The Good Shepherd 4-22-2018

April 19th, 2018

For most of us I think it is safe to say this image of the Shepherd is not something we see very much everyday. It was a very common scene in the early Church: – it is a common scene in the Middle East. People in the early Church could really understand what was involved in being a shepherd. It was very real and earthy to them. The Biblical figure of the Shepherd – has been romanticized a lot in paintings, pictures, Holy Cards, “rosy cheeked young men – among pure white fluffy sheep on beautiful green hillsides – very serene and peaceful.”

I did a little research into what Shepherds were like in the Time of Jesus. It was a very lonely, dirty, dangerous job – that could not be managed from a distance. Shepherds lived among the sheep in the filth and stench – the lives of the sheep were their primary concern. A sheep sometimes wandered far off from the others – when it got lost and could not find it’s way back, it would simply lie down where it was and refuse to budge – the shepherd would search out for the lost sheep – carefully pick it up and carry it home. There was a personal relationship between the Shepherd and each individual sheep. They were not just numbers.

I believe this image of the Shepherd points us to God. God is not squeamish; God will not run away when things get messy in our lives; – God’s hands are dirty (not lily white); God’s clothes are stained with waste, mud and blood – the waste, mud and blood of our roller coaster lives. This God gets in the middle of the mess with us.
Does the mess magically disappear? Not most of the time; but there is a sense we are not alone and that helps us get through it. A key question for us; Are we afraid to share our messes with God?

How does this shepherding image of God come alive? Become real to people – Today –
I believe most of the time thru people – we are called to be shepherds for each other. We are responsible to pick each other up when we are down.
“I thought just priests and ministers were shepherds – no we all are if we call ourselves Christian and mean it.”

“Don’t we need special skill and talents – training to do this? No! We need a caring heart, a little common sense and a few less excuses.

“What about when you don’t have the answers or solutions to people’s problems? You don’t know what to say or do. Just listen and just be there for them.

I close with a story I am sure we all have heard;
A man dreamed he died and went to heaven and there was met by Jesus. The man had lived a long Christian life, but it had not been without some time of great trial and tribulation as well as those times of joy and victory. As he met with Christ, the man was given a panoramic review of his life – all the highlights and low periods. In the review of his life one of the things that continued throughout were his footsteps along the sands of time.
The man noticed that at those times in his life when it had really been rough there was only one set of footprints – not two as in the good times. The man turned to the Lord and said, “Lord, I don’t understand. You promised to be with me always. But when I look back now, I see that in those really rough times there was only one set of footprints. Lord, why did you leave me then?”

The Lord looked at him, smiled and said, ‘Leave you? I didn’t leave you at all. Dear friend, if you look at the one set of footprints carefully, you’ll notice they are a little deeper than the others. Those were the time I was carrying you.”

The Teens Who Knew Where To Stand 4-15-2018

April 12th, 2018

In a local church community, some of the teens complained that the only time it seemed that they were needed or noticed was when there was cleanup after social events. Their wise youth ministry coordinator challenged them to come up with a solution. Their solution changed their community.
For five weeks in a row, at the same time and same door, the same pair of teens would gather at the three entrances of the church. As some of the “regulars” and others would arrive, the teens would extend their hands with a smile and announce, “Welcome to our church”. After dismissal, the faithful would leave by the same route, being greeted again by the same teens, who thanked them for their attendance.
By the third week, smiles appeared on the faces of the adults and families who were greeted by these teens with their familiar chant. This continued for two more weeks, with pats on the back, more smiles, and much feedback to the pastor.
The sixth week, the teens did not show up at their assigned spots. They were still at church, but in the pews with their own families. What do you think the question was in the pews that morning? Where are those teens?
Parishioners soon found out as they walked to their cars in the parking lot after Mass. They discovered printed invitations on their car windshields that simply read, “Did you miss us? Come to the hall?” Curious now, many parishioners went back into the building, where they passed between two rows of teens giving them a standing ovation.
That church community hasn’t been the same since. Many creative ministries are happening there now, all kick-started by the teens who knew where to stand.

God’s Mercy 4-8-2018

April 8th, 2018

Last year Pope Francis called a wonderful jubilee of mercy. I was so excited when he did this and I really wanted to make it a special year for myself and the people of the parish. What I had to do first, I had to get a better understanding of what is mercy, exactly. To some people’s modern ears it sounds like weak surrender or cheap forgiveness or even worse, the self-satisfied flinging of a coin to a homeless person. I did not want to let Pope Francis down so I began my search to understand mercy better.
As I was looking I came across a definition of mercy by a Jesuit priest name Fr. James F. Keenan. “Mercy” he says is the willingness to enter into the chaos of another. This definition unlocked my imagination, and I was immediately flooded with images and stories.
Mercy is the Holy Child Jesus Church community in Queens. When a desperate mother left her newborn son in the church’s manger scene in late November, multiple parish families stepped forward to adopt him. “I think it’s beautiful,” Fr. Christopher Heanue, the church administrator, said. “A church is a home for those in need, and she felt, in this stable – a place where Jesus will find his home – a home for her child.” Parishioners have two name suggestions for the baby: John, because he came before Jesus to prepare the way; and Emanuel, which means “God is with us.”
Mercy is the Intergenerational Learning Center at Providence Mount St. Vincent in Seattle – a preschool inside a nursing home. Through planned and spontaneous activities, the kids and the seniors interact throughout the day, sharing in art projects, exercise, story time, and more. Both the youngsters and the residents have a lot to offer one another and a lot to receive.
Mercy is a mother who sleeps on the floor of her three year-old son’s room at 2:00am because he thinks there are monsters in there.
Mercy is Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan, who partnered with Chicago city government officials to organize Thanksgiving dinner for the city’s 17 families of Syrian refugees . And mercy is the nonprofit organizations – many of them Catholic – that have proclaimed “Refugees welcome” in states were elected officials have threatened to close their doors.
Mercy is when a person returns to the Sacrament of Reconciliation after decades, nervous as can be and embarrassed to have forgotten the act of contrition, and the confessor responds with warmth, gentleness, and bit of good humor.
Mercy is the hashtag #PorteOuverte, or “Open Door,” that scores of Parisians used on the night of the terror attacks there to signal that they would open their homes to anyone who needed shelter.
Mercy is Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia, where you can spend an extra dollar to have a post-it put up on the wall. Homeless members of the community are then welcome to come in to the shop and trade in a post-it for a slice.
Mercy is the Gospel stories of the prodigal son, the woman caught in adultery, Matthew the unscrupulous tax collector, and Peter the denier. The forgiveness they receive does not condone them in their selfishness. They are not condoned, but redeemed.
These images of mercy share some things in common. Each example features the element of “willingness” that Keenan emphasizes. Instead of avoiding or dismissing the chaos of another, these practitioners of mercy move toward the chaos with creativity and boldness. They make me wonder, “If we Catholics were 10 times bolder and more creative in our practice of mercy than we are right now, how might things be different?” Well, we’d probably have preschools in all our nursing homes and refugees at all our family parties, for starters.
I close, Mercy the willingness to enter the chaos of another human being. Thank you God for the mercy you show all of us.