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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Good Shepherds

"Jesus said: 'I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'" Jn 10:11

God as our good shepherd has always been an attractive, inviting and empowering notion for believers. In the ancient world, shepherds were the underclass. Although they had no voice in the society, they played critically important roles, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own sheep pens, shepherds were hired to look over the sheep of many families in a common pen throughout the night, and  while they were able to rest, they could not sleep since it was their task to protect the sheep from predators. In order to do this effectively, shepherds would lie down across the opening of the sheep pen in order to protect the sheep entrusted to them. That the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament remind us that God and Jesus are shepherds, willing to give their lives for their sheep, is both comforting and challenging

These days, because people are living so much longer, children often become "shepherds" to their parents, and it is these "children" caring for their parents who show us a new face of God's unconditional love. Every time I visit a hospital or nursing home and encounter people feeding and clothing their parents of a daily basis, I am moved and strengthened by their generosity and unselfishness. Theirs is a heavy burden, but like Good Shepherds, they do it graciously and compassionately.

Today, thank someone who has been a Good Shepherd to you.



What is your most helpful image of God?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Lasting Discipleship

"Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?'” Jn 6:67

When friends are not who we thought them to be, especially if they speak poorly of us, we are disappointed and disillusioned.  We might even be tempted to end our friendship, or at the very least step away from it for a while. Shock does that to us. Unsure of someone else, we also wonder how we missed something important about them. Were we so needy that we failed to realize that our relationship was not as secure or as deep as we imagined?

John's gospel reminds us that not all of Jesus' disciples remained true to him. Discipleship, like friendship, is built not on completely understanding the other, but on trusting that the relationship is authentic and rooted in God's love and the truth of the Gospel. Because we know that God is faithful, we can trust that whatever God teaches is for our good and glory of God. Trusting God is the root of our faith and faithfulness.

Today,  ask not for understanding but acceptance.

How do you manage the loss of a friendship?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ongoing Conversion

“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’" Acts 22:6-8

Most conversions are not as dramatic as St Paul's, but almost all of us have Epiphany moments, times when the light goes on and we see clearly how God has been active in our lives, and most of these events come when we least expect them. At the same time, it is important not to focus too much on any single event or moment in our lives. Conversion moments are intended to give us a direction, not get us stuck waiting for more insight and consolation.

Most important, we need to remember that conversion is a life long process which will have its dark and light moments, and that God is in the middle of them all. For St Paul, the terrible memories of persecuting Christians, or people of the Way as he called them, never left him, but shaped his entire life. Knowing how violent and committed he could be to eradicating what he perceived to be error, helped him use the same energies for good. Though painful, St Paul's memories served as a constant reminder to change his life for the sake of  God's people and the Gospel. Our painful moments can do the same.

Today, take a moment to pray in gratitude for your own conversion moments.

What about your own conversion continues to guide your faith journey?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Studying Scripture

“'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?'”

Unfortunately, in a Twitter world where all communication is limited to 280 characters, too many believers cling to or focus on one phrase from the Gospel and use it as a lens for their spiritual lives. Doing this almost always leads to misunderstanding and confusion.  The New Testament cannot be fairly read or understood when we remove it from its own cultural context and setting.

The Ethiopian eunuch reading the scriptures alone knew he needed help and asked Philip to instruct him There should be little doubt that Philip responded to this seeker's request using all the information and skill he had. Blessed with so much wonderful scholarship and insight, we ought to follow Philip's example in the 21st century.

Today, pick up a Catholic study bible and read the introduction to one of the Gospels.

Who or what most helped you to understand the scriptures more deeply?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Persecution for the sake of God's Reign

"Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." Acts 8: 3-4

It is startling to hear about Saul's (St Paul's) violent assault on those professing faith in Jesus. It is one thing to attack men physically, but dragging women out of their homes and throwing them into prison tells us not only about Saul's vitriol, but about the level of upset the Jewish community had with those who would soon be called Christians. Violence against women, and others without social standing, is always a sign of a person or culture that is out of control.

At the same time, it is important for us to hear about and accept how difficult life was for the first Christians. Not only did the followers of Jesus venture forth into a hostile Gentile world, they felt enormous pressure from within the community out of which they came. In order to follow Jesus, they risked everything, and eventually lost everything, even their lives. But it was the promise that when they lost their lives they would gain eternal life that gave them the courage to let go, to continue to preach the Good News, and not worry about the results. Their task was to be faithful, not to be successful.

While too many people in the 21st century continue to be persecuted for their religious convictions, Christians know that suffering for the reign of God is worth it when done for the right reasons. Jesus' promise to give life to those who die for the sake of the Good News remains the ground upon which we build our lives.

Today, accept whatever ridicule comes your way for professing the Gospel.

Have you ever suffered for your Gospel convictions?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Speaking the Truth Despite the Cost

"As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them;' and when he said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7: 59-60

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Feed Someone

"Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life." Jn 6:27

While Jesus accepted the people who followed him for who they were, he also knew that some sought him out for the wrong reasons, and he regularly corrects and challenges them and us not to look to him  only for miracles and food, but to pray and work for a food that will last.

Although we know this side of Jesus, it can be difficult to accept his directives, especially when we are struggling. Anxious to be free of suffering for ourselves or others, we pray for God's intervention without bothering to think or even wonder whether our desire will help build God's reign.

When we read the scriptures about the people Jesus healed, we are reminded not to focus too narrowly on the wonder of healing, but on the life of faith which the healed person led. Mark's gospel is especially telling in this regard. "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." (Mk 10:52) Ultimately, the healing of Jesus is for others. Jesus expect those he heals to "go" and announce the Good News by the way they live and care for others.

Today, feed someone with kindness.

What most interferes with your following Jesus freely?