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Contents: Volume 2 - The 4th Sunday of EASTER (A)
May 3, 2020


 

 The

 FOURTH

 Sunday of

 Easter

 

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

3. -- Brian Gleeson CP

4. -- Paul O'Reilly SJ

5. --(Your reflection can be here!)

 

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1.

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4th Sunday of Easter 2020

Here we are, in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, wondering about our lives. In our first reading, centuries ago, those 3000 people, give or take, were also in the midst of their confusion when Peter spoke to them . Peter helped to solve their problem with his heartfelt words by pinpointing what a blessing God had bestowed on them through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The people understood this "Godsend" and accepted the gift of the Holy Spirit to change their lives.

In doing so, they saved themselves "from this corrupt generation". We are in a position to do the same! In talking to others in this generation and situation, confusion inevitably rears its ugly head. With every news clip we hear empty words, unable to mitigate or solve our problems, whatever they many be, or, even worse, words which direct us in exactly the wrong direction. Ads for more discounted screen devices or cars or take out orders, binge TV watching, or smiling faces and thin bodies promoting exhaustive and exhausting work outs scream "try this" at us.

today's gospel tells us that Jesus is the Gatekeeper. If we focus on Jesus, on his life and message, we will have the (gate)way into a life that will mean something positive now and forever. Jesus calls each of us by name. Certainly, with stay-at-home orders mostly still in place, each of us can find the time to curtail some other activities and be still enough to hear Jesus and just listen.

Right now, that is a very big personal challenge. I carve out time to ponder the Scriptures for this weekly reflection, to participate in a virtual Sunday Mass, and for prayer throughout the day, but not enough time, not nearly enough time to "just listen"!! Three of the four of us living together have definite deadlines for extensive (if not excessive) remote learning tasks. As number 4, I am really number 4 in time priority. I only get to be #1 as the official timekeeper and space allocator.

Wow, do I need to change MY life!!! This timekeeper needs to embrace the Gatekeeper more fully. I need to change.

I think that pinpointing the blessings God has given us is the starting point for a changed life. Getting a bit lost on the journey myself, I need to decrease my own part in the present confusion by recalculating where I am and where I want to be. I may not be driving very much these days (a financial blessing) , but I still need that GPS (God's Perfect Sign), Jesus, the Gatekeeper, to show me the right place.

At the beginning of our state's stay at home order, my grand daughter and I started to list "today's reasons to celebrate" on a medium size white board daily. As with many good intentions, that, too, is now forgotten. I can see this day that this "extra" time together can be a real blessing if channeled through the proper "gate". Well, back to that white board with her... right after I find more personal time for quietness and reflection myself. Yes, all of us need to make more time to appreciate God's blessings by just listening.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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2.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter May 3, 2020

Acts 2:14, 36-41; Responsorial Psalm 23; 1st Peter 2:20-25; Gospel Acclamation John 10:14; John 10:1-10

This is Good Shepherd Sunday, a continuation of the Mystagogia – the walking around in the mysteries of the faith. The mystery of the Good Shepherd teaches us about leadership, models for living, and what happens when we follow leadership lacking integrity. Ancient tribal understanding of a leader is that a leader worth following is one whose energy and talents are used for those being led. The image of a good shepherd applies. The good shepherd protects the flock from predators. The good shepherd finds good pastures and flowing water for his flock. He does not fall asleep: he does not abandon his flock when it is attacked. A bogus leader is a thief and a robber. A false leader thinks only of personal gain. No matter the truth, no matter the worth, no matter the benefit needed by the people, the false leader always seeks his/her own benefit. It matters little to those thieves and robbers, those liars and charlatans that his/her people are in harms way or that they heap suffering because of his/her selfishness. Such a leader comes into the sheepfold and drives out the sheep, making them fend for themselves for safety, for pasture, and for flowing water. That leader shouts and scatters the flock to search out their needs by rugged individualism. The result is violence, vicious competition, dishonesty, abuse of others, self, and creation. It is a horrid path to follow that brings on destruction and death.

The history and inheritance of the middle ages of history are filled with the pursuit of power, of authority, of domination, and of control of people and resources. The transition from tribalism to nationalism was terrible, filled with violence and death. Classes were established in which blood lines were leadership’s claim to power, to fame, to wealth, and to education. Centuries of violence and plunder were the outcome of the few controlling and violating the many. The first shot across the bow of nobility was the emergence of a merchant society. Trading and pursuit of market domination replaced Lords and Ladies with merchants. Feudal castles gave way to merchant ships and marketplaces. Wealth replaced nobility.

With the age of Enlightenment in the 18th and 19th centuries there came another shift. Scientific method sought out the truth of living, replacing superstition. Authority was no longer a divine gift given to a select few. Wealth was not the source of dignity and worth. Rights, dignity, and worth became the basis for laws of relationship. Blood lines no longer carried genetic rights to power, wealth, and education. In North America, there was a revolt against tyranny. In France there was a violent, bloody revolution against the culture of the past. Even in the United States, based on equality and freedom for each person, hearts and minds did not grasp the depth of freedom. Wealth was achieved on the backs of slaves. Even a terribly destructive and murderous civil war did not settle and bring the freedom guaranteed by law. A century of struggle ensued. Women struggled to reach equality with men. People of color struggled to throw off a new servitude which cast them as third-rate citizens, incapable of leadership, of wealth, and of access to health and education. Slavery is more than chains. Slavery is more than division of people into classes of privilege or opportunity. In every change in culture, selfishness of power and wealth seeks ways of enslaving others. Slavery exists whenever and wherever the dignity and worth of every person is subverted when equality of opportunity is denied. In the information age, slavery continues by spinning truth into pretzels. Demagogues divide us by whatever makes one different from others. With technology as their weapon of choice, they gain power, wealth, and influence by robbing truth of its pristine beauty. Privilege comes from wealth and by denying access to wealth by the enslavement of others in low wages, by denying access to education, by denial of access to health, and through denial of access to possibilities. The slavery practiced by Pharaoh thousands of years ago remains. Wealth, privilege, and power continually bind persons to a past of poverty, a present that is designed to enrich Pharaoh, and a future of servitude to the gods of power, wealth, and fame.

This is Good Shepherd Sunday. What has this mystery of God’s modeling of good shepherding have to do with our contemporary world? Shouldn’t we keep faith and its practice as very personal and lacking relevance to the public marketplace? Shouldn’t we insist on separation of church and state? Shouldn’t the church just mind its own business and leave politics and governance to sort it out? Is it okay for politicians to use religious truth and morality to further its pursuit of power, wealth, and influence? After several thousand years of war incited by religious leaders for control over uneducated, poorly informed flocks, the formers of the United States Constitution insisted no religion would be the official religion. Religion was never to be the basis for violence. Freedom to practice ones’ faith was essential to good order and prosperity so long as the practice of that faith did not harm the freedom, dignity, and worth of citizens.

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus identifies himself as the gate, the entrance to safety against the evil that prowls in the darkness of night. That shepherd, in the light of day, leads the way to pasture and living waters. Last week we learned in the Emmaus story that he is present even now in our troubling and troubled world. What is the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection? How do Catholic Christians live the death and resurrection? When we discover the relevance of this death and resurrection in the moments of our living, we discover Jesus, the gatekeeper. The model of Jesus’ ministry and death/resurrection reveal the thieves and charlatans of our time from those who minister in truth to the flock. In the heat of strident shouting, in the confusion brought by falsehood troubling minds, in the efforts of evil wizards using telecommunications, how can we continue to walk in the Way of Jesus? How do we walk guided by the mysteries of faith? How do we "walk in the mysteries of our faith" revealed to us in Easter Season’s liturgies of the Word?

Perhaps an effective answer to this is to listen carefully to Peter this Sunday. Legend often portrays Peter after the death and resurrection as tearful, filled with regret, burdened with the impact of his denials of Jesus in those terrible hours in the house of the high priest. Listen to Peter in the reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles and again in his first letter. This is no sniveling, guilt ridden person! He is excited, he is radiant with a joy he experienced and must share. His joy is so evident that three thousand persons were baptized and became followers in the Way of Jesus in a single day. They heard without the aid of a sound system or TV, radio, or Facebook! Peter gets it! At last he understands Jesus. Peter’s guilt has disappeared, and he comes to the crowd made whole. In the letter written much later, he tells the church they will encounter resistance. They will be persecuted; some will be executed for following in the Way of Jesus. "If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God." Jesus carried with him to the cross our sins, thus freeing us from sin’s burdens. Here is Peter’s joy. His failure, his denial of Jesus was taken up by Jesus on the Cross. His guilt is no longer relevant. He has been liberated from his sin!

Sin is so prevalent in our culture that it has become trivialized. We’ve come to accept sin as a fact of life. But what is sin’s impact? How does it harm us? Let us consider sin from a fresh perspective. We think of sin as hurting God. Our sin hurts us and humanity. That is the offense against the God who created us and sees us as good. The goodness God placed in creation is hidden and we are reduced to slavery to our sins. Our sin is a series of choices. Just as physical exercise builds a body’s strength, so also choosing what harms us and others builds up evil’s strength in our living. Each choice works to establish an addiction. Each choice changes our character, bends our sense of right and wrong. Soon what would have been repulsive becomes acceptable. Sin is an addiction: some would say a possession by an evil spirit. The first step in overcoming addiction is recognizing our addiction. Check out the stories of Jesus’ casting out evil spirits. Those who approach him for help, or those who care about the one addicted bring him/her to Jesus. When we realize our addiction and admit it, we discover a way forward to overcome, to become free, to die to that addiction. The first step is realization coming from an examination of ourselves for what enslaves us. That is what happens to the crowd in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles in this Sunday’s first reading. When we place that addiction on the cross of Jesus, he takes it up and, in his dying, we die with him to that addiction. Sin and death are conquered because Jesus dies not as punishment but out of love for us and in obedience to the Father’s love for his creation. Only love has the power to destroy addiction’s chains on our spirits. When we share in the cross of Jesus – when we put our addictions on the wood of his cross – we enter the tomb with Jesus and spring forth from that tomb with the Risen Christ. What a delight, what a joy – to be free!

The crowd Peter addressed wanted to know what they should do. The crowd realized their rejection of Jesus was no mere rejection of a prophet. There was more. When they – when we – rejected Jesus, sin is more than a momentary lapse of judgement or a misunderstanding of the mission of the Son of God, Son of Man. All that we do, all that we believe, all that motivates us to sin for gain is what is called to question by Jesus’ death and resurrection. By his death he put an end to the tyranny of sin. That tyranny died with Jesus. He arose without the shackles, throwing off the slavery of the way of the world. Peter exhorts the crowd: "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!" Peter tells every generation of humanity the same truth. Save yourselves from this corrupt generation by walking in the Way of the Christ. It is not automatic for us. We must choose to follow the Lord to the wood of the cross so that we may share in his Easter, our Easter.

The underlying truth is that we must first realize our sinfulness and admit it. That is the difficulty. So much of our thinking, our choices, our way of living is based on the values of the world. The way of the world enslaves us. The gods of the world demand we serve them. In such servitude we harm ourselves and corrupt our innocence. In that slavery, we violate and demean the dignity and worth of ourselves and other persons. In that hamster-wheel-pursuit of wealth, power, pleasure, and influence we choose not truth, but expedience in accumulation and acquisition. Sin becomes acceptable. We live as slaves to the will of others who have no interest in anyone other than themselves.

This is Good Shepherd Sunday. Let us think of the Lord. Let us remember the Lord’s work and ministry. Let us rejoice in his taking on sin and death and beating it. Let us light up our hearts, our minds, and our faces with the joy of the empty tomb. We are not created to be slaves. We are created to love life and one another and, in that love, live the gift of our life fully. Let us discover what enslaves us. Let us acknowledge our slavery and hand it over to Jesus on the Cross. Let us rise in the freedom of the children of God. When we live in the freedom of the children of God, fully loving ourselves, others, and all creation, we discover God present. What a difference Easter makes!

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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OUR GOOD SHEPHERD: 4TH SUNDAY EASTER (A)

This story is told of a couple, Mike and Yvonne:

They were both 85 years old and had been married for sixty years. Though they were far from rich, they managed to get by because they carefully watched their pennies. Though not young, they were both in very good health, largely due to Yvonne's insistence for the last decade, on healthy foods and regular exercise. One day, however, their good health didn't help when they went on a vacation and their plane crashed, sending them off to Heaven.

They reached the pearly gates, and St. Peter escorted them inside. He took them to a beautiful mansion, furnished in gold and fine silks, with a fully stocked kitchen and a waterfall in the master bath. A maid could be seen hanging their favourite clothes in the closet. They gasped in astonishment when he said, 'Welcome to Heaven! This will be your home now.'

Mike asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. 'Why, nothing,' Peter replied, 'remember, this is your reward in Heaven.' Mike looked out the window and right there he saw a championship golf course, finer and more beautiful than any ever built on Earth. 'What are the greens fees?,' grumbled Mike. 'This is heaven,' Peter replied. 'You can play for free, every day.'

Next they went to the clubhouse and saw the lavish buffet lunch. 'Don't even ask,' said St. Peter to Mike. ‘This is Heaven, it is all free for you to enjoy.' Mike looked around and nervously asked Yvonne 'Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods and the decaffeinated tea?' 'That's the best part,' Peter replied. 'You can eat and drink as much as you like and you will never get fat or sick. This is Heaven!'

'No gym for a work- out?' asked Mike. 'Not unless you want to,' came the answer.

'No testing my sugar or blood pressure or anything?' 'Never again!’ said Peter'

So, Mike glared at Yvonne and said, 'You and your crummy Bran Flakes. We could have been here ten years ago!'

As time goes by, we hear more and more reports from people who have almost died, people, in fact, who have been 'clinically dead'. In all the stories from those who have come back to life, we find very similar details. Thus they speak of leaving their bodies behind. They speak of going through something like a dark tunnel with a light at the far end. A light like the sun, though it neither blinds nor burns, a light which keeps growing brighter. As they move closer to the light, their whole life, like a short film, begins to flash before them. They see the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

Looking at their lives in those short flashes, they sense that the light before them is personal, is somebody rather than some thing. Somebody who views the film with them. Somebody who approves their generous and unselfish actions, but not their mean and selfish ones. Somebody, however, who understands and interprets all the components of their lives as a necessary learning process.

All say that the light - some call it Christ, some call it God, some call it light - is kind and protective, humorous and understanding, forgiving and fulfilling. When they come out of all this, they are changed people, better people, new people.

These reports of 'near-death' experiences are interesting, even fascinating and inspiring. Yet we do not really need them to know what will happen to us. We rely rather on the voice of Christ our Good Shepherd who speaks to us in today's scripture readings. He communicates all that friends and followers of Jesus need to know about their destiny.

As the Good Shepherd puts it in the gospel, we will no longer be at risk of either being lost or stolen away by thieves and bandits. On the contrary! He is both our Good Shepherd and the gate that swings open to bring us to green pastures and a magnificent banquet. So, in fact, the light of the Risen Christ, the One whom Peter today calls ‘the shepherd and guardian of your souls’ will be shining on us and on all whom we love. Those other friends of God, that we don't love as much as we should, will be there with us as well, but changed. In fact, all of us who now and to the end hear and follow the voice of Jesus, our Shepherd, Guide and Protector, will be there together, changed and transformed.

So we can declare with the strongest conviction and the most heart-felt hope, those familiar words from the Creed: 'I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. AMEN.'

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Year A: 4th Sunday in Easter (Good Shepherd)

"I am the gate of the sheepfold."

Most people here will have just one vivid memory of the 2nd April, 2005. It was the day Pope John Paul the Second died – one of the greatest and best shepherds of our lifetime. That is the only thing that most people remember about that day. But the other thing that I remember from that day is that it was also the day I heard of the death of Peter, the greatest church leader I have ever met personally. (Admittedly, I never met the Pope.) Not one, but two very great shepherds died that day.

Our Holy Father’s story is well-known, but it bears re-telling one more time – especially this bit. Like most people my age, I grew up in fear. It was not a fear that we thought about very much, but it was always there at the back of our minds. That fear was called technically "mutually assured destruction" - the knowledge that at any moment either the NATO powers or the Russians could press one button and begin a nuclear war which could - no one really knew what would happen - but could annihilate the whole world. All of our young lives we lived on that knife-edge of mutually assured destruction.

That is no longer true – at least not to anything like the same extent. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe has largely ended that fear. With the collapse of communism, there was also the collapse of both the physical and the spiritual barriers between people, most notably the Berlin wall in 1989. Of course, the world is not entirely safe today, but it is a lot safer than it used to be.

Many, many people contributed to that peace making. But I firmly believe that the person who contributed most of all was the man we called JP2. It was his intervention at the head of the whole Polish church that brought about peaceful revolutions first in Poland, and then throughout Eastern Europe and finally in Russia itself. I think this great act of peace-making may well be the greatest achievement not just of that pope but of any pope there has ever been. Not to put too fine a point on it, I believe his faith and his fortitude may well have saved the entire world. In case that sounds a little pious and overblown, you might care to know that I found out recently my opinion is shared by one Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, who was there at the time.

Obviously, John Paul’s time eventually came to an end. But like every good christian, he was committed to giving everything he had, right until the end. Like St Paul, he ran the race to the finish; he fought the good fight to the end. Let us pray for him that God may receive him into Paradise. And let us pray also for the current pope that he may face the new challenges which threaten the world and the church with the same faith and fortitude.

Peter’s story is not so well-known.

I met him fifteen years ago when I was working in the Philippines. He was the lay minister of a tiny church community, a small, previously un-evangelised fishing community on the east coast of Luzon; a remote inaccessible place beyond the Sierra Madre, on the dry arid Pacific coast.

In the daytime, he worked for the town council; in the evenings and weekends he worked for the Church. But, whatever time of day or night people came to him, and for whatever purpose they looked to him, they found him eager to help, eager to serve and eager to give the glory to God. Day and night, he buzzed up and down the coast on his little two-stroke Yamaha, doing what ever he could to make the Lord loved and the people happy. No matter what the dangers on the road from bandits, terrorists, landslides or even plain old accidents. When the flood came in Eastern Isabella that cost 20,000 lives, he was the natural choice to co-ordinate the rescue in his area. I have worked in many countries and have met many local authority bureaucrats and church volunteers, but never one quite like him.

In the end, it was the plain old accident that got him. On the 24th March, 2005, he came off his motorbike, while going about his work; as the Americans say "in the line of duty". He lingered in hospital for a few days and never recovered consciousness. For a time, his whole community felt lost, rudder-less, fatherless. Then his wife took charge and continued his work.

There is an Amerindian tribe that I used to work with that has a tradition. At funerals they make no show of grief. No weeping. No outward sign of sorrow. They say: "there is no need for sorrow when a good person goes to God. There is a need for each of us to help fill up their place."

So, when one of their elders dies, at the funeral, they dig up part of his or her cassava crop. For them, cassava is the staple – not just of their diet – but of their entire way of life. If you’re Irish, think of it like potatoes. But it’s more than that. It is their food, their drink, their clothing, their building materials, their everything – even their make-up. So, at a funeral, part of the cassava is dug up and the root is divided and shared out among the mourners. Everyone – man, woman and child – gets a piece. And when each of them goes home, they plant it in their own fields. And every time they harvest, they give thanks for all the people who have gone before them marked with the sign of Faith; all the people whose traditions they carry on; all the people who have passed on to them the important things in life.

I ask each of you here to think of one good and holy person you have known – one person who has died, that you hold dear. And in your heart of hearts, imagine taking a piece of her or his root and planting it in your own field.

Let us pray that we may continue to be given good shepherds to lead us in our own times of fear and suffering. And let us stand and profess our Faith in God who calls us all to live all our lives to the full.

Paul O'Reilly <fatbaldnproud@opalityone.net>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net.  Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

-- Fr. John


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