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Pastor's Letter 20200503 - 03 May 2020 - The Good Shepherd

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May 3, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Easter

A Message from Father Michael


Today’s Theme: “The Good Shepherd”

 Scripture Note

 In Peter’s address to slaves, he urged them to bear their unjust sufferings with patience, as Christ, the Good Shepherd, bore His for love of us (Today’s Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:20-25.)  Slavery was a fact of life during New Testament times.  Writers of the time did not lead a campaign against slavery for they would have been aware that such a stance could only be judged “subversive,” imperiling the fledgling foothold Christianity was gaining.   Peter’s words have a wider application, however. He singled out slaves only because their burden of suffering was greater.   

The Shepherd, the Gate, and the Lamb of God

 John draws upon imperial imagery to describe Jesus’ role as the Messiah. However, rather than appearing as a military warrior, amassing power through violence, Jesus absorbed the violence of the Empire. His claim to be the Good Shepherd mirrors one of the key expectations for a “noble” death, that is was done willingly and for the benefit of others. As John explains just after today’s passage (John 10:10-11.)   In addition to presenting Jesus as a noble shepherd giving His own life for the benefit of the sheep, and a ruler Who serves as the gateway to abundance,  he also presents Jesus as the Lamb of God.  All three of these images stand in stark contrast to Rome, and expose the Empire’s reliance on violence. In  his Gospel, the timing of Jesus’ death coincides with the Paschal sacrifice at the temple, a symbolic remembrance of God’s freeing the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt.  Herein we see the characterization of Jesus coinciding with overthrowing oppressive powers, even in death. The characterization of Jesus as shepherd, gate, and lamb proclaims the Good News:  God is on the side of the oppressed and will ultimately bring abundant life.

 Just like the mixed metaphor of shepherd, gate, and lamb, the characterization of Jesus draws upon imagery from the Empire. In some ways, it reinscribes it, claiming that Jesus is even more powerful that the ruler of the Roman Empire, without falling into the imperial pattern of wielding power to overthrow or control.

 As Jesus delivers the Good Shepherd discourse, He tells listeners that He is using a figure of speech. Nonetheless, we are told the apostles “did not understand what he was saying to them” (John 10:1-6.)  Perhaps they didn’t understand because the metaphor was “messy.” Or perhaps they were too embedded in the systems of the Empire to even see the other way to which Jesus was pointing—a way where violence is not used to control.  

 One reason we read this text alongside the imagery of Empire, is to get a new vantage point, so as not to miss the important message:  That is, we should take care not to be comforted by this passage too quickly.  While it certainly speaks to those parts of our lives where we might be disadvantaged or ostracized, we must open our imaginations to the more uncomfortable implications of this text.  It is easy to critique the Roman Empire of the ancient world, but there are far too many similarities to our current sociopolitical systems to ignore the message as it applies to us.

Living Life to the Full

In the last line of today’s Gospel, Jesus said: “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)  One wonders if He is talking about only the hereafter or also about this life?  I believe these words are to be applied to our life on earth as much as to our hope for eternal life. 

 Historically, Christians have tended to be identified with restrictions on their freedoms by those outside the faith who are not so constrained.  Many of us were brought up on a theology of “detachment” from the world, (raised Catholic in 1950s Nebraska, I was taught to maintain a discrete distance from the “non-Catholics” in the community.)  Discouraged from social interaction and, above all, from engaging in any form of non-Catholic worship services, we were under “pain of sin!”  Looking back, this proscription could have been levied as an attempt, by the magisterium of the Church of the time, to prevent “thieves and robbers,” outside Catholicism from absconding with the “sheep”—the faithful.

 For many Christians, life in the present is viewed as a “time of trial.”  This kind of spirituality discourages enjoyment of life, and leads to “half-heartedness.”  It is as if we are always keeping something back—always living cautiously, fearfully and “miserly.”

To my young, developing mind, however, Jesus’ words taught that a person ought to be able to enjoy life to the fullest while also being devout and religious!  Needless to say, I regularly ran afoul of many prevailing parochial proscriptions. (For a time, while attending Lincoln’s Pius X High School, I even had a “non-Catholic girlfriend,” whom I wasn’t allowed to bring to any school functions, making me additionally frustrated.)

 Life is a fragile gift, wherein every moment is utterly unique and quite fleeting.  People should concentrate their attention upon what they are experiencing in the present. It is this “fleetingness” that gives life its poignancy, making it all the more precious.  Ancient Aztecs had a saying: “For we do not enjoy this world everlastingly, only briefly; our life is like the warming of oneself in the sun.”

The Lord, our Good Shepherd, wants us “to have life.” Therefore, we must not be timid and frightful.  Rather, we must live life concurrently with whatever presents itself, because everything is a gift from our Creator.  Life is generous to those who seize it with both hands.  The Latin Poet Horace once said: "Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” which can be translated as “Sieze the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” (Quintus Horatius Flaccus- 65-8BC)

Mere existence is not enough for us. “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive” (Joseph Campbell:  “The Power of Myth” 1988)

 We are meant to live.  It is a well-known fact that those who have lived fully and intensely do not feel cheated at death. “Fear not that your life will end; rather fear that it may never have begun” (Thoreau.)    

Jesus began His ministry with these words: “Believe in the Good News!”  And what is “the Good News?  He said it best:  “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)  He is our Good Shepherd, and, as such, is our Guardian in times when we cannot understand our complex existence.  

The bumper sticker, “WWJD” serves us well, reminding us of His example to always be available, to give us guidance.  When we are about to “stray from the fold,” we should hear His gentle, yet strong voice in our minds, calling us back.  It may be we are unwilling, at times, to accept His correction, but we always are aware that, as imperfect beings, we need it.  Further, even though we don’t always respond to it, His faithfulness is ever present when we ultimately dispose ourselves to accept Him, and respond.  

In this we find the best example of what a true “friend we have in Jesus,” in the words of the old song. Who else would stand by us even when we ignore them on countless occasions?  Certainly few of our human acquaintances!  Earthly friendship is fickle, and when pushed to the brink it often fails in critical moments.  It has “limits.”  The Good Shepherd, on the other hand, is always ready to lead us home, without judgment. In essence, then, that is the focus of our discussion here.  We can never come to the end of Christ’s mercy and love.  We can never get into so much trouble that He will not be ready to welcome us back with open arms.  

May God Richly Bless You!


“When the enemy comes, the “hired hands” run away. Not so with Christ. He died for His sheep so that they shall have eternal life, and no one can take them from Him.

That is why Jesus is the Good Shepherd.” (Jack Wellman, 2019)

Brother James' Air.docx

Brother James' Air.mp3

To see a video of this morning's Celebration of the Holy Mass, click here: https://youtu.be/e1lMbo5XdYE


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