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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

4th SUNDAY OF EASTER (B) April 26, 2015

Acts 4: 8-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

Pre-note: We have just posted on our webpage an article entitled, "Inculturated Liturgy Challenges Preaching to Flower," by Bruce Schultz, OP. Go to:  http://www.preacherexchange.com/index.htm and click on "Preaching Essay."



Today is traditionally called, "Good Shepherd Sunday." It seems that in every parish where I’ve preached there is an image in stained-glass, painting or statuary of the Good Shepherd. There is a congregation of Good Shepherd Sisters, founded to care for troubled girls and women (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Shepherd); and hospitals and homeless shelters named after the Good Shepherd. The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd speaks to everyone – from biblical scholar to an unlettered peasant in a rural Honduran parish. The earliest statue of Christ (4th century) found in the Roman catacombs, depicts him as a youthful shepherd with a lamb across his shoulders. Still, what is so familiar can be ignored, reduced to clichés or taken for granted.

While the images of the Good Shepherd are tranquil and frequently set in a pastoral setting, the life of a shepherd in Jesus’ time was anything but calm and picturesque. Shepherding was a risky business and dangerous. Shepherds lived in the fields with their sheep. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture their appearance and imagine their smell! Because they came and went, leading their sheep from one pasture to another, they lacked roots in the community. So, they were always under suspicion. If something went missing the first suspects were the vagabond shepherds. Because of their reputation their testimony was not accepted in a court of law. Jesus, calling himself the "Good Shepherd," would have been an affront to the establishment, especially the religious leaders and educated citizens. What would he call himself today? The good illegal immigrant?

In the Old Testament, shepherd was a metaphor for the leaders of God’s people. Most often they failed in their responsibilities and were corrupt. God excoriates the incompetent and sinful leaders who were appointed to shepherd the people. With the failures of the leaders of the people, God decided to take on the shepherding role. "For thus says the Lord: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. (Ezekiel 34:11). In today’s gospel Jesus likens Israel’s corrupt shepherds to the "hired man" who deserts the sheep when danger approaches, leaving them in peril.

Shepherding hasn’t stopped being a messy task. Ask any staff person in a parish; a bishop in a diocese; any catechist or parent, trying to get their adult kids to go to church – "At least for the sake of my grandchildren!"

We have done nothing to merit what Jesus has done for us – and continues to do for us. Our passage’s subject is Jesus the Shepherd. He is the chief actor. We are the objects, we receive what he offers us. At first, the sheep don’t realize they need help. But the Shepherd does and he sets out to bring us home. We hear the shepherd’s voice when: a Scripture passage speaks to us; a spouse, or close friend, makes us aware that we seem displaced or confused; a friend teases us and later, reflecting on what was said, causes us to stop to think things over; a counselor helps us deal with an issue we have been ignoring; a poem or movie touches something deep in us, etc. At these times and so many more, we realize the Shepherd has come out looking for us, is calling us by name and will show us the path home, one step at a time. Even before we realize we are in need of rescue, the Shepherd has already noticed and is on the way towards us.

Jesus challenges those of us who have pastoral responsibilities, of any kind – both as ordained or lay ministers. We are to be the responsible shepherds, guiding Christ’s sheep; charged to be his representatives to his flock. Jesus intends that, through us, his sheep will hear his voice. Here in Texas one of our iconic images is the cowboy herding cattle across the plains. They do that from the rear of the herd. But shepherds did it differently. They would go ahead of the sheep, talking to them as they went. Shepherds went first. Wherever the Shepherd went the sheep would follow, listening to the familiar sounds of the shepherd’s voice.

That seems to be the aspect of shepherding Jesus claims when he calls himself the Good Shepherd. He says he knows us and we know him. The relationship between shepherd and sheep gives us some idea of our relationship with Jesus. He describes that relationship to be as strong and intimate as the one he has with his Father. Nothing can break that bond. When the sheep go astray our Shepherd comes out looking for us. He does not give up on us, even though it will require his life. "I will lay down my life for the sheep."

The missionary task Jesus gives us is that we are to be faithful to our calling as his representatives. How can we speak his word to the flock unless we ourselves listen attentively for it and welcome it? We strive to hear the Shepherd’s voice so we can proclaim it to our needy church and world. So, we put ourselves in listening mode when we: sit with the Scriptures and allow ourselves to be formed by the Word; carve out some quiet space for ourselves; read something that enriches our spirits; have a conversation of significance with a wise person; listen to the voices of the poor; position ourselves in quiet before the wonders of nature, etc.

Which does not exclude the need for study and reflection; another way the Good Shepherd speaks to us. After we listeners have done this, we become speakers. We "break the silence" to speak a word – as preacher, catechist, liturgist, musician, teacher, parent etc.

But who has time for all this reflective listening? In our noisy and distracting world no one really does. That’s why we have to break the pattern, put aside some time to hear the interior voice of the Shepherd who wants to speak to us in diverse ways. But not only to us, for through us the Shepherd reaches out to the flock charged to our care.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042615.cfm

QUOTABLE

Before Jesus had died for him, Peter relying on his own resources, can only deny him, but after Jesus has died and risen, Peter can follow him along the same road to his own death and resurrection.

----Tom Small, Windows on the Cross

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. 1 John 3:1

Repeat after me: "I am a beloved child of God." Doesn’t that bring a smile to your face when you really absorb what that means? What was the most wonderful part of being a child for you? Was it the innocence, the joy of living in the present moment, the openness to being surprised, and/or a sense of hopefulness? Is it possible to recapture that feeling when you consider that you are a beloved child of God? For so many children in the world today, their childhood is being stolen from them through wars, hatred, greed, and manipulation. In the West, the idols of power and privilege warp young people’s sense of values.

Pope Francis states in his homily at the Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Conception, Aparecida (7/24/13) that: "It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure. Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope! Let us maintain a positive outlook on reality. Let us encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world. Young people are a powerful engine for the Church and for society. They do not need material things alone; also and above all, they need to have held up to them those non-material values which are the spiritual heart of a people, the memory of a people. In this Shrine, which is part of the memory of Brazil, we can almost read those values: spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity, joy; they are values whose deepest root is in the Christian faith." http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130724_gmg-omelia-aparecida.html

I am a beloved child of God. . .if we sense how much God loves us and how much we return that love through our actions, our hearts will light a world that is dark and dreary for so many, especially for children in countries of the Middle East, Ukraine, Central and South America, and Africa. Here, in the USA, there are many homeless children in need of the joy of hope. One ministry is Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network (WIHN) where parishioner Jonathan Hammill helps care for homeless kids on Monday evenings. Another is A Note in the Pocket, led by Linda Bedo, which provides school clothes. Contact my office if you can help another beloved child.

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

I am the good shepherd.

A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Reflection:

The missionary task Jesus gives us is that we be faithful to our calling as his representatives. We strive to hear the shepherd’s voice so we can proclaim it to our needy church and world. How can we speak his word to those who need it unless we ourselves listen attentively for it and welcome it?

So we ask ourselves:

  • Do I take some quiet periods in the day to listen to the small, still voice of God within? How do I do that?
  • In which people do I hear the Shepherd’s voice speaking to me?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples' lives from an unjust aggressor,"

—Pope Francis, Oct. 23, in a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law.
     Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Malcolm Geddie #0143501 (On death row since 9/29/94)
  • Daniel Cummings #0095279 (1/16/94)
  • Jerry W. Connor #0085045 (4/30/91)

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://www.catholicsmobilizing.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.preacherexchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

(These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org Or jboll@preacherexchange.org.

3. Our webpage: http://www.preacherexchange.com

Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilias Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626

 


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