Monday, June 8, 2015

The Shepherd - God Is With Us

I think God wished to tell me something this week, as I noticed the varied events of my life meshing together to a common theme.
It began last week as I finished a novel entitled The Shepherd, by Ethan Cross.  It was a good who-done-it read, albeit at times gory.  As I read, I knew the good guy would win out in the end, but it WAS a surprise ending:  all the gore I had read about earlier was faked; it was all an elaborate test of the good guy to see if he had the will (and moral strength??) to be “A Shepherd”.  A small group of people, designating themselves as shepherds, vowed to protect society by tracking down wolves, the deeply evil, and … well, you can guess what they’d do.  I found the novel’s ending interesting, but somewhat disquieting. 
And if I were really attuned to the Lord’s ways, I guess I should have expected what happened next.
I went to mass the next day and the Gospel reading was about (surprise!) The Good Shepherd, and I couldn’t help but reflect on the differences between the two shepherd stories.  In the novel, the shepherd protects the flock by becoming a quasi-bounty-hunter.  He protects society as a whole, in general; he is unknown by anyone, unrecognized.  He decides who the wolf is, and judges the punishment to inflict.  He acts as a god.
In the Gospel, The Good Shepherd does not leave his flock, and “My sheep know me, and I know my sheep” --- and they all know him well.  They know the sound of His voice.  The Good Shepherd protects his flock by leading them from danger, and he only goes out if one of them is lost, to find him.  The Good Shepherd does not focus on judging wolves; he focuses on loving his sheep.
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On Saturday morning, I attended a talk by Deacon Alex Jones, the man who for 40 years was a Protestant minister, until he (with the Holy Spirit) studied his way into the Catholic Church, bringing his wife and many of his flock with him.  Because the focus of the Saturday event was the coming feast day of Corpus Christi, Dcn. Jones focused his conversion story on how he discerned the growing importance of holy communion as celebrated in his Protestant church, and how he discovered that priests were ordained shepherds, successors of the apostles and Jesus --- but his Protestant ordination was not so ordained.  He lovingly spoke of how his yearning for a truly consecrated Holy Communion grew, and how he humbly knelt at the altar to receive his first Holy Communion as a Catholic.
As I listened to Dcn. Jones’ story, I heard him describe his deep trust in God to lead him, even as others were telling to only trust them, and not “the demon Catholic Church.”.  Following God and trusting God was not easy; he lost many friends along the way.
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Last week’s church bulletin contained the witness of a parish member, a good man, who raised good children, many of whom are now priests and sisters.  He was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, “There is no cure”.  He was undergoing treatments to delay the cancer’s progress when he asked to be prayed over by members of the parish at a worship service.  “Their hands burned” as they prayed.  A subsequent doctor’s visit confirmed that he was totally cured of the cancer.
God DOES keep some wolves at bay, in His own way, in His own time, if we trust in Him.
Another friend told me this past week that her remaining sibling, her sister, is dying in the hospital.  They both are resigned to their temporary parting, confident in their future re-union, and union with God.  They are people of great trust, continuing on when trusting is hard.
And a friend dropped by my house yesterday afternoon, and I showed her the picture of the baby which had been born, and died, on Holy Saturday.  This too was a family, I reminded her, with a great trust in God, in all things.
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The Gospel on the feast of Corpus Christi told of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  When I heard the Gospel read, however, my mind focused on Jesus’ initial words, telling His disciple to go into the city and prepare the room they would use to celebrate the Passover meal --- His final meal with them, His FINAL meal.  There would be no more meetings of all these friends in this way; this was The Last Supper.
What would we do if we, like Jesus, knew this was to be our last meal with our spouse, or our children, or our friends --- our last supper?  What words would we say to those we love?  Certainly we would tell them that we love them, but oh how our hearts would be aching to stay with them.  Our children might even innocently ask of us:  “Do you have to go?” 
And our hearts would break.
Jesus felt that way.  But being God and loving us, he DID answer the tough question of His children, as only God could:  “Yes, I can stay --- and I will always be with you.”  He shared the bread with them at The Last Supper and said:  “Take it; this is my body.  Do this in remembrance of Me.”
I will always be with you.
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Good shepherds love.  That’s the message I perceived from all these events and thoughts.  And we are all called to be good shepherds.
I went to confession last week, and my words there focused on those times when I heard God’s voice --- and I recognized it --- and it spurred me to actions which, in retrospect, largely suited my own desires and ways.  Looking back, I wasn’t too far removed from the shepherd of the novel, aware that action is called for, but unwilling to trust God to lead.  I applied my own value judgments, which most often focused on satisfying me.
My penance, said Fr. Steve:  “Go into the chapel and say repeatedly:  Jesus I love You; Jesus I trust in You.”  Old people need to repeat things so they don’t forget (Fr. Steve didn’t say that.)
Good shepherds love.  The focus is not on themselves, but others.  The good shepherd accepts a hard life; he is not focused on himself, but on loving God and his neighbor --- like Jesus, like Deacon Jones, like my friends present for their dying loved ones.
Being a good shepherd is confidently knowing that God is in control, always with us as we walk the path of life; He told us so.  Being a good shepherd is giving up our need to lead, to be always right.  Being a good shepherd is always remembering to trust in Him, even when the wolves seem at the door.
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On Corpus Christi Sunday morning, I read this hymn in the Liturgy of the Hours.  It pretty well summarized all these thoughts:
Lord, who at your first Eucharist did pray
That all your Church might be for ever one,
Grant us at every Eucharist to say
With longing heart and soul, “Your will be done.”
O may we all one bread, one body be,
Through this blest Sacrament of Unity.
For all your Church, we intercede;
O make our lack of charity to cease;
Draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
By drawing all to you, O Prince of Peace;
Thus may we all one bread, one body be,
Through this blest Sacrament of Unity.
We pray then, too, for wand’rers from your fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
Back to the faith which saints believed of old,
Back to the Church which still that faith does keep;
Soon may we all one bread, one body be,
Through this blest Sacrament of Unity.
So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
May we be one with all your Church above,
One with your saints in one unending peace,
One with your saints in one unbounded love,
More blessed still in peace and love to be
One with the Trinity in Unity.

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