Sunday, 21 April 2013

4th Sunday of Easter, Year C, Good Shepherd Sunday, Shaftesbury

Jn 10:27-30
Those of us who live in the country, as we do here, sometimes get puzzled by the description we just heard from the Lord Jesus about how sheep know their shepherd’s voice and follow it (Jn 10:27). He made the statement even more explicitly a few verses earlier: “the sheep follow [their shepherd], for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers”(Jn 10:4-5).
Now, such words might fool those city boys in London, who get no closer to sheep than seeing fluffy white dots out a train window. But for you and I who daily walk through the fields here about, we are bound to stop and say, “I’ve seen a lot of sheep in my time. Sheep are stupid. I’ve NEVER seen them recognise a shepherd’s voice” etc.
However, we tend to think this because we actually don’t know sheep as well as we think we do. The way we herd and treat our ENGLISH sheep, in large flocks, rather anonymously, gives them neither motivation nor opportunity to manifest their intelligence. Whereas, in fact, scientific studies have shown that, and I here quote Wikipedia, “Sheep can recognize individual human … faces, and [even] differentiate [human] emotional states, [and] sheep may learn their names and many sheep are trained to be led by halter for showing and other purposes
So, in ancient Palestine, where flocks were smaller, and shepherds had a more intimate relationship with them and slept out in the fields with them to ward off wolves and other predators, in that context what Our Lord was saying would have seemed obvious to those who heard him.

You didn’t think you’d learn all this about sheep when you came to Mass this morning, did you? But I know many modern English people get puzzled by this, so I think it’s worth commenting on. More directly, let me focus this with a question:
Is your relationship to Christ like an English sheep or like those Palestinian sheep that Jesus spoke about?
And the test is whether we recognise the Shepherd’s voice. It is only those who “listen to my voice” that can be said to “belong to” Him (Jn 10:27).

For you to recognise your Shepherd’s voice you have to be CLOSE to Him. You have to live intimately with Him.
You can choose to be part of a large anonymous flock. As such, your intelligence will never be manifested, you’ll never be trained.
or, you can seek to live close to our Lord, intimate with Him.

We hear the voice of what we are intimate with:
If I am intimate with shopping and buying "nice" things, I will hear the voice of greed.
If I am intimate with myself, then like the stupid English sheep, I will just hear my own sheepy voice -it is the voice of selfishness that I will hear.
If I am intimate with the needs of my family members, then it is their inner voice I will hear even before they speak it.
If I am intimate with the needs of others, in general, then the voice of generosity will be readily heard by me -generosity calling me to love more freely, more givingly, more cheerfully. To not love with a slow grudging heart.
And, integrating it all:
If I am intimate with The Lord in His teaching, and in prayer, especially prayer at the start and close of the day, then it is HIS voice I will be able to hear.
And with such intimacy we shall be like trained intelligent Palestinian sheep, hearing and recognising our Shepherd’s voice.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Papal Motto and the Divine Mercy, 2nd Sunday of Easter

Jn 20:19-31; Acts 5:12-16
Today we keep what is called “Divine Mercy Sunday”, and I’d like to share a thought about that mercy by drawing on some words of our new Pope Francis. In particular, by thinking of how the Lord LOOKS at us with mercy, because this is the motto of our new Pope.

The new Pope’s motto is “Miserando Atque Eligendo”, the same motto he had as a cardinal. And when it was first announced lots of people attempted to translate that motto as something like, “lowly and chosen”. However, the meaning actually derives from the original context of these words, which are taken from a homily by one of our great English saints, the Venerable Saint Bede, regarding the calling of St. Matthew by Jesus. In the homily St Bede describes how it was that the Lord chose Matthew. The Lord did not look at him and despise him as tax collector, or look at him with anger as a sinner. No. As St Bede says, the Lord "saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: 'Follow me.'
This is how the Lord looks at us, with “eyes of mercy”, and so He chooses us, chooses and calls us to follow Him.
[The Vatican website states: “The motto of His Holiness Francis is taken from a passage of the venerable Bede (Homily 22 on the Feast of Matthew) which reads: ‘Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’.’ [Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, 'follow me'.]
or the Catholic News Agency translates the motto as “because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him"]

Pope Francis had a personal experience of this at the tender age of 17. As a Vatican statement as revealed, “Following confession, he [the young future pope] felt his heart touched and he sensed the descent of the Mercy of God, who with a gaze of tender love, called him to religious life”.
Our new Pope, as we all already know, has manifested a life of consistent concern for the poor and outcast, and in his sermon two weeks ago [Palm Sunday] he gave us an insight into how this care for the poor seems to be connected with LOOKING at people with the eyes of God, the “eyes of mercy”. He made a contrast and noted that “in the eyes of the world” there are many “who do not matter”, especially “the humble, the poor, the forgotten”. But, when Jesus came and walked among men, those who were lowly felt great “hope” because they sensed that He looked at them with different “eyes”. “He [Jesus] understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, he has bent down to heal body and soul. ….This is the heart that looks on all of us, watching our illnesses, our sins.”

So, He looks on us and sees “our sins” and “our illness” and our need. And though the “eyes of the world” reject such, He looks with “the eyes of mercy”. And looking at us with such He does not just leave us, but chooses us, calls us to something more.
Today’s Gospel text for this Divine Mercy Sunday is always the text in which we hear Jesus entrust the mission of mercy and forgiveness in the sacrament of confession to the Twelve Apostles, “those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven…”(Jn 20:23). As I said, the young man who has now become Pope experienced the “eyes of mercy” himself after going to confession. Many of us will have had similar experiences of realising how mercifully God looks at us, and had that experience in this same sacrament of mercy.

But, to conclude, there is something that follows: if we have accepted that the Lord has looked at us with “eyes of mercy” then we too need to look at others with such “eyes”. The people we heard about in our first reading hoped that “the shadow of Peter” (Act 12:15) would fall upon them. The merciful shadow of our new Pope, St Peter’s successor, seems destined to fall on those poor and destitute, and to call us to do the same. Showing mercy to others because we have experienced it ourselves.