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Ruah! Breathe in the Holy Spirit!

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The Great and Glorious Feast of Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

In last Sunday’s blog, we talked about the Feast of the Ascension.

After Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven, they were cowering 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.)

The word for “wind” is important here. “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.”

“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.”

I was trained in meditation to pay attention to my breathing, and I do so almost all the time, even now as I’m writing this..

I often imagine that the Holy Spirit is breath entering me, and when I exhaled, I am 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 as the church was born.  The apostles and the others who were part of their company, including the women, 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 effect the gospel of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning of scripture, there is a story about the tower of Babel, a story that tries to explain why there are so many different languages on the earth  that we cannot understand each other, 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 full three years of my priesthood.  The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained the same day as 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 The Holy Spirit will draw the church together in a new way!

~ ~ ~ ~

There is still another thing to note from the Pentecost story.  Tongues of fire rested individually on the heads of each person.  The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us.  The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents of each one.

So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things!

The Spirit is 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 sameLord;  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 that is still true some 47 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!

The Holy Spirit can make that happen in your life, in your children’s lives, and in mine too.

This Pentecost 2017, with all that is happening in our country, in our world and in the church, may we clearly see our need for the Holy Spirit in our life and ministry.  Without the Spirit, there is no meaning.  Without meaning, there is no reason to live.

The lesson I relearned as I wrote this reflection is that to seek the Spirit’s involvement in our work is to refuse to settle for mediocrity.  As we get older, we may not have the energy of our youth to go for the brass ring, but we still can regain enthusiasm as we go about our work.

The Spirit of God is as close to us as our own breath.  I have trained myself to become conscious of my breathing throughout my day.  So too can we train ourselves to be conscious of the Holy Spirit from moment to moment, especially in making decisions and beginning your projects at work or artistic endeavors.

May we celebrate today 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, here is a new song that I found about the Holy Spirit that I liked. Click here.  

And if you have time, here also is the haunting chant melody “Veni Creator Spiritus” and the English “Come Holy Ghost.”  Click here.    Be sure to enter full screen.  There are many images of Pentecost in art displayed there.  

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

With love, 

Bob Traupman,

Contemplative Writer

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Memorial Day 2017 ~ Greater Love than this . . .

MEMORIAL DAY ~ Monday, May 29, 2017

A Memorial Day Prayer

“Most eternal God, as Americans, We want to thank you for this great country. We are not proud, but humbled, that in your divine sovereignty we were born or naturalized in such a nation as this.

Thank you for those serving and who have served in the military that protect this country of ours. Thank you for those men and women in our military services who were willing to give their lives and who gave their lives to fight to keep this country free … “

This was the start of one of my memorial day prayers while stationed on Okinawa, Japan (1999-2002). I felt extremely pastoral on this day of many days. This was my opportunity to speak to God for our people and offer our thanks for those who laid down their lives for their friends.
Memorial Day has special significance for all of us, and it has significant meaning for me as a former military chaplain serving in the United States Navy with sailors and Marines. Our freedom has been protected by people who have served in the military; many gave the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives.

Often, for many of our military who died in action, a chaplain is the last person in charge of their soul. In harm’s way, these faithful servants of God do not just stand beside the men and women in various branches of the service, we wear the uniform.

A chaplain’s work continues much farther than the base chapel. We labor in jungles, deserts, mountains, on ship at sea and in the air; wherever our people are stationed, the chaplain is there.

Our congregation is much different from a neighborhood church. It is primarily younger men and women, and these congregations can change, through transfers and deployments, every two to three years. They also come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, some from the city, and some from the country.

We live, work, and play together; we cry, laugh and bemoan together; we hurt, feel loneliness and anger together; celebrate, rejoice and glorify together. When conducting services on deployments overseas we do not get into our cars and drive to our homes away from our membership and not see them until the next service. We walk to the chow hall or the barracks or even to the brig to do ministry and sometimes that ministry is just of presence.

Memorial Day for military members is a somber day. It is a day to reflect on friends lost, comrades who gave the last measure for the cause of freedom. We reflect on how God has guided us through battles, storms and driving wind. How God has allowed some us to remain to proclaim the honor of our fallen friends, wounded nonetheless but still here.

Our country is still occupied in war; not only are military men and women in constant danger, but their loved ones have many concerned trepidations.

When you pray on Memorial Day you should pray with the intent of remembrance and thankfulness. Before you go out and barbeque or hit the beach I want you to offer a prayer for our fallen military heroes and their loved ones. The following is a beautiful Memorial Day prayer by a colleague in ministry Austin Fleming.

Shall we pray?

In the quiet sanctuaries of our own hearts,
let each of us name and call on the One whose power over us
is great and gentle, firm and forgiving, holy and healing …

You who created us,
who sustain us,
who call us to live in peace,
hear our prayer this day.

Hear our prayer for all who have died,
whose hearts and hopes are known to you alone …

Hear our prayer for those who put the welfare of others
ahead of their own
and give us hearts as generous as theirs …

Hear our prayer for those who gave their lives
in the service of others,
and accept the gift of their sacrifice …

Help us to shape and make a world
where we will lay down the arms of war
and turn our swords into ploughshares
for a harvest of justice and peace …

Comfort those who grieve the loss of their loved ones
and let your healing be the hope in our hearts…

Hear our prayer this day
and in your mercy answer us
in the name of all that is holy.

Amen. The peace of God be with you.

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

The Feast of the Ascension  ~ May 28, 2017

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery.  First is the Resurrection 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.

And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind.

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.”

Then 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 that people on earth would somehow find ways to stop the violence and inhumanity toward each other.  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 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.

I know this 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 me.

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. 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

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I will not leave you orphans!

THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER ~ May 21, 2017

Ordinarily we human beings try to make some 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 and loving 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 him/her at odds with the world. It is a 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.  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.

From the 1850’s through the 1920’s, “Orphan Trains” carried almost 400,000 children from New York City to adoptive families in the Midwest. These children, often given up by newly arrived and desperate immigrants or found living in the streets, were resettled with families who could feed and clothe them and who welcomed their presence on the still underpopulated frontier of a growing nation. The pathos of the trains’ departures was repeated at stops along the way, when children would be taken off and displayed for prospective adoptive parents.

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.  

We feel the excitement in the air ~ and some sadness too.  

You spoke these words to your disciples at the Last Supper;

they would not have understood at the time what you were saying or what you meant.  

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.”  

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 fun music video for you, “This Train is Bound for Glory.”  Click here.

Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.  

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

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

Contemplative Writer

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I am the Way and the Truth and the Life ~ for You!

THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER ~May 14, 2017

Today’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ intimate talk with his disciples at the Last Supper as recorded by John

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

I rely much of this commentary on Scripture scholar William Barclay. He says that in a very short time life for the disciples was going to fall apart. Their world was going to collapse in chaos around the. And Jesus here was comforting them.

The Psalmist says, “My eyes are toward you, O God; in You I seek refuge” (Psalm 141:8). There comes a time when we have to believe what we cannot prove and to accept what we cannot understand. Note that he says ask  not only believe in God, but believe in him.

Jesus goes on to say . . .

“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.”

In preparing a place for us he was going ahead of us. Barclay notes that one of the great words used to describe Jesus is prodomos and the Authorized Version and the Revised Standard translate it as forerunner. Jesus blazed the way to heaven and to God that we might follow in his steps.

And then he says he will come again, telling of the ultimate triumph of Jesus. The curious thing about the Second Coming, Barclay suggests, is Christians seem to disregard it entirely or to think of nothing else. It is true we cannot know when it will happen or what will happen, but one thing is certain—history is going somewhere!

And then Jesus said . . .

“Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Again and again, Jesus had told his disciples where he was going, but somehow they just didn’t get it.

There was one among them who could never say he could understand what he really did not comprehend, and that was Thomas. He was far too honest and far to earnest to be satisfied with any pious expressions. Thomas had to be sure. So he expressed his doubts and his failure to understand and the wonderful thing is that it was the question of a doubting man that provoked one of the greatest things Jesus ever said. No one need ever be ashamed of his doubts; for it is amazingly and blessedly true that he who seeks will in the end find.

Jesus said to Thomas: “ I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life.” That is a great saying for us, but it would be still greater for a Jew hearing it for the first time.

The Jews talked much about the ways of God. “You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you (Dt. 5:32).

And Jesus said: “I am the Way.” What did he mean? Suppose you are a stranger in town and ask for directions. You’re told “Take a right five blocks down, then go right four blocks; take a left. Pass the Presbyterian Church on your right. Turn left again; and go five more blocks and your destination will be on your left. Chances you’ll be lost before you get halfway there.

But suppose the person says, “Come, I’ll take you there.” That’s what Jesus does in saying, “I am the Way.” He doesn’t tell us about the way; he is the Way!

Jesus said “I am the Truth.” The Psalmist said, “ Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may know your truth” (Psalm 86). Many have told us the truth but few have embodied it. Moral truth cannot be conveyed by words.; it can only be conveyed by example. Moral perfection finds its realization in Jesus.

Jesus said, “I am the Life.” “You show me the path to life, the fullness of joy in your presence (Psalm 16). And there is only one way of putting all this. “No one,” said Jesus, “comes to the Father, except through me.” In him alone do we see what God is like; and in he alone can lead men into God’s presence without fear and without shame.

And then . . .

Philip said to him,
Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.”

The Jews would never have dared to think that they could ever see God. But Jesus is saying that as they see him, they see the Father! Barclay says that a Lucan scholar said that Luke had “domesticated God.” Jesus is portrayed is so many scenes of ordinary life.

In Jesus, God once and for all sanctified human birth, sanctified the humble human home of ordinary folk and sanctified all childhood.

God was not ashamed of to do man’s work. Jesus was the carpenter of Nazareth. We can never fully realize the wonder of the fact that God understands or day’s work. He knows the difficulty of making ends meet. He knows the difficulty of the ill-mannered customer and the client who will not pay his bills. According to the Old Testament, work is a curse. But according to the New Testament, work is tinged with glory.

In Jesus, we also see that God knows what it is to be tempted. In Jesus, we see, not the serenity but the struggle of God. God is not like a commander who leads from behind the lines; he too knows the firing line of life.

In Jesus, we see God loving. The moment love enters into life, pain enters in. If we could be absolutely detached, if we could so arrange life that nothing and nobody mattered to us, then there would be no such thing as sorrow and pain and anxiety. But in Jesus we see God caring intensely, feeling poignantly for them, loving them until he bore the wounds of love upon his heart.

In Jesus, we see God upon the Cross. There is nothing so incredible as this in the whole word. No one would ever dreamed of a God who chose to obtain our salvation.

“He who has seen me has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is the revelation of God and that revelation leaves the mind of man staggered and amazed!

Jesus, O how wonderful, you are to me, to us!

You have guided me on my way through many a dark wood.

You show me the way to your Truth; You are the One I seek.

You make known to me the path of life and fill me with joy in your presence,

May I learn to love you and more and more.

And through your love, to be a person of love.

And on this Mother’s Day,

please bless all our mothers and grandmothers, living and deceased,

you who were so devoted to your own mother,

please bless them all today in a special way!

And now before you go, here’s a faith-filled musical response for us. Click here.

And here are all of today’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                                                        The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 – pp. 152-158.

 

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Shepherd me, O God!

windowslivewriter6ab411fbef2a-7c76image0-thumb21The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ May 7, 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday

Have you ever thought about how shepherds handle their sheep? They follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They are not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.

If we are to look at Jesus as the Good Shepherd, that’s a nice image – 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.

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

In another place 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 their 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. Seek the Good Shepherd who says, “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 are to us. They, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock

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 William 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, across which some 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 they 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 my voice and I know his. There is 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.

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)

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.

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, 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

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You will know him in the breaking of the bread

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THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER ~ April 30, 2017

I would like to offer a reflection on my favorite resurrection story. I will reflect on the story, the fruit of my own imagination; but you need to engage your own.  

(Please note: When I use the actual words from Scrip­ture, they appear in bold type; the narrative appears in regular type and when I offer comments about the story, these appear in italics.)

“That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples, one by the name of Cleopas, were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.”

They were sad and downcast, as they were discussing the events in Jerusalem over the previous three days.

Think about how all of Jesus’ disciples must have felt during the interim between Good Friday afternoon and whenever they were able to fully grasp that Jesus had risen. Think of a time when you felt distraught and discouraged, even terrified that the Jewish authorities would hunt them down next!

Then Jesus invited himself along and they began to converse with him as they walked. Note that they were walking side by side, so they were not looking at him directly.

They do not recognize him, and began telling Jesus about Jesus. “. . . a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.”

(Why don’t they recognize him? Are they just ruminating over depressing events?) They told him, “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”

(Feel the depth of their disappointment and an­guish ~ and fear; they must have been heartsick; the brother whom they loved had died. What kept them from a sense of hope?)

They knew that women in their company had gone to the tomb early that morning and found the tomb empty, but had seen a “vision of angels who an­nounced that he was alive.”

Then Jesus interjected, “Oh how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the proph­ets spoke!’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” 

(What did he tell them that enabled them to see and act differently? What change was taking place in them?)

When they reached their village, they pressed him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”

(How do you think the disciples were feeling at this point? Had a change or transformation occurred in them?)

“So he went in to stay with them. And it hap­pened that, while he was at table. . .”

. . .Now they could see him directly, not alongside of them, but across from them. . . 

“. . .He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and THEY RECOGNIZED HIM, but he vanished from their sight.

A veil had covered their eyes, but now their eyes were opened and they recognized him—in the breaking of bread.”

And then they returned to the Eleven in the Upper Room and “recounted what had taken place along the way and how [Jesus] was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”

There was victory in their hearts!

Now for a couple of  observations ~ especially for those of you who are Catholics or who appreciate the Holy Eucharist . . . .

Love of the holy Eucharist: Down through the centuries the church has recognized the Lord—has rec­ognized itself—in the breaking of bread. This prompts a deep and abiding love for participating in the holy Eucharist. 

(What kinds of varied feelings do you have when you celebrate the Eucharist? What could deepen your love of the gathering, listening, sharing, singing that is the holy Eucharist?

(Eucharist is a verb and a noun!)

And then this: The disciples realized “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Cleopas and his friend came very, very close to Je­sus in their conversation on the way. It was an intimate moment they would always remember.

I can remember a good number of holy (that is, open and honest) conversations that changed my life and have given me the nourishment to grow and move on.

(Who are the people in your life who nourish and encourage you in conversation?)

Whom do you so nour­ish?  

And here’s a bit of a commentary . . . .

What a joy and a privilege it would be to share an evening meal with Jesus as the two disciples did after the memorable walk to Emmaus!  How blessed it would be to listen and learn as Jesus began with Moses and all the prophets to interpret every passage of scripture that referred to him.  What a gift to watch him take the bread, bless it, break it, share it. What a joy to feel our hearts burning within and our eyes open wide to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

As we look back over the gospels, particularly that of the Lucan evangelist, we are reminded that Jesus afforded his contemporaries many such nourishing, enlightening and transforming experiences within the context of shared meals.  Indeed, throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, meal sharing was a profoundly important event, one that sealed friendships, affirmed marital and family relationships, solidified political alliances and confirmed and celebrated one’s faith and worship (as in the Passover meal.)

Israel’s wisdom literature is lavish in its banquet imagery.  Recall Wisdom’s invitation as recorded in Proverbs:  “Wisdom has built herself a house…she has prepared her table…Come eat of my bread, drink of the wine I have prepared for you.”  

Gradually the Israelite community who came before us in the faith began to envision the experience of salvation in terms of a great banquet prepared by God for all of humankind.  Amazingly we saw a foretaste of that, I think, with the 2 billion people across the planet who shared in the St. John Paul’s funeral Eucharist by satellite television.

Also realized and clearly in evidence at those meals of old was the universal and welcoming love of God for all, especially sinners.

Jesus’ contemporaries would have shunned sitting down at someone’s dining room table with sinners; these they regarded as off the playing field of salvation.  Jesus deliberately associated with outcasts, however, welcoming them and agreeing to be welcomed by them.  Indeed, he made it quite clear that some of these outcasts would come into the kingdom before the established religious leaders.  Recall Jesus’ willingness to be a guest in the homes of Levi and Zacchaeus, both of whom were hated tax collectors.  These would never have been welcomed into a respectable Jewish home.  Yet it was to these very people to whom Jesus extended the privilege and blessings of table fellowship.  It would be like Jesus going to the home of a homosexual or Muslim couple today and eating and drinking with their friends..

Then recall that when Jesus hosted the multitudes and fed the 5000 in the deserted place, he did not first determine who was worthy of his food or his presence.  He fed them all, first with the nourishment of his teaching and then with bread and fish.  Given the enormity of the number who ate to their satisfaction, surely there were some in the crowd who fell short of the law’s standard, who sinned against their neighbors, who were remiss in some aspect of their lives.  Nevertheless, without hesitation or discrimination, Jesus welcomed and fed them all.

Now we come to this wonderful story of the breaking of the bread, this beloved resurrection appearance of Jesus.  As in most of the resurrection appearances, the risen Jesus was not immediately recognized by his own.  Recognition came gradually and only with the insights afforded by faith. Though Jesus had been transformed by his resurrection and was not initially recognized, he was, nevertheless, the same Jesus who had walked with them, talked with them, and shared their lives while he was  among them before he was crucified.  He was the same Jesus who took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to feed the multitudes.

 He was the same Jesus who allowed himself to be taken and broken on the cross and who gave his life so that sinners may be blessed with forgiveness, freedom from sin, salvation.

Many of us, this Sunday will have our own Emmaus walk. We will approach the altar; the bread will be broken, the wine will be blessed, and Christ will be present there just as truly as he was at Emmaus.  Like those travelers, we come to know Christ in the scriptures, and in the breaking of the bread.  We enter into this miracle, not once, but every time we come together to celebrate our faith that Christ has died, was buried, and rose again.  As we receive the body and blood of Christ, once more, an ancient promise is fulfilled:  “I am with you!”

I am a priest 47 years now.  I never grow tired of the holy Eucharist.  I always come back to celebrate after a couple of days if I am absent from it.

In fact, I am certain that I could not live happily without the Eucharist.  Maybe I couldn’t live at all without the Eucharist – at least sanely.

Appreciate this great and wonderful experience, dear friends, that Jesus shares with us in his person even now, two thousand years after the Last (or the First) Supper.

What a beautiful experience it is to share in the breaking of the bread – whether there is a glorious celebration with trumpets and gorgeous music or with just one other person present.

Yes appreciate this great and wonderful gift.

May we never take it for granted.

Lord Jesus,

We praise you and thank you for sharing with us

in every place and for all time

the gift of your sacred body and blood.  

May we always cherish such a wonderful gift

and never take it for granted.  

To You be all glory and honor

with the Father and the Spirit,  

now and forever. Amen. Alleluia! 

And now to complete your experience for today, here’s the song One Bread, One Body together with a moving video. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.  

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