Pentecost Sunday 2020 ~ We need God’s Spirit now as ever before!

            The Great and Glorious Feast of Pentecost             

Sunday May 31st, 2020 

What would it be like to have something like “tongues of fire” descend upon the group with whom you were meeting? You’d be a little shocked, right? Well let me tell you the story of how that happened.

In our last blog, we celebrated the Feast of our Lord’s Ascension. After Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven, they had gathered again behind locked doors, despondent, worried, fearful, bewildered, devastated.

“[Then] suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,

and it filled the entire house in which they were. 

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire which parted

and came to rest on each one of them. 

And they were all filled with the holy Spirit

and began to speak in different tongues, 

as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-21.)

Well, there’s a parallel here to the very beginning of things . . .

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.” And then . . .

“When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place.  Suddenly from up in the sky there was a noise like a strong driving wind.

The Holy Spirit is associated with that wind.  The wind that blows where it wills. The wind that stirs things up and gets them moving.

The word for “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruah” — the same as the word for “breath.”

Often at night as I’m sitting in my chair I would just pay attention to my breathing for a while. I imagine that the Holy Spirit is the breath entering me, and when I exhale, I’m breathing out the Holy Spirit as well.

What a wonderful image is breath!  Breath is life itself.  No breath, no life in the body.

The mighty wind of Pentecost stirred things up and the church was born.  The apostles and the others who were part of their company, including some women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were given enthusiasm.  No longer afraid, they courageously preached the message that Jesus established a new order for people’s lives. They began gathering the church.  The Acts of the Apostles is in so many ways the gospel of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning of scripture, there is a story about the tower of Babel, that tries to explain why there are so many different languages on the earth that we cannot understand each other; that causes  so much discord, so much disharmony.

The story has God confusing the languages of people at Babel  (Gen. 11: 1-9) and from that day onward they were scattered.

On the day of Pentecost the opposite happened.  People were gathered together.   Parthians and Medes and Elamites; people from Cappodacia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia and Egypt  — all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own languages.

On the day of my ordination, I was filled with enthusiasm.  It was the day before Pentecost, May 24, 1969.

I was reminded of this prophecy of Joel:

I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind.

Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

your young men shall see visions.

Even upon the servants and handmaids,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29)

Those were the days immediately following the Second Vatican Council.  There was a lot of enthusiasm all over the Church.  Those of us who were young, had wonderful opportunities to serve.

The enthusiasm that poured onto me and into me lasted the first seven years of my priesthood.  The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained with me.

Nine years later, the opposite happened.  My life crashed in upon me. And I was reminded of still another scripture about the Spirit — the prophecy of the dry bones.

“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord:  “See I will bring spirit into you that you may come to life again.   Breathe into these slain, O Spirit, that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37: 1)

That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Breathe new life into the Church that the Holy Spirit will draw the church together in new ways.

There is still something else to note from the Pentecost story.  A tongue of fire rested individually on the heads of each person.  The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us, just as the Father and the Son do.  The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents of each one of us.

So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things for us!

The Spirit is also the source of inspiration for all who would design and create.

“There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the same Lord;  there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one.  To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

The body is one and has many members, many though they are, are one body;  and so it is with Christ.  It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into the one body.   All  of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit.”     I Cor. 12

In the seminary I learned to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit before each class.  And for me it was a powerful devotion.  I realized that the work I produced was more than the sum of its parts.  I realize that is still true some 51 years later.  If we seek and cooperate with God’s grace, wonderful things can and will happen that are so far beyond what we ever imagine!

But I must realize that there were also times in my priesthood when I experienced a great deal of powerlessness.  I felt like Samson who had lost his strength.  My soul had become like the valley of dry bones. I didn’t like my own mediocrity.

It is clear that I needed to bring the Holy Spirit to the foreground of my life again and again.  I would like to have a vibrant and vital relationship with the Holy Spirit from moment to moment.  In each moment of my life I hope that I will discern and follow the Spirit’s lead.

And so, an important role of the Holy  Spirit is to encourage gifts. To invite risk. To reach out beyond safe boundaries, as Pope Francis is encouraging his priests to do. To make connections. To unite. To celebrate diversity. The story of Pentecost states that the Spirit of God is uncontrollable – by us. It comes as a “strong driving wind’ and “tongues [on] fire! Or in “Trekkie” language, to go “where no one has gone before.”

The greatest saints did just that! Catherine of Siena (a woman religious!) chastised the pope. Francis Xavier undauntedly stepped off the boat in Japan into a culture very foreign to him. A peasant girl named Joan rallied the French army to victory and was burned at the stake because of it. Katharine Drexel stepped beyond boundaries to treat Blacks and Native Americans as persons. And a supposed “care-taker pope” John XXIII shocked everyone by calling a solemn Council of the Church.

They improvised! They pushed the boundaries of the established ways of doing things! They were not afraid to do things differently. They were bold and convicted in the confidence they received from the Spirit of God – just like at Pentecost. They were the innovators, the Reformers. The ones who led and changed the Church. They listened to the Holy Spirit who prompted /disturbed / prodded / led them/ inspired them / and who became their “Defense Attorney” or Advocate, i.e. “Paraclete.” They simply learned to trust that they were tuned into God from moment to moment who would guide them in what to say and do at the appropriate time.

Our world, our our country desperately needs people with that kind of enthusiasm and conviction today. We have no idea where the coronavirus and its aftermath is going to lead our nation, our church and our world. What we do know is that it will require different responses from all of us because the world will not be the same as it was before. We will have to rely on our faith and call on the Holy Spirit to give us the resources we need to adapt to whatever situations lie before us.

As for me, I pray that as I may still have some of that enthusiasm and joy and conviction to serve God’s holy people in this, now beginning the fifty-first year of my priesthood.  There’s still a lot of joy and and eagerness within me to serve!

May we celebrate on this Pentecost Sunday the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Church, in our world and in, indeed, all of creation!

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,

and enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

and You shall renew the face of the earth.

May it be so.  May it be so.

Now, here’s the ancient Sequence for the Feast ~ or if you will, a poem that occurs within the Mass . . .

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

And before you go, (A little different “Come Holy Ghost” for a change.) Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.

And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman,

Contemplative Writer

You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth!

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The Feast of the Ascension  ~ May 24th, 2020

We’re coming to the conclusion of our Easter season now, even if we don’t see any end to this drasted  coronavirus. I’ve enjoyed writing these Easter blogs for you because it’s impacted my own spirituality as I was researching and writing for you.

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery.  First was the Resurrection six weeks ago on Easter Sunday in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life will never end.

Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand (designated, you may remember as “Ascension Thursday,” but to get more people to celebrate it, the feast was transferred in most dioceses to the following Sunday~ May 24th.)

And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind on Sunday, May 31st.

All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality.  The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.

Now, let us look at today’s feast, the Ascension.

At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience.

Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to

“ . . . .wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you  will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

He was, of course, referring to Pentecost.

. . . Then he said,

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you

AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”

What would it have been like to have been there?

As we listen to the last words of Jesus to the men he had chosen to carry on his mission—men he had fondly gathered, camped out with, ate with, slept with, talked and joked with, and formed to carry on his mission. This last meeting with Jesus, Barclay says, did three things:

~ He assured them of his power. (Matthew says they doubted.)

~ He gave them a commission. He sent them out to make all the world his disciples. (It may well be that the instruction to baptize is something that is a development of the actual words of Jesus.) That may be argued about; the salient fact remains that the commission of Jesus is to bring all people to himself.

~ He promised them a presence. It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galilaeans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. But no sooner than the command was given, than the promise was fulfilled. They were sent out—as we are—on the greatest task of history, but with them there was the greatest presence in the world.

And we remember, they went out to the ends of the earth as they knew it and all were martyred for their faithfulness and zeal except for one.

Then, Acts says,  “Jesus was lifted up, a cloud took him from their sight.”

(However, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, the “lifting”  is not mentioned, just the commissioning.)

They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .

Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,

“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?

This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.

Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.

And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .

God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23)

Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology.  The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin  talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love.  When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the  “Mass on the world – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.

So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe,  and we pray in these days of the pandemic that has left no nation untouched that our Lord and our Blessed Lady would watch over us all.  And so the Feast of Ascension is also about earth.

The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky?  You and I have work to do!

YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

A witness is one who experiences with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.

A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.

I consider myself a witness to the resurrection.  I have had enough experiences of risen life, even, it might seem,  of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is true also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me.  Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through my priesthood.

Brothers and sisters, we have work to do.  We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.

Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery ~ Pentecost ~ the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.

During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.

Christ is Risen!

Now, before you go, here’s a rousing version of the wonderful hymn, Crown Him with many Crowns a. Click here.   Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

The Sixth Sunday of Easter ~ Jesus said he would send someone else to help us!

The Sixth Sunday of Easter ~ May 17, 2020

Ordinarily we human beings try to make provisions for those we will leave behind when we die; Jesus, who became fully human and fully immersed in all that we are and do, was no exception.

Some of us are concerned with anticipating and attending to the economic needs of loved ones and, to that end, we pass on to them whatever monetary wealth we’ve accumulated through the years. Sensitive to the emotional well-being of our dear ones, we may leave behind assuring messages, not only a last testament but a note, a letter or even a personal journal or a videotape. Admittedly, none of these efforts, can negate the stark reality of death, but all can, in some small way, diminish its pain.

Before he departed from his disciples in death, Jesus also attempted to ease the burden of those whom he would leave behind, not by providing for their economic, emotional or psychological needs but by seeing to their spiritual well-being. Indeed, Jesus left behind his very self so that his presence would continue to embrace, enable and empower his followers.

Three weeks ago on Easter’s Third Sunday, the risen Jesus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, explained that his abiding presence could be known and experienced in the breaking of the bread of the scriptural word and in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. Upon realizing his presence among them, the disciples burned with love and affection in their hearts.

Six weeks ago, on Easter’s second Sunday, the risen Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John breathed upon his own and indicated that from then on they would be inspired and impelled by his abiding presence to bring peace and forgiveness to a needy world.

In today’s gospel, John tells us that the abiding Spirit of Jesus within every believer sets us at odds with the world. It is the Spirit of truth whom the world does not recognize or accept. Nevertheless, and despite all odds, that Spirit has been promised us; that the Spirit will remain with us as Jesus’ living legacy until he returns.  Jesus will not leave us orphans!

That Spirit was described by Jesus as another Advocate.

William Barclay, the Presbyterian scripture scholar to whom I frequently refer gives us some insight into the word “Advocate.”  . . . . .

Jesus doesn’t leave us to struggle with the daily battle of Christian life alone. He would send us another Helper. The Greek word is parakletos. (When I was a kid, and my mom asked me what I learned that day, I said, “I learned that the Holy Spirit is a parakeet!”) How ’bout that?

Barclay says, the Greek word is really untranslatable. Some English translations render it as Comforter, but upon examining the origin of the word we “catch something of the riches of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” It really means someone who is called in; but it is the reason why the person is called in which gives the word its distinctive associations. A parakletos might be a person called in to give witness in q law court in someone’s favor.; he might an advocate called in to plead the cause of someone who had some serious charge against them. The paracletos might be someone who’s called to help in time of trouble or need.

Comforter was once a perfectly good word. It originates from the Latin word fortis; which means, brave, (or consider the virtue of fortitude) ,and a comforter was someone who enabled some dispirited creature to be brave. These days, comfort has to do mostly sorrow, and a comforter is someone who sympathizes with us when we are sad. The Holy Spirit substitutes victorious  for defeated living.

So what Jesus is saying is: “I am setting before you a hard task and sending you out on a difficult engagement, but I’m sending you someone, the parakletos, who will guide you as to what to do and enable you to do it.

Thus, the Holy Spirit as our advocate is one who represents our interests, like a defense attorney who is sincerely concerned with our well-being. As our Advocates, the Son and the Spirit will support us in all our efforts, strengthen us against every adversary, and sustain us through every trial. It is the Holy Spirit who will assure the permanence and the power of the community’s faith in the risen Jesus. For Jesus solemnly promises that he will not leave us orphans.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphans. We have been chosen! And like an older brother, Jesus is going ahead to prepare a home for us. And an unbelievable gift is about to be given us! What Christ has by nature, we are granted as gift—a share in the divine life – in the interior life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their love surrounds, supports us, nourishes us and sustains us. When the Father sees us, hears our prayers, God sees and hears the divine Son. We are not orphans; we are God’s beloved children, and our train is bound for glory. Pentecost is in two weeks.

Jesus, we’re moving to the close of our Easter season now.  Pentecost is just two weeks away.  

Grant us the grace to receive the gift of your Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide anew.

In this time of crisis we so much need a Helper, and Advocate  on so many different levels.  

You also said,

    “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.                                                                                                    And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and  reveal myself to him (14:21).”   

Help us to observe your commandments, Jesus.  They are simple: “Love one another as I have loved you.”   Help us get through this crisis by helping each other through it.

And allow us to know you and the Father.

To you and the Father and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate be all honor and glory, now and forever.

Amen.

And now before you go, here’s a simple song to the Holy Spirit by the Australian young peoples’ group Hillsong. Click here.Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.  

And here’s the link for today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ I am the Way and the Truth and the Life

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The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ May 10th, 2020

Many of us are struggling in one way or another ~ most of us financially ~ because of the coronavirus crisis and its lingering effects among us. So we might gladly hear as good news Jesus’ opening line in today’s gospel:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.

This passage appears very shortly before the apostles’ life begins to cave in (John 14:1-10).When he speaks of “his Father’s house” he’s talking about heaven, of course, and when he says there are “many dwelling places—or as Barclay calls them, “abiding places,”—Clement of Alexandria thought that there were degrees of glory, rewards and stages in proportion to a man’s achievement in holiness in this life.

Barclay suggests to us that there’s something attractive here. A lot of us think heaven is boring and static! There’s something attractive at the idea of a development which goes on even in the heavenly places.

And if there are many dwelling places in heaven, it may simply mean there’s room for all; an earthly house can become overcrowded especially in these coronavirus days,with short tempers and and all.)

It was Jesus real purpose “to prepare a place for us.” One of the great words that is used to describe Jesus is prodromos (Hebrews 6:20). It’s translated as forerunner. In the Roman army they were the reconnaissance troops that went ahead to blaze the trail.

And then Jesus said: “Where I am, there you will also be.” Here is the great truth put in the simplest way: for the Christian, heaven is where Jesus is!”

Again and again Jesus had told his disciples where he was going, but somehow they never understood. “Yet a little while I am with you, and then I go to him who him that sent me (John 7:33). Even less did they understand that the way he had to take was the Cross.

At this moment the disciples were bewildered men; they followed him, yes, but they didn’t quite get what was going on. But there was one among them who would never say he understood what he did not understand.

You might guess who that one was.

Thomas, of course!

Thomas said, “Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?

And Barclay says, that no one should ever be ashamed to express one’s doubts for it is amazingly true that he who seeks to the end will find—and the wonderful thing is that Thomas’ question provoked one of the greatest thinks Jesus ever said:

“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

That is the great saying to us, but it would be still greater to the Jew who heard it for the first time.

The Jews talked a great deal about the ways of God. “You shall walk in the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you Dt. 5:32,33). “Teach me your way, O Lord. (Psalm27: 11). 

So what did Jesus mean when he said he was “the Way”?

Jesus doesn’t tell us about the Way; He is the Way. He will take us where we need to go!

Jesus said, “I am the Truth.”

How many people have told us they have told us the truth—car sales persons, politicians, insurance brokers, realtors, bankers, journalist, husbands, wives, children and doctors who have lied to us instead.

But Jesus is the Truth. Moral truth cannot be conveyed solely in words; it must be conveyed by example. It finds its realization in him.

Jesus said, “I am the Life.”

The writer of Proverbs said, “The commandment is the lamp, and the teaching a light; and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). “You show me the path of life. (Psalm16: 11).

There is only one way to put all this: “No one, said Jesus, comes to the Father except through me. He alone is the way to God. In him we see what God is like, and he alone can lead us to God’s presence with fear and without shame

.And so, once again, dear sisters and brothers, I call you, I invite you to an intimacy with Jesus who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.  

Last week we reflected on Jesus in his image as the Good Shepherd, walking the road ahead of us, protecting us from harm as the Sheep-gate. If you feel afraid or hesitant to draw close to him, don’t be. Sometimes people who’ve been hurt by love are even afraid of God too. That’s understandable. Just don’t be afraid! There is nothing to be afraid of.  Put your big toe in. The water’s warm. You’re in for the biggest surprise of your life!

Gentle Jesus, I thank you for guiding me along the way of my life,

I thank you for leading me on my life-long search for You, my Truth;

may I finally be united to you, my Life!

But most of all, I beg of you, to be with all of those who are struggling this day in any way because of this terrible disease ~ those who are sick, those who take care of them, those who worried about their jobs and finances, those in leadership positions to help guide us through this.

And finally, bless all of our mothers, grandmothers and mothers-to-be on this Mothers’ day. 

May Our Blessed Lady watch over us all! Amen!  

And now before you go, here’s the song ” I am the way and the truth and the life.Click Here. 

And here are this Sunday’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them.Click here.   

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2                                Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 154-9.

 

 

 

 

Shepherd me, O God ~ Do you really want God to shepherd you?

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The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ May 3rd, 2020

Good Shepherd Sunday

Have you ever thought about how shepherds handle their sheep? In many places even today they follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They’re not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.

Muse a bit about  Jesus as the Good Shepherd – Jesus walking ahead of us along the way. He shows us the way. He’s been there ahead of us. In Mark 10:32, we are told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them. And that’s how it can be with you and me!

Apparently, it is the voice of the shepherd that controls the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,”says Jesus. The sheep pick out the voice of their one only shepherd from that of others. They only follow the one whose voice they recognize.

In another place in the text, Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are hired hands that won’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and his care.

The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the good shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray.  He admonishes to seek the good shepherd: “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.”

And, of course David was the Shepherd King of Israel, having written our beloved Psalm 23 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

The words  of Ezekiel were as familiar to the Jews in the time of Jesus as they can be to us in this difficult time of  the coronavirus: the lost, the injured, the sick and those who are struggling to care for them.  The Jews, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock. (And isn’t that the same in our time, with politicians who don’t seem to care.)

While we love the image of the Good Shepherd, most of us lack firsthand acquaintance with either a shepherd or with sheep. But picture this  as shown to us by Professor Barclay. . .

The life of a shepherd in Palestine was very hard. He was never off duty. The sheep were bound to wander, and had to be constantly watched.  On the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for he not only had to guard the flock but to protect them from wild animals and thieves and robbers. He was out there with them in all kinds of weather, day and night.

As Barclay writes, quoting Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, “On some high moor, at night hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking over his scattered sheep, everyone of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why the Jews gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.”  Constant vigilance, fearless, courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.

And so listen for the Voice of your Shepherd. What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows your voice and you know his. We will have instantaneous, constant communication as we seek to become one with this Good Shepherd. The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better we will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”

Jesus says he is not only the shepherd, but he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.  

When the sheep came into the enclosure, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance, thus, literally becoming the Gate, or the Door!

Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.

There’s another meaning here, too, I think. A lot of people experiment with other matters in the spiritual world that are not so safe. Like hallucinogenic drugs or seances and tarot cards  or fortune-telling, or calling on the spirits.  These are not protected and can be very dangerous.

William Barclay has this to add about this passage. . . .

~ Jesus promised eternal life. If someone became a member of his flock, all the littleness of life would be gone and they would know the splendor and magnificence of the life with God.

~ He promised a life that would know no end. Death would not be the end but the beginning; they would know the glory of the indestructible life.

~ He promised a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch them from his hand. Not that it would save them from sorrow or suffering. Even in a world crashing to disaster they would know the serenity of God.

Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And thus Jesus received his confidence from the Father. He was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s. And the Gospel passage ends with the words, “The Father and I are one,” which calls to mind his intense prayer at the end of the Last Supper, according to John, “Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)

But let’s look at another side of this. The Good Shepherd seems to be doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.

Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, should be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.

And then ask yourself this question: Am I not, in turn, a good shepherd?

If you have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I adapt my leadership style to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Then, and only then, will we be able to say, “I know my Shepherd, and my Shepherd knows me.”

Christ is Risen!

Now, before you go, here’s a version of our beloved Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” that has the flavor of Jesuit spirituality as well. Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series – revised edition / the Gospel of John: Volume 2 / The Westminster Press Philadelphia – 1975 / pp. 55-60.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer