from Moses, Joshua, and the “Elders”.  Pharisees had a belief in the resurrection of the dead (unlike the Sadducees), and were intensely devoted to the “Mosaic Law”, both written and oral (again, unlike the Sadducees).  Most scholars believe that the other Temple Leadership faction, a group called the “Scribes” and who were considered experts in Mosaic Law, also belonged predominantly to this Pharisaic “party” of Temple leaders.

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Before we  dive into today’s reading, and pull away the layers of meaning hidden yet needing to be exposed with the help of the Holy Spirit, I need to explain the concept (for me, at least) of the repeated words, stressing a particular point.

Whenever Jesus says, “AMEN, AMEN”, I believe He is saying to us:

Yo, LISTEN to me.  I am about to say something very important and profound.  Open those ears and shut those mouths!!”

(Trivia time:  “Amen, amen” is said 13 times in the New Testament, all in John’s Gospel: Chapters 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 21.  The repeated word combination – – “Amen, amen” – – is used three times in the Old Testament: Numbers 5, Nehemiah 8, and Tobit 8).  Each time it is used by the writer or speaker to declare that what follows is a true teaching from God.

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Jesus Christ was not the first to use the metaphor of a “Good Shepherd” in teaching about God’s kingdom.  Jeremiah (a seldom read book of the Old Testament) criticized, and spoke against, the Kings and priests (also described as “shepherds”) who let go, – – or even led – – their “sheep”, astray.  Jeremiah wrote:

“The priests asked not, ‘Where is the LORD?’  Those who dealt with the law knew me not: the shepherds rebelled against me.  The prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after useless idols.”  (Jeremiah 2:8);

But then, God promises:

I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently.” (Jeremiah 3:15).

He then goes on to say, referring to the false shepherd in Jeremiah 2: (above):

“Yes, the shepherds were stupid as cattle, the LORD they sought not; Therefore they had no success, and all their flocks were scattered.” (Jeremiah 10:21);

In God’s name, Jeremiah promised “new shepherds” who would graze their flocks properly so that they will never be harassed or anxious again:

Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD.  Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.  You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deedsI myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply.  I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.  Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name they give him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” (Jeremiah 23:1-6).

Another prophet, Isaiah, even wrote of the “Good Shepherd”:

Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!  Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!  Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.  Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care. (Isaiah 40:9-11).

And finally, Ezekiel censured false “shepherds” for their misdeeds and laziness, their greed and neglect of their responsibility:

Thus the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, in these words prophesy to them (to the shepherds): Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!  Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.  You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts.  My sheep were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and high hills; my sheep were scattered over the whole earth, with no one to look after them or to search for them.  Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:  As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; because my shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep; because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD.” (Ezekiel 34:1-9)

(WOW!!  What a scene.  Does any of this possibly sound familiar to you recently?)

The motif of a “shepherd” was not only related by the prophets, but also used for “Yahweh” – – God Himself – – throughout the Old Testament:

“Then he blessed them with these words: ‘May the God in whose ways my fathers’ Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day.’”  (Genesis 48:15);

“Each one’s bow remained stiff, as their arms were unsteady, By the power of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel(Genesis 49:24).

The special King of Israel, David, saying this song, remembers his early days shepherding in the hills of Israel.  This is what David sang:

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.  In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me; you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.  Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.”  (Psalm 23:1-4);

Shepherd of Israel, listen, guide of the flock of Joseph! From your throne upon the cherubim reveal yourself.” (Psalm 80:2);

And, a later prophet said this addressing God:

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, that dwells apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.” (Micah 7:14).

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The 23rd Psalm is one of the most beloved Psalms expressing our fundamental and  necessary trust in Jesus Christ, who leads us always from dark and difficult places and into the light of His presence, the majestic peace of rest in His kingdom (our true Easter faith).

The 23rd Psalm is not the only portions in Holy Scripture to talk so eloquently about the Shepherd who will rescue from darkness and bring to restful pastures.  Later, the prophet Ezekiel wrote:

“For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep.  As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep.  I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark.  I will lead them out from among the peoples and gather them from the foreign lands; I will bring them back to their own country and pasture them upon the mountains of Israel (in the land’s ravines and all its inhabited places).”  (Ezekiel 34:11-13).

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Today, in this Gospel reading, Jesus again presents Himself as THE promised “Shepherd”, who looks after His sheep, seeks out strays, cures the
crippled, and carries the weak on His shoulders:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in
search of the stray
?  And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not strayIn just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14);

And Luke also writes:

What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?  And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you; in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7).

In addition to the title, “Good Shepherd”, Jesus Christ attaches to Himself the image of the “gate”, and “door” into the “sheepfold”, we now know as the Catholic Church.  As Vatican II teaches:

The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ (John 10:1-10).  It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would be the shepherd (Cf., Isaiah 40:11; Exodus 34:11ff.), and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds; are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds (cf., John 10:11; 1 Peter 5:4), who gave His life for the sheep (cf., John 10:11-15).” (Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 6, 11/21/1964).

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The “Good Shepherd” discourse is a continuation of the confrontation with the Pharisees described in John 9 (the blind man cured).  Since the image of the “Good Shepherd” is figurative, then the “hired hands” would, in fact, be Pharisees who had just excommunicated the cured blind man (cf., John 9).  Today’s reading serves as a commentary on the “cured blind man” story told in this chapter.

Throughout John’s Gospel, the Pharisees (along with the Scribes and Sadducees) failed to accept Jesus’ ministry and teaching, either out of fear, ignorance, or greed.  They showed themselves to be “thieves and robbers” (verse 1) because they tried to lead the “sheep” without themselves entering through the “gate” – – Jesus Christ.

“Whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1)

Through the use of this metaphor, Jesus is telling His listeners that those who follow Him and His “way” will find an abundant and glorious life in paradise.  Jesus Christ identified “Himself” both as the “Good Shepherd”, the “door”, and the “gate” of the single, true “sheepfold”.  Still today, the current shepherds of the current sheepfold (Catholic Bishops and the Pope, making up the “Magisterium”: the teaching authority) who are faithful to Him are the ones whom the sheep (Jesus’ disciples – – US) should follow, as faithful sheep follows their shepherd.

We all have “closed doors” in our lives, places we do not wish to enter.  Places inside ourselves where we do not want to go, out of fear and hurt.  Behind these “doors” are things like old hurts, previous and present addictions and health concerns, strong hatreds, personal fears.

Jesus is telling us that He can lead each of us through His “gate”, as each one of us is a much loved part of His flock.  Jesus Christ can lead each of us, personally and individually, through the “closed doors” in our lives – – those places where there is trouble, – – so we can deal with those issues with His support, help, and love: His grace.  Jesus doesn’t stop at just opening up the “doors” of our lives: He also leads us out again, into His kingdom on earth.

As our true “Good Shepherd”, Jesus Christ NEVER leaves us.  In today’s Gospel reading, He is telling each if us: Don’t be afraid”!!

Jesus, our loving “Good Shepherd”, will always furnish, through the Holy Spirit indwelling within each and every one of us, all that is necessary to do God’s will:

“May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus our Lord, furnish us with all that is good, so that we may do His will.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

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A “Sheepfold” is a low stone wall opened to the sky.  It is simply a pen for sheep.  Other names for a “sheepfold”, in modern language can be “a folding” or sheepcote.  The image represented in today’s reading for the “sheepfold” is, in reality, God’s kingdom.

Jesus Christ’s metaphor about the relationship between sheep and their shepherd is based on the concept of familiarity.  So familiar was the shepherd and his sheep, that each was called by a distinct name.  Sheep recognized, and loved, their specific shepherd.  They would not follow a stranger shepherd arbitrarily.  At the end of a day grazing in the field, shepherds (still to this day) lead their sheep from pastures to a common gated
area called a “sheepfold”.  One shepherd is chosen to protect all of the community’s sheep until the next morning when each flock’s shepherd would return to lead his designated sheep to pasture again.  As shepherds move among sheep, the sheep follow only their shepherd by recognizing and following his voice – – his words.

In the winter the sheep were usually brought into a communal shelter, locked and kept secure by a guardian shepherd, usually positioned at the “gate”.  He was literally the door through which the sheep had to pass.

Each Shepherd had a distinctive call, which only his sheep would recognize and follow.  Do you believe that you have the potential of becoming this familiar in recognizing Jesus Christ’s voice?  Can you quickly discern His voice, His call, from other voices in the world?  Well, you certainly can: the gift of discernment.  This gift is the ability to make good judgments; it is every disciple’s bequest in and through Jesus Christ; it is developed as we imitate His first followers who:

“… devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).

Paying close attention to Holy Scripture and Church teachings can help us recognize God’s “voice” and the nature of details He might be telling us:

Be attentive to him and heed his voice.  Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin.  My authority resides in him.” (Exodus 23:21)

Fellowship with other followers of Jesus Christ can build us up, helping us to see and understand whether our thoughts and actions are on target with God’s will, or not.  Fellow disciples of Jesus Christ can listen to your ideas and opinions, and advise us whether they think an idea or opinion is sound or not.

Our personal prayer can become an awesome conversation when we learn to “hear” the voice of God, who loves us above all His creations.  The Eucharist can become an intimate, cherished, and loving encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ, who wants to lead us, Himself, into a deeper understanding of His Father’s “will”.

Do not worry about trying to “find” Jesus Christ’s voice within you.  If you simply allow Him to act in and within you, you WILL follow Jesus Christ Himself, intuitively.  You already know His voice:

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

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A shepherd is the leader of a cluster of sheep, called a flock.  They recognize him as their provider, their protector, and their “ALL”Without the shepherd, the “sheep” would no longer be protected, and would succumb to a horrendous death from the evil that follows them (wolves, dogs, and coyotes – – materialism and/or Satan).  These sheep in today’s story follow their human protector, and no other; we “sheep” follow our Divine protector and no other.  Sheep “recognize his voice”, and go where he goes: we “sheep” recognize Jesus Christ’s voice and follow Him, personally and collectively.  We are a “flock”.

In today’s reading, the Pharisees (sheep not of His flock, nor shepherds) do not recognize Jesus.  They do not recognize His voice, His words, or His authority over them.  However, the people of God, as symbolized in today’s story by the blind man and the sheep, do recognize Jesus’ voice, His words, and His authority over us.

Jesus uses the image of the shepherd’s voice being recognized by the sheep to teach a divine truth: since there are “strange” voices surrounding and constantly calling to us (evil), we need to know and recognize the “voice” of Christ Himself!  His voice is continuing without end, and is addressing us through the “Magisterium” of the Catholic Church.  In following God’s specific voice, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, we are receive all the nourishment and protection our soul needs.

St. Josemaría Escrivá writes eloquently about the flow of grace given to us through the voice of Jesus Christ, in an everlasting way, through the Sacraments:

“Christ has given his Church sureness in doctrine and a flow of grace in the sacraments.  He has arranged things so that there will always be people to guide and lead us, to remind us constantly of our way.  There is an infinite treasure of knowledge available to us: the word of God kept safe by the Church, the grace of Christ administered in the sacraments and also the witness and example of those who live by our side and have known how to build with their good lives a road of faithfulness to God.” (St. Josemaría Escrivá, Christ is Passing By, 34).

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We’ve all experienced coming into, and being part of, a group in which we did not know anyone initially.  Perhaps it was simply at a friend’s party, or at a wedding or funeral of a relative or acquaintance.  In such encounters and interactions, we naturally look for a familiar face, and listen for a familiar voice within the group or crowd of individuals.

Jesus Christ came as someone who would be (and still is) with us at every step and turn in our lives.  Even when we feel alone, lost, or confused, He is there.  He wants to be a familiar presence in our lives always; He wants His voice to be the voice which we grow to know well, and hear often.  All we need do is to allow Him to get close, and then listen.

So, listen to Jesus and let His face shine upon you:

Shepherd of Israel, listen, guide of the flock of Joseph!  From your throne upon the cherubim reveal yourself to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.  Stir up your power, come to save us.  O LORD of hosts, restore us; Let your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.  May your help be with the man at your right hand, with the one whom you once made strong.  Then we will not withdraw from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.  LORD of hosts, restore us; let your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”  (Psalm 80: 2-4, 18-20)

John says that Jesus used a “Figure of speech” (verse 6) in His teaching of the “Good Shepherd”.  John the Evangelist is simply using a different word or phrase for His descriptive speech than the “parable” of the Synoptic Gospels.  However, the concepts are similar.  In His metaphor, Jesus develops and interprets the image of the “shepherd” and “the flock”, in order to ensure that all who are well-disposed to His teachings can understand the meaning of His discourse.

The Pharisees (and many other Jews) failed to understand Jesus Christ.  Their lack of understanding is nothing new for Jesus.  The same people (Pharisees and other Jews), also failed to understand the Eucharist:

“The Jews murmured about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven,’ and they said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father  and mother?  Then how can he say, “I have come down from heaven”?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Stop murmuring among yourselves. (John 6:41-43);

These same people failed to understand the true meaning of the “living water”:

“Some in the crowd who heard these words said, ‘This is truly the Prophet.’  Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But others said, ‘The Messiah will not come from Galilee, will he?  Does not scripture say that the Messiah will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’  So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.” (John 7:40-43);

And these same people failed even to understand or believe in the raising of Lazarus from the dead:

 “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (John 11:45-46).

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The full power of the “Good Shepherd” image came easily to the first-century Palestine inhabitants.  The Jewish people, most of whom were well acquainted with nomadic shepherds in a country where shepherds were a familiar sight.

The sheep themselves were part of a “nomadic” shepherd’s family.  These animals traveled with the family, from birth to death.  New lambs were continuously being born into the “family” group and flock.  Sights, sounds, and smells of the family, the shepherd, and the flock were familiar to these newborn lambs from the time they are born, bonding them to the shepherd as a baby does to its mother.

From the very beginning of our lives, we come to experience and grow in knowledge of God throughout our lives.  We “see”, “hear”, and “smell” God though our various lessons and interactions of life.  As we grow and age, people “from outside the fold” seem to help us interpret our experiences, and help enhance the “truths” we hold within ourselves.

There is a fine distinction, easily overlooked, in today’s reading.  In John 10:7-8, the figure of Christ is as a “gatefor the shepherd to come to the sheep.  However, in the very next verses, John 10:9-10, the figure is that of a gate for the sheep through which sheep could “come in and go out”.

In verse 7-8, Jesus will readily leave the ninety-nine “sheep” to search for and rescue the “one lost sheep”:

What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?  And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you; in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7).

In verse 9-10, Jesus is also the figure of a “gate” for the sheep to “come in and go out”.  With Jesus Christ as our personal “protector and supplier of all our needs”, we enter into His kingdom, in heaven and on earth.  I see this phrase of “coming and going” as living a proper and morally straight Christian Catholic life in all we do, think, believe, and say.  As a Catholic, we are called to “come” to Him, our shepherd, at His table, to receive Him truly, physically, and spiritually through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist – – Communion, at every opportunity possible. With Jesus Christ indwelling fully within and though each of us at the dismissal of the Mass, we are told to “go out” to spread the good news, the Word of God:

Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” (St. Francis of Assisi).

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What is the lesson we are to learn in today’s Gospel reading?  I believe it is to “abandon” ourselves to Jesus Christ.  We are taught to say: “Lord, do with me what you will.”  This lesson is emphasized during the Advent Season with Mary saying:

“‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38),

And, continued with Jesus teaching us “how to” pray:

“… your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

When one gives oneself to Jesus Christ, that person receives  a “Good Shepherd” who will walk with  them through every rough spot – – and knows he or she is never alone with no  “key” to enter the sheepfold.

What does today’s Gospel  reading mean to me (and to you)?  This is  a question that should be asked any,  and every time one reads Holy Scripture, especially the Gospels.  When reading and meditating on the WORD, one  must keep in mind the history, geography, and society AT THAT TIME, while at  the same time keeping it in perspective with today’s much different world and  society.  We should keep in our minds and  hearts what was meant by the “words” themselves then, and still today.  God’s WORD is truly without end:

The word of the Lord remains forever.”  (1 Peter 1:25)

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Our Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ, promises to go and gather  His sheep, scattered throughout the lands, and bring them back to “good pastures”.   Jesus  Christ is the ONLY source for  forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.   In today’s reading, by referring to the Jewish  teachers and to their traditions, Jesus rejects these “supposedly religious” men  as “thieves and robbers”.

It is so easy to recognize that the “voices” of thieves and  robbers CANNOT bring forgiveness,  redemption, and salvation.  In actuality,  these “thieves and robbers” would be  more than happy to quietly, and sneakily, steal any worthwhile virtues and  divine fortunes you have on your soul.  Please  remember, Jesus is the “Good Shepherd”  who came so that we (His sheep) may have eternal live for eternity in heaven  with Him.  Jesus is the way, truth, and  life!

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I have grown to realize that an individual who belongs to the  “true” Church of Jesus Christ, the Catholic (universal) Church, sometimes seems  to enter into “confinement”, that is, the proverbial “sheepfold”.  Maybe this feeling of confinement is because there  are things one CANNOT do in God’s kingdom.  Maybe one feels their “thinking and beliefs” have been stifled by being  a faithful and pious Catholic Christian.  (Have I peeked your interest in where I am going with this thought  process?)

Jesus Christ’s words are “true” in the Catholic  Church.  One may expect that belonging to  the Catholic Church community means giving up some freedom to think and believe  what one may want.  However, in reality,  the security one can find in the “true” Catholic Church – – founded by Jesus  Christ Himself, – – allows all of us the freedom to dream, to explore, and to  ask questions one possibly could not have ever asked before.  By belonging to a community of Jesus Christ’s  disciples, one can dream even greater dreams and experience a far greater destiny,  regardless of “who” we are in this world.  Jesus Christ has come so that we might have life; He has rescued each of  us; He will nurture each of us; and He will love each of us, as only a “Good Shepherd” can do; and only a “Good Shepherd” does.

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In concluding this reflection, (even though we have less  experience with sheep and shepherds in our fast-paced and modern society, we  can still identify strongly with the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” and the “gate” for us, His sheep.  For me, Psalm 23 remains a popular and  favorite psalm for prayer in my life.  In  Jesus’ role of the “Good Shepherd”,  we know ourselves to be protected and cared for by a loving, compassionate, and  merciful God – – for the Father, by the Son, and through the Holy Spirit.

Holy Scriptures describe God as a “shepherd” who brings  security and peace to His people:

The LORD will guard your coming and  going both now and forever.” (Psalm  121:8).

Even today’s leaders,  the Catholic Priests, Bishops and Pope of Christ’s Church on earth, are called “shepherds”,  with Jesus’ image of “Good Shepherd” in mind:

“May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all  mankind, set over the community a man who shall act as their leader in all  things, to guide them in all their actions; that the LORD’S community may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Numbers 27:16-17).

Just as a shepherd kept watch over his sheep and protected  them from danger day and night, so too does Jesus stands watch over His people,
becoming the “shepherd” and “guardian” of our souls:

For you had gone  astray like sheep, but you have now  returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter  2:25).

And He has chosen to appoint “shepherds” to watch with Him,  and protect by Him, all His sheep, day and night in each generation.

We are given, in  today’s Gospel, the opportunity to reflect on our Catholic faith’s leadership,  and their role in God’s kingdom.  Jesus’  words suggest to us that those who will lead the Catholic Christian community should  be known by their faithfulness to Jesus.  Church leaders should recognize that Jesus Christ  is the “true gate” for all of His “sheep” (His followers), and that having a  good and proper relationship with Jesus Christ is of primary importance for every  Catholic leader now identified as a “Good  Shepherd”.

Jesus’ metaphor also  suggests that a faithful Catholic leader requires a good and proper relationship  with the community: the “shepherd”  knows “his sheep”, AND they (His  sheep) know him.  Catholic Christian  leaders should “truly”, and “fully”, follow the example of Jesus Christ, the “Good Shepherd”, by being faithful to Him  and being a good and proper “shepherd” themselves. (AMEN, AMEN!!)

Do you know, do you recognize, and do you desire the peace  and security of a life “truly” and “fully” “abandoned” to God as your personal  and communal “Good Shepherd”?  (Sounds hard, doesn’t it?!)  Do you look to Jesus, the “Good Shepherd”,  to receive the strength and courage you need, on a daily basis, to live and  serve Him as His faithful disciple?

Jesus Christ is the GATE.  The only way into His sheepfold, His kingdom, is THROUGH Him.  We must  enter into Him, and allow Him to enter into us (surrender ourselves), thus  filling us with His presence.  Through Jesus  Christ, we not only enter into His kingdom, but in His filling us with  “Himself”, we become the gate for others to enter into His kingdom as  well.  Very powerful; just think about  this last sentence for a while.  – – Read  Ephesians 4:11-16.

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I hope you have guessed by now that I have chosen the 23rd  Psalm as the closing prayer for today’s Gospel reflection.  Written by King David, the 23rd Psalm  is portrayed with figures of a “shepherd”  for the “flock”, and a desire for  generosity toward a guest at His feast.  The  imagery of both sections of the 23rd Psalm is drawn from the  teachings and traditions of the “40 year exodus” in the desert:

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in  his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes  with care.  They shall not hunger or thirst,  nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them; for he who pities  them leads them and guides them beside springs of water.” (Isaiah 40:11; 49:10);

And,

“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, proclaim it on distant coasts, and say: He who scattered Israel, now gathers  them together, he guards them as a shepherd his flock.” (Jeremiah 31:10).

There are five terms or phrases in the 23rd  Psalm’s beautiful song and prayer that I would like to explain prior to your  reading it on your own:

  • The right path” means the “right  way”, the “way of righteousness.”
  • A dark valley” is often translated to  mean the universally well-known, “the  valley of the shadow of death.”
  • You set a table before me” is an  expression occurring in an “exodus” perspective, as found in Psalm 78:19:

They spoke against God, and said, “Can God spread a table in the desert?” (Psalm 78:19)

  • Oil” is a well-known (at least to the  Jewish People) perfumed ointment made from olive oil, used especially at  banquets and in the anointing of Kings: (cf., Psalm 104:15; Matthew 26:7; Luke  7:37, 46; John 12:2).
  • Goodness and love” are the blessings emitting  continuously, and without end, from God’s covenant with Israel, the “chosen”  people.

 “23rd Psalm

“The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.  In green pastures you let me graze; to safe  waters you lead me; you restore my strength.  You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.  Even when I walk through a dark valley,  I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.  You set a table before me as my  enemies watch; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Only goodness and love will pursue me  all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to  come.  Amen.”

Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO

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New Translation of the Mass

In  November of 2011, with the start of the new Liturgical year and Advent, there  will be a few noticeable changes in the Mass.  It will still be the same ritual for celebrating the Eucharist.  The Mass will still have the same parts, the  same patterns, and the same flow as it has had for the past several  decades.  It is only the translation of  the Latin that is changing.

The  new translation seeks to correspond much more closely to the exact words and  sentence structure of the Latin text.  At  times, this results in a good and faithful rendering of the original  meaning.  At other times it produces a  rather awkward text in English which is difficult to proclaim and difficult to  understand.  Most of those problems  affect the texts which priests will proclaim rather than the texts that belong  to the congregation as a whole.  It is to  the congregation’s texts that I will address with each blog, in a repetitive  basis until the start of Advent.

In the words of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, #11, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of Christian life. Anything we can do to understand our liturgy more deeply will draw us closer to God.

There is  only one change in the “Holy, Holy”.  Where we now say, “God of power and might,” with the new liturgical text we will say:

God of hosts”.

While this may make many people think of round Communion wafers, the meaning here is “armies,” and it refers to the armies of angels who serve God.

Material from “Changing How We Pray”, by Rev. Lawrence E. Mick

 

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A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Isidore the Farmer (1070-1130)

Isidore has become the patron of farmers and rural communities. In particular he is the patron of Madrid, Spain, and of the United States National Rural Life Conference.

When he was barely old enough to wield a hoe, Isidore entered the service of John de Vergas, a wealthy landowner from Madrid, and worked faithfully on his estate outside the city for the rest of his life. He married a young woman as simple and upright as himself who also became a saint—Maria de la Cabeza. They had one son, who died as a child.

Isidore had deep religious instincts. He rose early in the morning to go to church and spent many a holiday devoutly visiting the churches of Madrid and surrounding areas. All day long, as he walked behind the plow, he communed with God. His devotion, one might say, became a problem, for his fellow workers sometimes complained that he often showed up late because of lingering in church too long.

He was known for his love of the poor, and there are accounts of Isidore’s supplying them miraculously with food. He had a great concern for the proper treatment of animals.

He died May 15, 1130, and was declared a saint in 1622 with Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila and Philip Neri. Together, the group is known in Spain as “the five saints.”

Comment:

Many implications can be found in a simple laborer achieving sainthood: Physical labor has dignity; sainthood does not stem from status; contemplation does not depend on learning; the simple life is conducive to holiness and happiness. Legends about angel helpers and mysterious oxen indicate that his work was not neglected and his duties did not go unfulfilled. Perhaps the truth which emerges is this: If you have your spiritual self in order, your earthly commitments will fall into order also. “[S]eek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,” said the carpenter from Nazareth, “and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33).

Quote:

“God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…. See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food’” (Genesis 1:28a, 29–30a).

Patron Saint of: Farmers, Laborers

Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)

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Franciscan Formation Reflection:

Franciscan Spirituality

 

Have I developed and nurtured my Franciscan Spirituality?  Or have I been developing and practicing another style and approach?

What have I been doing recently to develop my Franciscan Spirituality?

Have my religious activities been heavily “routine” and without much “spirit”?

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Secular Franciscan Order (SFO)
Rule #’s 15 & 16 of 26:

15.  Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives.  Especially in the field of public life, they should make definite choices in harmony with their faith.

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16.  Let them esteem work both as a gift and as a sharing in the creation,  redemption, and service of the human community.

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