WELCOME to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the Holy Week retreatants at Weber Center, Adrian, Michigan.
I am addressing preachers more directly than usual this week and, if you are not a Sunday preacher, I invite you to listen in.
This gospel reading presents, what may be, the earliest image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This representation of Jesus was used even before that of the crucifix, perhaps because there was so much ignominy associated with the way Jesus was killed. The image of Jesus carrying the lost sheep on his shoulder was an early, if not the first, image embraced by the church. It sounds like such a pastoral image, so much so, it becomes a romanticized presentation of Christ. But the passage suggests a less than peaceful setting. There is the danger of the ravenous wolf coming to snatch and scatter the sheep. This image alone serves as a caution to the preacher not to wax sentimental in this preaching. The first part of the passage suggests a life and death situation.
Notice too, the Shepherd is speaking of the entire flock; he is leading and addressing the flock who "hear my voice." He challenges us to embrace what we have come to adopt since Vatican II, that the church is the people of God and that all the baptized share in the "priesthood of believers." All have a role in the church, all are supported and lead by the voice of the shepherd. While we cannot roll back the clocks and return to the days of the early church, we certainly are reminded that Jesus declared himself Shepherd of a flock that hears his voice. We have somewhat lost this sense of belonging.
Over the centuries we have paid less attention to the voice that speaks to the entire community/flock and instead have placed the major responsibility for hearing God's Word and teaching it on the clergy and hierarchy. The preacher needs to help all hear the responsibility and empowerment that comes with today's Good Shepherd Sunday reading. The preacher might also suggest ways for people to respond to the empowerment we have received: where is the voice of the Shepherd directing us to service? Preachers should direct us to the places where we can hear the Shepherd’s voice in our church community. But we also need help hearing the Shepherd as he speaks to us in our world through modern prophets and witnesses, as well as through those closest to us, those in our very households, schools and places of employment.
Try to steer away from the "dumb sheep" image we often use to describe the flock. There is no image of stupidity in today's reading, but one of care by the shepherd for the flock. This flock, guided by the voice of the shepherd, is encouraged to trust that voice and do what it can to promote the unity of the community as well to reach out to others. The sheep of this Shepherd are not passive and dumb, but activated by the life that has been laid down for them.
This gospel passage directs the congregation's attention to the liturgical celebration. Sheep get hungry: the trip is long and we need food to be sustained. Today, at this celebration, we come aside for a while to eat, to hear God's nourishing Word (the shepherd's voice) and be fed with the food for travelers. We need a sense of direction and we need to hear his voice so as not to get lost, discouraged, or burdened by guilt. So the Shepherd speaks to us. These are not words that beat us down, or discourage, but words that draw us together from our various side-trips, solitary treks, and detours, to a renewal of our common vision.
That really is what the Shepherd wants – that we don't get lost, seeing ourselves "out there," on our own as solitary Christians. What he does through his Word is remind us we are a community traveling together. We are distracted by so many visions and sights along the way that divide us, and cause us to evaluate each other by other standards. Here, in the presence of the Shepherd speaking to us, we can see more clearly our true identities as followers of the same Shepherd. We can look at each other with appreciation, for we see around us at this Eucharist others who have heard the voice and are trying to follow it with us.
We are hungry. Other food we found along our journey has failed to nourish us for more than a short time, if at all. We will need a food to keep alive the vision we have been given. It must be a food that strengthens our determination to keep following the Shepherd's voice and keep finding ways to serve, to do as he did and "lay down" our lives. The food he gives is none other than himself, the one who now joins us in the gift of ourselves in service. The Shepherd knows his flock and the food we need.
We gather expecting Christ's love for us to be the way ours is for others. We are surprised at how enduring and tender his love is for us and for our sisters and brothers. We are gathered at this Eucharist because a familiar shepherding voice has called us here. We leave here wondering how our lives can reflect the life of the One who died for us. What can we do to freely lay down our lives in service for another? This gathering has empowered us to love in the same way we have been loved.
It is several weeks since Easter. We have returned to the ordinary part of our lives. We are "back home" after the Resurrection. We need guidance, someone to walk with us and speak to us as we go along, lest we wander off. What a wonderful image then, this shepherding Christ. The Scriptures are filled with images for God and Christ. Each image conveys some reality about who God is to us – God is rock, liberator, ruler, creator, father, mother, etc. In John's Gospel, there are ample images for who Jesus is to us – truth, way, life, bread, living water, etc. Each suggests some facet of our relationship with him, each tries to help us catch the depth of the reality of Christ in our lives.
The Shepherd image suggests a profound relationship: "I know my sheep and my sheep know me, in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father." The bond between the Shepherd and us is likened to the bond that exists between Christ and the Father. Does this powerful expression of intimacy encourage us to trust Christ each step of the journey, both in the arduous times and the easier ones?
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
". . .and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Continuing our look back at the Catholic Social Teaching Justicia in Mundo, when the bishops gathered in 1971, they questioned themselves "about the mission of the People of God to further justice in the world" (1). By "scrutinizing the ’signs of the times’ [the meaning of emerging history] while at the same time sharing the aspirations and questionings of all those who want to build a more human world," they listened to the Word of God (2). They write:
"In the face of the present-day situation of the world, marked as it is by the grave sin of injustice, we recognize both our responsibility and our inability to overcome it by our own strength. Such a situation urges us to listen with a humble and open heart to the word of God, as he shows us new paths towards action in the cause of justice in the world (29).
"In the Old Testament God reveals himself to us as the liberator of the oppressed and the defender of the poor, demanding from people faith in God and justice towards one's neighbor. It is only in the observance of the duties of justice that God is truly recognized as the liberator of the oppressed (30).
"By his action and teaching, Christ united in an indivisible way the relationship of people to God and the relationship of people to each other. . .In his preaching he proclaimed . . .the intervention of God's justice on behalf of the needy and the oppressed (Lk 6: 21-23) (31).
"According to the Christian message, therefore, our relationship to our neighbor is bound up with our relationship to God; our response to the love of God, saving us through Christ, is shown to be effective in his love and service of people. Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated. For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely a recognition of the dignity and rights of one's neighbor. Justice attains its inner fullness only in love. Because every person is truly a visible image of the invisible God and a sibling of Christ, the Christian finds in every person God and God's absolute demand for justice and love" (34).
On this Mother’s Day, when we bless mothers, the child in the womb, and the families created in love, let us remember the dignity of every human being and the loving justice all deserve.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Book of Revelation reading:
"I, John, had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people and tongue."
In a competing and divided world, the Book of Revelation gives us a vision of our mutuality. We are interdependent; our present and our future are entwined. We cannot live lives of indifference and isolation; not if we plan to go before, "the one who sits on the throne" and be fed together at the same eternal banquet table.
So we ask ourselves:
I don’t want a moratorium on the death penalty, I want the abolition of it. I can’t understand why a county [USA] that is so committed to human rights doesn’t find the death penalty and obscenity.----Bishop Desmond Tutu
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
"First Impressions"is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP:
St. Albert Priory
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars:
Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation:
1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:
If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.
You can order the CDs by going to our webpage:www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.
2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, OP at Jboll@opsouth.org.
3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
Click on a link button below to view the reflection indicated.
(The newest items are always listed first.)