Fourth Sunday of Easter
One of the joys of the daily exercise walk where I live at present are the variety of routes along the Cherwell river, the Oxford canal or though footpaths that lead through fields full shooting crops or of sheep. I have long known sheep are not at all stupid, each has its own character and they are quick to recognize somebody familiar.
I mean them no harm, I haven't a dog to walk so as the weeks have passed by one small group has become quite accepting of me, maybe because I stop and chat to them (a budding St Francis here!). So in the Gospel of John (Jn10) when Jesus says that 'the sheep hear his (the shepherds) voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out' (Jn 10:3) I can fully understand what he means, they do recognise their friends. Just as they scatter when strangers come near.
How does this help us? Perhaps we can build into our meditations and faith journey this week a sense of belonging, for enforced lockdown is having some very important lessons to teach us, not only about how valuable our planet is, but that we are not the only ones who inhabit it and have need of its gifts, such as the shared resources we have taken too much for granted, how the absence of others makes us realise how important the simple affectionate bonds we have with others are so important. Not least perhaps an appreciation of nature and of other creatures, who, freed from our isolation and rejoicing in their time of jubilee, which is absence of human interference, are retaking places we had driven them from in our selfish supposition that humans have a right to do what they like. Well I hope that lesson is beginning to hit home, that we can't, not only that they belong with us and hep us. How many of you have found your pets an enormous help at this time? I have and spending time with them has made us more attuned to each other! .
But let us go back to our sheep!
The images Jesus gives us do not sit easily with any sentimental vision of little lambs following a bucolic Christ, I've just commented that the sheep I know are individuals and they can be headstrong too, not only that, they can make bad choices by following one another into danger, or catch unpleasant diseases or can be attacked by predators, that is why they need the shepherd who knows them and is prepared to do all he can to keep them safe, healthy and alive. Yet Jesus isn't satisfied with one image of shepherd, he pushes us to make other connections, quite radical ones!
Take psalm 23, one we all know in part if not fully. This is a wonderful psalm of connections, I have found verses of it coming into my head unbidden on my walks as I literally walked in green pastures, beside the restful waters, and yes at dusk with a thunderstorms coming in that dark valley. But it is much more than that, the psalm is one of belonging, I belong to this shepherd who will help me through all these things, but I also belong with others, I am at the table set for me with others, even my foes are before me, I am never alone!
So, back to John's images, Jesus is also the voice we have to recognise and connect with, he is the gatekeeper but also the gate of our sheepfold, and we have to learn the way towards him, the Gospel way!
So, as we ponder on what it means to be a follower of Christ, perhaps like me things are being stripped away from you, supports you though so essential are no longer as important as they were. Yet in the pastures of our own lives, this Pandemic is teaching us the Gospel, change, repent, start again, and appreciate what you have. I now know a little of what nourishes me spiritually, Scripture, gentle prayers, silence, others care, nature, thoughts and memories that are alive. Yes like you I miss the Eucharist and shall be glad when I can celebrate, but I now share the poverty of not having that weekly, daily luxury. Yet, in all of this the Lord comes, is present and stays:
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.'(Ps 23:3)
Good Shepherd Sunday
MAY 12, 2019
"Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is attentive to each one of us; He seeks us and loves us, giving us His word, knowing our hearts in depth, our desires and our hopes, as well as our failures and our disappointments. He receives and loves us as we are, with our good points and our bad points. He gives each one of us "eternal life": that is, He offers us the possibility of living a full life, without end. Moreover, He guards us and guides us with love, helping us to go on impervious paths and at times risky roads that appear in the path of life.
To the verbs and gestures that describe the way in which Jesus, the Good Shepherd, relates to us, are compared the verbs that regard the sheep, namely, us: "hear my voice," "follow Me." They are actions that show in what way we must respond to the Lord's tender and considerate attitudes. To listen to and to recognize His voice implies, in fact, intimacy with Him, which is consolidated in prayer, in the heart-to-heart encounter with the divine Teacher and Shepherd of our souls. This intimacy with Jesus, this being open, speaking with Jesus, reinforces in us the desire to follow Him, coming out of the labyrinth of mistaken ways, abandoning egoistical behaviours, to set out on new ways of fraternity and of the gift of ourselves, in imitation of Him.
Let's not forget that Jesus is the only Shepherd who speaks to us, who knows us, who gives us eternal life and guards us. We are His flock and we must only make an effort to hear His voice, while He scrutinizes with love the sincerity of our hearts. And from this constant intimacy with our Shepherd, from this conversation with Him, springs the joy of following Him, allowing ourselves to be led to the fullness of eternal life."
Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ
As Kingfishers Catch Fire
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is -
Chríst - for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
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