Saturday, April 27, 2013

Easter V [C] (4/28/13): Acts 14: 21-27; Rev 21: 1-5; Jn 13: 31-33, 34-35

Someone once said that the purpose of a sermon is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Jesus’ preaching had this effect. He comforted the suffering, the sick and oppressed. But he also made the Pharisees and Sadducees very uncomfortable.
In today’s second reading Paul and Barnabas tell us that the way to the Kingdom of God lies through many afflictions – reminiscent, of course of Jesus’ remarks to his disciples that they should strive to enter through the narrow door (Lk 13.24,Mat 7.13).
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified. What is the relationship between Judas’ going out and Jesus’ glory? Because Judas went out to conspire with the Jews to crucify Jesus. Jesus’ glory came through his cross and crucifixion. And that is the pattern of any Christian’s glory too. That is why Paul and Barnabas tell the early Christians that "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.'"
In other words, only through the Cross can we reach the Resurrection; only through self-sacrificing love can we experience true Christian joy.

St John in the Second Reading gives us the same message from the other direction. He paints a picture of heaven, where the saints live in perfect communion with God. The main characteristic of that life is that God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away."
The old order - that's our order. That's our life here and now in the pilgrim Church on earth. It will pass away; it won't always be like this. But for the time being, it's full of wailing and weeping, mourning and pain.

Our society is so obsessed with pleasure, comfort, health, youth, and appearances that sometimes even we Christians forget about that, and we start thinking that the only meaningful life is a painless life.
The examples of the saints can remind us that, in fact, just the opposite is true: only through the Cross can we reach the Light.

Blessed Lydwina [LIHD-vine-ah] of Holland is a case in point. She lived in the 1400s.  She was a pretty, vivacious 15-year-old, until she got into an ice-skating accident and ran into complications during her recovery. For the next thirty-eight years she never left her sickroom. God sent her a rare and gruesome cross: Her flesh began to rot. She had agonizing headaches, constantly recurring fits of vomiting, unending fevers, maddening thirst, spasms of pain in every part of her body - it was as if she were already decaying in the grave, while she remained conscious to experience it.
At first, she felt anger and revulsion at her suffering. But gradually she learned that God was asking her to suffer for the reparation of others' sins.

Her confessor visited her frequently, taught her to meditate on our Lord's passion, and frequently brought her Holy Communion - which was her only food for the last 13 years of her life. As she recognized and embraced her life's mission, she began to add voluntary sufferings to the ones God had sent her (sleeping on boards instead of on a bed, for example).God rewarded her by giving her powers of healing (healing others’ sickness), prophecy, and special visions. Lydwina's specific vocation was uncommon, but its pattern is the same for every Christian vocation, ours included: through Cross to resurrection.

Death has a new meaning now not only for Jesus but for us too, and life can have a new meaning for us, if we allow it to be shaped by this new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you.
When I love I make myself vulnerable, and if I am afraid of that, I won't love.  I will dream and sentimentalize instead.  So, to love as Jesus loved means to make ourselves vulnerable and willing to be hurt.

In other words, we must walk the way of love, loving one another as Jesus loved us, and still loves us, pouring out his life for us now in the food which is his body and the chalice of his blood. This life of love that he calls us to lead is indeed a glorious life and a joyful one, but it is still a life overshadowed by death. We must allow to die every day, so that we may truly live, and follow Christ along the path of glory through the open door into the life of God. In the face of pain and struggles let’s always remember that the way to resurrection passes through the pain of the cross.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

EASTER IV [C] Acts 13:14, 43-52; Rev 7:9, 14-17; Jn. 10:27-30

Historians tell us that the earliest popular image of the Christian faith in the Lord Jesus was not the crucifix which is perhaps the most common image for us today. It was rather the image of the Lord as the caring and loving shepherd. We do know that the two images really come together in a sense as one, because the Good Shepherd's care and love for us is so great that the Shepherd gives up his life for the sheep.

In the Old Testament, the image of the Shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people.  God chose shepherds to be the Patriarchs; he chose shepherds to be Israel's first kings; the prophets ceaselessly speak of Israel as a flock and God as their shepherd.

The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd.  “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against His breast and leading the mother ewes to their rest” (Is. 40:11).  Ezekiel represents God as a loving shepherd who searches diligently for the lost sheep.  Psalm 23 is David’s famous picture of God as The Good Shepherd: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.  In green pastures you let me graze, to safe waters you lead me.”  The prophets often used harsh words to scold the selfish and insincere shepherds or leaders of their day.  Jer 23:1: “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered."  
Jesus introduces himself as the good shepherd of his flock. He knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice: Just as the Palestinian shepherds knew each sheep of their flock by name, and the sheep knew their shepherd and his voice, so Jesus knows each one of us, our needs, our merits and our faults.  
That Jesus compares us to sheep is not a compliment, by the way. Sheep are among the dumbest of all creatures. Most animals, in many cases, will survive if released into the wild. They will learn to fend for themselves and make it. But a sheep released into the wild cannot survive. Sheep have no survival skills whatsoever. They are totally dependent upon the shepherd - just like we are. The sheep come to know that when the shepherd speaks they should follow because his plan for them is better than their plan for themselves.
In chapter ten of John’s Gospel, Jesus adds two more roles to those of the good shepherd.  He goes in search of stray lambs and heals the sick ones.  Jesus heals the wounds of our souls through the sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthens us in illness and old age with the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  Jesus dies for his sheep: (As Isaiah says, by his wounds we are healed).  Just as the shepherds of ancient days protected their sheep from wild animals and thieves by risking their own lives, so Jesus died in expiation for the sins of all people.

A shepherd walks in front of his flock, whistling or speaking or singing. The sheep follow along behind. As long as they can hear the shepherd's voice, they keep following; they have to stay close enough to hear his voice.
As long as the shepherd is close by, the wolves will not attack the sheep. Only when a sheep falls behind, out of reach of the shepherd's voice, is there danger of getting lost and being attacked. When Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me," this is the image he has in mind. 
He wants to stay close to us, and he wants us to stay close to him, close enough so we can always hear his voice. That way we can be sure to arrive safely to the rich pastures and refreshing streams of a meaningful, joyful life. He is not a distant God, and he doesn't want to save us from far away.

Unfortunately, life in today's world is noisy, and it is not always easy for us to hear the voice of our good shepherd. We are bombarded with so many other voices, so many images, so many ideas. Christ knows this, yet he still tells us, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me." No matter how noisy, dark, or stormy it gets, he knows how to make his voice heard in our hearts. We can always tune into it - that's the gift of prayer. 

He gives us his word, his grace, his sacraments, and he sends us into the world around us, to gather all the wandering and lost sheep. Our mission is to bring them back to the flock. It's not always easy.  It takes prayer, sacrifice, and patience. It takes an ongoing effort on our part to know the faith well enough to be able to answer objections. But above all, it takes sharing Christ's own love for his people, for every person. 

Today, we pray for all those who have been chosen to be shepherds among us. We pray for our religious leaders that they may live and serve their flock according to the model of the Good Shepherd. We pray for parents and guardians of our youth who are chosen to be shepherds, too. We pray for our civic leaders and all who protect us with their service. And finally, we pray for each one of us that we may be shepherds to one another by the love and care we give to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Today as we observe the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. the church invites us to reflect on the meaning of God’s call and to pray for an increase in vocations.