Great green
today.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.

As you know, over the past two weeks we have been focusing on history. There was our reflection on historical errors that keep repeating themselves because of the world’s sinful lather, rinse, repeat lifestyle. We reflected on manifest destiny, not as a political or social call, but as a call from God – by which we overcome all obstacles in furtherance of our carrying out God’s kingdom plan.

Today we hear the most well known Psalm of all – The Lord is my Shepherd. Psalm 23.

The 23rd Psalm is very well known chiefly for one reason – we hear it as we reflect on the history of a person who has died. It is said at almost every funeral home service and funeral or Requiem Holy Mass. It is, of course, comforting – being led by peaceful waters, protected, free from fear, anointed, having plenty – all is green and beautiful – but is it right?

Reading the words of Psalm 23 over and over, we are struck by the fact that it is not a mere reflection of some past benefit from God. It is not a historical re-telling of what God has done, but an indication of what God has done, is doing, and will be doing in our lives. For those who love grammar, the verb tense in the 23rd Psalm is the “habitual present.” God’s action is dynamic, regular, and repeated.

God’s Son, Jesus, is in the great right now. He is not just the past, a historical reality – the Lord was our shepherd, nor is He something we are just waiting on, off in the future – the Lord will be our shepherd. No, He is in our now.

It is time for us to take the 23rd Psalm as the prayer, poetry, and hymn of our everyday lives. All of the promises of God and the reflections of David in singing out this great hymn are about our now. Jesus is shepherding us. He is protecting us – have no fear in witnessing faith and prayer daily and publicly. He is gifting us with refreshment – that reserved for His faithful. He is feeding us, giving us rest, and calling us to follow His right path. Our God is amazing and now.

Faithful, it is about today. Let not the Psalm be a hopeful reflection only after death, but our reality today.

Who carries
who?

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest Christian images and one of the most popular even to this day.

Early Christian images were often symbolic. This was due to the need to be discreet in a world where Christians were often viewed with suspicion at best and persecuted, even to death, at worst. The image summoned up by the words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd.”

The image of the Good Shepherd often depicts Jesus carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders, bringing the lost back. The image is evocative of the power and strength of Jesus as well as of His care and concern for each of the sheep. We see Him going off among the brambles and thorns, the rocks and cliffs, among the wolves and other dangers, letting nothing stop Him from His mission of care, His rescue.

As Christians, we have the same call, but it can be muffled by our dual personality.

The call is to be imitators of the Good Shepherd. W e are to live up to our responsibility to search for the lost. How many do we know that have lost their relationship or have a broken relationship with Jesus – we need to seek them out and bring them back. Jesus gives us the grace to have the same strength He has, so we can go among the brambles, thorns, rocks, cliffs, wolves and other dangers of this world to bring them back. As He carried us back or into the fold, we are to carry others back or into the fold.

Our dual personality is such, that while we are His sheep, we too go astray at times. Our call can be muffled by the sinful attraction of the world. It is in those moments that we may have confidence that Jesus will not leave us alone and abandoned in the wild. Jesus will marshal all His resources, graces, and people to bring us back. As we carry others back, Jesus carries us.

There are great temptations and sadness, seemingly impossible obstacles in our journey with Jesus’ flock. Yet we have great power in Jesus and the strong shoulders of a great God. It is time to have confidence; it is time to work out our shoulders in scripture, prayer, and the grace of sacramental encounter. The question is not who carries who, but the confidence that that Jesus carries us and we are strong to carry each other.

The giving
door.

“I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

This one used to confuse me. I get Jesus being the Good shepherd. I can envision Him leading us, providing for us, protecting us, and rescuing us when we get lost. I also get Jesus being the perfect sacrificial lamb – the Lamb of God who by His sacrificial death took away our sins and freed us. But, what did Jesus mean when He said ‘I AM the door?’

I AM the door” is the third of seven “I AM” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s Gospel. These “I AM” proclamations point to Jesus’ Divinity for He was calling Himself by the same name as God did when Moses asked God His Name. In this statement, Jesus further clarifies that He is the exclusive way to salvation by saying that He is ‘the door,’ not ‘a door.’

As we know, sheep are completely helpless animals. Sheep graze and wander while doing so. They never look up. They get lost. Further, sheep have no homing instinct. They cannot find their way home, even if it is right in front of them. By nature, sheep are followers and they will follow each other right off a cliff. As such, sheep are totally dependent on their shepherd. Shepherds are the providers, guides, protectors, and constant companions of sheep. The relationship between the flock and shepherd was so close that a shepherd easily knows his own sheep, even if his flock gets mingled with others. This bond is so close, that each sheep recognizes its shepherds’ voice and will follow it.

At nightfall, or when the shepherd had to go do business, he would lead his sheep into the protection of a sheepfold.

There were two kinds of sheepfolds. One was a public pen found in the cities and villages. It held several flocks of sheep. There was a doorkeeper, whose duty it was to guard the door to the sheep pen and to only admit known shepherds who would call out their flocks. This is a warning to pastors – for the Lord will only allow those He recognizes.

The second kind of sheep pen was in the countryside and was built by shepherds. It was a rough rock wall with a small open space to enter. There was no gate – rather – the shepherd would protect the sheep by lying across the opening. He literally became the door or gate to the sheep.

When Jesus says, “I am the gate,” He not only reiterating His constant care and His sacrificial love, but His total dedication to complete care for us, His daily provision, His strength giving us full and abundant life.

Who is the
shepherd?

“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.

In the Old Testament Israel is at the center of the stage. Everything we read about is focused on Israel. There is a similar focus in the New Testament. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews.” As he sent out the seventy-two to spread the Gospel He told them “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Yet there are examples throughout both the Old and New Testament of salvation and glory coming to those who were outside Israel. In God’s kingdom all found welcome. Those examples were given through strangers and outsiders who encountered God’s people – Israel. As such, we see Israel as being key to God’s salvific work. Israel, the nation that came from the loins of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was to be the light to the world. It was meant to show the way toward God.

John saw the great multitude that is to surround God’s throne. People from every nation, race, people, and tongue will be with God forever. How does that come about?

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” That is what He meant, that we have gifts and joy to share. Following Him does not mean that we remain mere sheep. As Israel was to step up and act as light and shepherd to the world – and fell short in doing so at Antioch – so we now have the chance and opportunity. Our destiny is laid out for us. Once we hear His voice, and allow it to touch us and change us, we follow in being His shepherds.

Jesus, of course, is our Chief Shepherd. He is the one we all follow. What we have to resolve to do is to be practical shepherds, spiritual leaders, and Christ following examples every day. We need to lead those who are lost and in need. We need to lead people to God, not by taking control from God, but by sharing His joy, the promise of eternal life.

In the Old Testament Israel was at the center of the stage. Someone still has to point people to God, has to offer them the gifts that we have been given. As New Testament people, people of the Gospel, let us be the ones to shepherd and spread His gifts around.

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Asking for
good shepherds

A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.

We pause this Sunday to reflect on Jesus in His role as the Good Shepherd. We can easily identify with what a good shepherd does by looking at Jesus’ words in their cultural context.

Middle eastern cultures understood what good shepherding was all about. It was about feeding the lambs, bringing them to good pasture lands and water, grooming and clipping them, delivering new lambs, leading them and teaching them to stay together, going off after the wandering lost ones, and protecting the sheep in the field and in the fold.

To feed the sheep means to take care of them from the beginning of life. Good shepherds begin the lambs’ introduction to the ways of God, first with the milk of instruction and teaching in God’s way. Then the good shepherds move them to solid food – food for lives lived in righteousness so that the lambs can be fully equipped, able to stand in the day of testing.

Grooming the lambs means good shepherds honestly correct what is wrong and failing in them. Good shepherds must teach lambs discipline and encourage and rebuke them so that they stay true to the Lord and fit for His service.

Delivering the sheep means that good shepherds preach the Gospel so that many are brought to new life – born again and regenerated. Good shepherds must bring many to God’s light so that no darkness can overcome their lives.

The other side of the equation is that good shepherds lead flocks, not just individual sheep. We run into problems when we see Jesus as solely a personal Good Shepherd. True, He is Good Shepherd to us as individuals but not only. Jesus wanted to make sure that we receive all the benefits of being part of His flock, that we be fed, pastured, groomed and trained, that we stay together, that the lost among us be led back, and that we are protected.

To do all this Jesus gave us shepherds who were loyal to His way. We are blessed to have His shepherds among us to this day, who lead us in the pristine Christian faith.

Our bishops and priests maintain the flock and carry out Jesus’ work of shepherding. They further call us to be good shepherds to one another. They ask us to take up the same work of feeding, grooming, and delivering each other. Let us honor the work of our good shepherds and take their and our responsibility seriously.

Reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday 2014

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Recognize the right
Shepherd

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

Jesus begins talking about sheep, shepherds, and gates with a scene from everyday life. In Jewish villages each family owned a couple of sheep for personal use. The animals stay at night in the courtyard of the family’s house. Families in the village agree as to who will shepherd their combined flock. In the morning this shepherd goes down the street to gather the sheep. The person at the door recognizes the shepherd and opens the gate for the sheep to pass through. The shepherd has a distinct call or whistle, which the sheep recognize and follow.

We too live as a single village, a family; the family of Jesus called the Holy Church. We are God’s single flock composed sheep gathered from the courtyards of various homes. The doorkeepers in our homes are our faithful parents, particularly our mothers who were our gatekeepers. They stood watch over the gate of the home. They recognized what was best for us, what was safest, what would lead us to salvation and life. So, they opened the doors of the their homes to the Good Shepherd. They took action to recognize Jesus as the Good Shepherd, as the One who would shepherd their little flock, their children to salvation and life.

The One to Whom our mothers gave authorization, Jesus, enters into our lives in the proper fashion, through the gate. We recognize Him and He leads us to salvation and life while those without authorization, the false prophets, only have “the voice of strangers.” These forces of media, politics, celebrity, and peer group are not really powerful at all, but constantly try to draw us to ideas and aspirations that are contrary to those of our Shepherd. They want to lead us to separation, loneliness, fear, fading vanity, and death. They do not have the good of the sheep, our good, in mind but rather selfish ends of their own.

Our parents, our mothers who guard the fold, recognized the Good Shepherd. His entry into our lives was natural, out in the open, without forcing. Such has been Jesus’ entrance into this world and amongst his own people. He has come in the appropriate manner, having been sent by the Father to bring us life that is faithful, loving, dependable, and gentle.

What has been shown to us, taught to us, starting with our mothers, is the manner by which we recognize the Good Shepherd. In recognizing Him we find salvation and life.

Solemnity of All Saints and All Souls Memorials

As the remaining days of October pass the days grow shorter, the colors of autumn take hold, and our thoughts turn to the Commemoration of All Souls.

The Holy Church sets aside the month of November to commemorate those who have preceded us in holy death. As Christians we recognize that death is not an ending, but rather a change. We pass through death into everlasting life. We remain joined with all those who have died. We rely on them for their intercession on our behalf. They rely on our prayers and intercession to ease their transition, their journey into the glory of heaven.

We will remember our dearly departed during the month of November according to age-old Catholic custom of commemoration and prayer…a custom known as “wypominki.”

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If you would like the souls of loved ones to be remembered during the Commemoration of All Souls and at all services throughout the entire month of November, please send the names of these loved ones to Deacon Jim by Sunday, October 27th. Alternately, you can E-mail the names of those you wish commemorated to Deacon Jim.

We will celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints on Friday, November 1st at 7:30pm followed by the reading of the names of all the faithful departed.

There will also be a Commemoration of All Souls at Good Shepherd Parish Cemetery on Truax Road in Amsterdam, NY on Sunday, November 3rd.

Reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday

His Sheep hear His voice

I can’t hear you.
Just turn it down a little.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.

Spending time with Jesus is a wonderful experience. Over the past few weeks we listened to the Gospels that tell us of the times the disciples spent with Jesus after the resurrection: Time on the road to Emmaus, time in the locked room, and time at the beach. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that: To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. That plus the three years they had spent with Him during the time of His public ministry was a gift.

In spending time with and listening to Jesus we come to a more robust understanding of the kingdom of God just like the disciples of those days.

I had a priest friend who told me that he spent at least one hour every night praying and listening before the Blessed Sacrament. He noted that to most people the time would seem to leave little remaining for accomplishing tasks during the day. What he found was that he actually had more time, was more productive, and did better ministry.

If we look at the cartoon below (thank you Facebook friends), we see a sheep lounging, with iPod headphones on, the radio going, a magazine, computer, and a television. He is so busy, so distracted, that he cannot hear the Shepherd’s voice. He wonders to himself why he hasn’t heard from the Shepherd.

I can't hear the ShepherdJesus tells us, My sheep hear my voice. This isn’t something that magically happens. We don’t have an automatic turn-off switch that kicks in when Jesus wants to say something to us. We have to make an active listening effort. We need to set aside the distractions AND the worries and seek Jesus’ voice.

Let’s consider our lives like a radio that needs to have its station tuner adjusted every-so-often. We need to re-tune ourselves. That effort starts every Sunday morning in church. We need to set time apart to tune ourselves in to God’s word and the amazing graces He offers us through the sacraments of penance, His word, and the Eucharist. From there we need to make an active effort to fine tune ourselves each day in prayer, or scripture reading, or some other spiritual exercise (including shutting everything off and sitting down, saying to Jesus, ‘Here I am Lord, ready to listen.’)

If we make this effort we will receive the eternal life Jesus promised, in even greater abundance right here and now, and nothing will keep us from Him.