Monday, April 18, 2016

Are we men, or are we…sheep?

The sheep were hurting and they were worried because their shepherd had been taken away from them. They didn’t know what they were going to do, so as all groups do when they don’t know what to do, they formed a committee.

Baa, said one of them.  We don’t need a committee to get a shepherd.” “Yes we do, bleated others, “ because that Last Shepard taught us so much about what it means to be a sheep, and part of that is to take action and responsibility.  We have to find somebody who knows what it means to be a sheep and isn’t too sheepish about letting us know what is best in our own lives”.                                            

“We have to have someone who is going to spend time with us.  Not just lead us from meadow to barn to meadow day after day.  We need someone who will lie with us, who will even smell like us.  Someone who knows that we have unique personalities—that we are not all exactly the same.

 “ Okay, we want caring and identification what else do we want to see?”  “How do we want that person to show their care?” asked a member of the flock.

“ First of all, they have got to get to know who we are, that we are more than a future serving of Shepard’s pie or a knit sweater, who will go after Mary’s lost little lamb and scare off the wolves, who isn’t ashamed to hold us when we’re hurting.  The Good Shepherd really cared for us.  How might we get that in the next shepherd?”

“Are we sure that we need a new Shepherd”, asked one of the sheep, nervously, but with conviction.”  “I mean, we watched this past one very closely.  We learned a lot from him.  He taught us that, as sheep, we can be more than we think we are.  We can learn to care for other like he cared for us.”

“What?  Are you crazy?  Of course we need a shepherd,” brayed the flock.
They were beside themselves.   This had never been done before and what were the other flocks going to say?   But some were curious.  “Tell us more about this idea.”

 “Well I haven’t really formulated it. It’s just a sense that if we all joined together and did for each other what our good shepherd did for us, we could be our own shepherds.”

We humans are not sheep.  We know that, and we don’t want to be treated as if we were, in the sense of always being watched and not going anywhere we are not led.  At the same time we are one.  We are flock, we are congregation, we are community. We had a good shepherd who laid down his life for us. When the soldiers came for Jesús, He protected his apostles:  “I’m the one you’re looking for.  Leave these others alone.” He was the good shepherd who came from the chief Shepherd, the one who created us. He taught us what it really means to be a human being.  That there’s a dimension beyond our understanding, even beyond our basic hopes and dreams.

The main desire we have as a people is to avoid death.  We don’t like endings, for things to stop.  We want to live forever. Jesus  heard that yearning and said: “okay, we can do that.  It might not be exactly the way you’d think, but it will be eternal life for your soul, so that you can know that whatever happens in this world, I am with you from mine. Then you will know that we can join together—be in communion, where our worlds become one.  We can help each other live.“

Instead, we are in danger of being consumed by a culture of death, without resurrection.  We settle our disputes, foreign and domestic, by killing each other.  We belittle those who are different, and build walls and fences to isolate from each other.  We are so afraid of threats from outside that we become threats inside to our most basic desires.

Someone writing on the internet about a USA need for protection from outsiders referred to Europe: immigrants are coming into Europe taking the Europeans’ land and replacing European culture with their own ways.  We can’t let that happen here, the writer complains. 

But it did happen here!  That is exactly how this country was settled. Isn’t that what we did to the Native Americans because we wanted their land? Isn’t that what we did to the Mexicans when we changed their borders to ours?

One of the hymns about shepherds turns the noun into a verb.  Shepherd me O God beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.  Our wants and fears are temporary, and lead to death.  But we believe that death is temporary.  Life is eternal.  When we connect with the Good Shepherd and shepherd each other, we enter into eternal life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Here is the homily I gave on the Third Sunday of Easter, April 10, 2016.

It is The Lord!!

What a strange way for St. John to have expressed himself! He writes: this was now the third time Jesús was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. Not this was the third time the disciples saw Jesús, but the third time Jesús was revealed to them, or appeared to them.

When we see a friend, we do not tell others that our friend was revealed to us or appeared to us. . We just say: “I saw my friend”. So what is John trying to tell us?

 A revelation, when it appears, transforms us.  We see reality in new and different ways.  The author of the Book of Revelation experienced the appearance of a multitude singing and praising God.  He did not see this; it appeared to him.  Through the revelation he was better able to understand that Jesús, the slain Lamb, is still worthy to receive honor and glory and blessing.  He has Risen from death – gone beyond it..

Death appeared to one of my sisters and me a year ago tonight, at our mother’s bedside.  We did not SEE death, but as death appeared to us, as it was revealed to us, it was not tragic or threatening.  There was a certain peace and assuredness that all was well with her.  We lost her, but she was not lost.  Death had no power over her.

During the past year, of course, we have missed her terribly and thought and dreamed of her often.  But the revelation as a result of death’s appearance to us, while not perfectly clear or simple to relate, has increasingly convinced at least me that there is nothing to fear.  Hope and trust replace fear and trembling.

This is why the apostles were able to tell the Sanhedrin:  “We have been witnesses to a great revelation each time Jesús, whom you killed, has appeared to us.  He is more powerful than death. We do not always recognize him at first, but each time he does Jesús-like things, it is revealed that he still lives and appears among us each time we break the bread and drink from the cup, and each time we obey his command to love one another by putting each one’s need before our own.  You can lock us up or tell us to stop giving witness, but we have learned that we must obey God rather than men.”

No human institution, whether political or religious, has the right to take away our conscientious decision to obey the law of Love, as it is revealed to us.  Pope Francis emphasizes this truth in his new document, the Joy of Love.  We will be discussing the document in coming weeks.

If the resurrection of Jesús does not compel us to give witness to his way of loving, then it is merely a teaching and not a revelation.  If the resurrection does not reveal to us our call to love, to feed and to be willing to suffer for the truth, as means to eternal life, our mourning will never be turned into dancing. 

Faith in the Resurrection not just of Jesús but in my mother, in our loved ones, in all who have died and in our own divine share of God’s life bears witness to abrupt, transformative newness that I cannot explain. I can only share what has appeared and been revealed.  The Risen Jesus appears where least expected, and everything is changed. The death defying power of Christ Risen has the capacity to work newness where newness seems impossible.

When we live the Resurrection by being the Risen Christ, we can say to each other, as did the disciple Jesús loved, “It is the Lord!”  He has risen indeed. Alleluia!