Sheep Without a Shepherd

A meditation from “The Word Among Us,” Mark 6:34-44

Have you ever wondered what it’s like for a shepherd to care for his sheep? We conjure up images of peace and quiet, of green pastures and rolling hillsides. But it’s not always so pleasant. If the shepherd doesn’t keep his flock together and moving in the right direction, he risks losing them. It is also common knowledge that sheep are not very bright. Without proper guidance, an unwitting sheep will graze on food that looks enticing but that is dangerous for it. Should it get lost in the wilderness, it will eat whatever it finds, including weeds and unhealthy forage.

What does this have to do with us? Well, if Jesus is the good shepherd, one of his priorities is to make sure we are eating food that will nourish us. Of course, we are not dumb animals like sheep. But it is still true that without Jesus’ guidance, we risk feeding ourselves in fields of doubt, self-centeredness, pride, or fear.

Jesus wants us to follow him because he knows what is good for us. He wants to give us good things. He wants to feed us with the heavenly food of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. He knows that if we eat his food, we will lose our desire for the “food” of the world—the philosophies of life that only spoil and weaken us.

Mark tells us that the people who ate the bread Jesus gave them were filled and “satisfied” (Mark 6:42). And that is exactly what Jesus can do for us. We can experience his love deep in our hearts. His peace can fill our minds and calm our fears. We can experience joy in the knowledge that Christ is in us. We can find the answers to our most pressing challenges and problems—all because we have taken Jesus as our shepherd and guide.

Keep these thoughts in mind the next time you go to Mass. As you sing praises to the Lord, listen to his word, and receive him in Communion, tell him that you want him to fill you. Thank him for shepherding you—and tell him that you want to stay close to him, safe in his flock.

Thank you, Jesus, for being my good shepherd and providing the spiritual food that I need. Lord, I want to be satisfied by you!
Thank you, Jesus, for being my good shepherd and providing the spiritual food that I need. Lord, I want to be satisfied by you!

God Believes in Us Before We Believe in Ourselves

Have you ever wished you could have an extreme makeover?

Extreme-makeover television shows are very popular these days, probably because people enjoy seeing how a plain-looking person or a run-down old house can be transformed into a stunning display of poise and beauty. These shows always end with the “big reveal” of the newly transformed person or home, to the breathless adulation of the people witnessing it. Who wouldn’t be impressed? Something average has been turned into something outstanding!

Perhaps this is why the story of Jonah is so popular. The city of Nineveh was one of the largest and most powerful cities of its time. As capital of the Assyrian empire, it was also known as one of the meanest cities. Gobbling up land and overthrowing kingdoms throughout the Fertile Crescent, the Ninevites were ruthless in the way they waged war and tortured their captives.

So when God first sent Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh to repent, Jonah balked. Converting all those darkened violent hearts? Impossible. All he could see was their brutality. But God saw something more. He saw their potential.

As the story unfolds, we see that Jonah was wrong; Nineveh underwent an extreme makeover of biblical proportions! But even that wasn’t enough for God. He went out of his way to soften Jonah’s hardened heart and show him just how deep his mercy runs.

God believed in the people of Nineveh and Jonah even before they believed in themselves. In the same way, God believes in our potential, even when we don’t understand it or we don’t believe it ourselves. He knows that he can do great things with us. He never loses faith in what we can become or what we can do.

Today, remember that God has an extreme makeover ready for you. No matter how weak or flawed you may think you are, he sees something beautiful and valuable: a person created in his own image and likeness. He can work with that and turn you into something outstanding.

Prayer: “Lord, thank you for seeing such potential in me. Help me to see myself—and the people around me—through your eyes.”

Readings for the day:

Jonah 4:1-11
Psalm 86:3-6, 9-10
Luke 11:1-4

[Originally posted on Word Among Us, 10/07/2015 (paywall)]

Jesus Washed Our Feet Like a Slave

“The tiredness of priests! Do you know how often I think about this weariness which all of you experience? The most profound and mysterious image of how the Lord deals with our pastoral tiredness is that, ‘having loved his own, he loved them to the end’: the scene of his washing the feet of his disciples, I like to think of this as the cleansing of discipleship. The Lord purifies the path of discipleship itself. He gets involved with us, becomes personally responsible for removing every stain, all that grimy, worldly smog which clings to us from the journey we make in his name.

“The disciples did not understand the washing of the feet. In that time, it was customary to do this. Because the people, when they arrived at a house, had dirty feet from the dust of the road. There were not cobblestones in those days…. And at the entrance of the house, your feet were washed. But this was not done by the head of the house. It was done by slaves. It was the work of slaves. And Jesus washed our feet like a slave. The Lord, when he washes our feet, cleanses everything. He purifies us. He makes us again feel his love.

“I will wash the feet of 12 of you, today. But I also need to be cleansed by the Lord. Pray for this during this Mass, that the Lord also washes my filth and that I become more your slave and more a slave in the service of the people, like Jesus was.”

Pope Francis, excerpt, Homily for Holy Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pope Francis Gives Roman Curia 15 Lumps of Coal for Christmas

On December 22, 2014, Pope Francis did not pull back any punches in chastising the highest-ranking officials within the Vatican leadership: the Roman Curia.  I was surprised to read the sharp criticism.  It’s like Santa gave each of the Cardinals 15 pieces of coal as Christmas gifts.  I imagine many Cardinals felt embarrassed.  It must not have been easy for Pope Francis, either.  Color commentary said the Pope read straight from his script and did not look up with impromptu elaboration like he usually does.  The full English translation can be found on America Magazine.  Here is a summary of the 15 “diseases”:

Pope Francis Chastises Roman Curia
Pope Francis Chastises Roman Curia
  1. The sickness of considering oneself “immortal,” “indispensable” and lacking the necessary and habitual controls.  It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live forever and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves to be superior to others, rather than at their service.
  2. The sickness of excessive industriousness, or “Martha-ism,” is present in those who immerse themselves into work and neglect spending the better part sitting at Jesus’ feet (contemplative prayer).
  3. The sickness of mental and spiritual hardening occur in those who conceal themselves behind paper, who become working machines rather than of men of God.  These people cannot weep with those who weep, or rejoice with those who rejoice… sentiments that were present with Jesus Christ.
  4. The sickness of excessive planning and functionalism is when the apostle plans everything in detail and believes that things effectively progress with perfect planning.  They try to regulate or domesticate the Holy Spirit instead of being faithful to the Spirit’s freshness, imagination or innovation.
  5. The “sickness of poor coordination develops when the communion between members is lost, and the body loses its harmonious functionality and its temperance, becoming an orchestra of cacophony because the members do not collaborate and do not work with a spirit of communion or as a team”.
  6. Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive decline of one’s spiritual faculties.  These are people who are incapable of carrying out certain activities autonomously, living in a state of absolute dependence on one’s own often imaginary views.  We see this in those who have lost their recollection of their encounter with the Lord, in those who build walls around themselves and who increasingly transform into slaves to the idols they have sculpted with their own hands”. [Ouch.]
  7. The sickness of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the color of one’s robes, insignia and honors become the most important aim in life.
  8. Existential schizophrenia: the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that cannot be filled by degrees or academic honors. This ailment particularly afflicts those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality and with real people. They create a parallel world of their own, where they set aside everything they teach with severity to others and live a hidden, often dissolute life”.
  9. The sickness of “chatter, grumbling and gossip: this is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord, like Satan, and in many cases cold-blooded murderers of the reputations of their colleagues and brethren. It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs”.
  10. The sickness of deifying leaders is typical of those who court their superiors, with the hope of receiving their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, honoring people rather than God. They are people who experience service thinking only of what they might obtain and not of what they should give. They are mean, unhappy and inspired only by their fatal selfishness”.
  11. The disease of indifference towards others arises when each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity and warmth of personal relationships. When the most expert does not put his knowledge to the service of less expert colleagues; when out of jealousy … one experiences joy in seeing another person instead of lifting him up or encouraging him”.
  12. The illness of the funereal face: or rather, that of the gruff and the grim, those who believe that in order to be serious it is necessary to paint their faces with melancholy and severity, and to treat others – especially those they consider inferior – with rigidity, hardness and arrogance. In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity”.
  13. The disease of accumulation: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential emptiness of the heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but simply to feel secure.
  14. The ailment of closed circles: when belonging to a group becomes stronger than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, to Christ Himself.
  15. Then, there is the “disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power. This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others”.

Homily on the Holy Family by Pope Paul VI

Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him.

Here we can learn to realize who Christ really is. And here we can sense and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth: the places, the tenor of the times, the culture, the language, religious customs, in brief everything which Jesus used to make himself known to the world. Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning. Here we can learn the importance of spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and to live by the teachings of his Gospel.

How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths. But here we are only on pilgrimage. Time presses and I must set aside my desire to stay and carry on my education in the Gospel, for that education is never finished. But I cannot leave without recalling, briefly and in passing, some thoughts I take with me from Nazareth.

First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.

Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings; in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children—and for this there is no substitute.

Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value—demanding yet redeeming—and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.

In closing, may I express my deep regard for people everywhere who work for a living. To them I would point out their great model, Christ their brother, our Lord and God, who is their prophet in every cause that promotes their well being.

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