Last weekend, as part of the “Be-Cool Campaign,” I incorporated a set of sunglasses into my appeal. I have to admit that I haven’t bought sunglasses in all my years here at Sacred Heart. Given that sunglasses are a de facto part of life here in Florida, this means that I am either very careful about taking care of my sunglasses or that I am a pastor of a Florida church. The parish Lost and Found box always has a pair or two in residence. After some months laying fallow in the darkness of a drawer, the sunglasses were found….by me. Continue reading
Many years ago I received a letter. It was a letter that I wished, snow or rain or heat or gloom of night could have stayed that courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds. It was a heart-breaking letter from my father, letting me know he had inoperable cancer. “Heart-breaking” is one of the expressions we use invoking the heart. We use expressions such as, “I know that by heart,” we do things “to our hearts content,” and we “cross our hearts” to verify we are telling the truth. Some folks “wear their hearts on their sleeves,” at times are burdened with “a heavy heart,” or blessed with a “heart filled with joy.” Sometimes our “hearts are broken.” It is the poetic expressions that are closer to the heart of the Bible. Continue reading
Here on this 4th Sunday in Easter, our diocese and the US Bishops’ conference have asked us to speak about vocations to the priestly life. To echo the voice of the Good Shepherd calling those to a life of dedicated service of the community of God – to follow Christ more closely through life as an ordained priest. And to answer this call in troubled times. A time in our life when the church faces questions about a growing worldwide crisis caused by priests and bishops that has continued to flow onto the headlines of the world’s newspaper for almost 15 years now. It is a time when the question lingers on the periphery “Why would anyone want to become or remain Catholic today?” and its more focused parallel: “Why would a man want to become or remain a priest today?” Continue reading
27 My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.” (John 10:27-30)
Context. The pastoral imagery of John 10 is always a part of the readings for the 4th Sunday of Easter:
- Year A – John 10:1-10 (sheepfold, gatekeeper, sheep recognizing the voice)
- Year B – John 10:11-18 (“I am the good shepherd”)
- Year C – John 10:27-30
I spent last weekend away. I joined several of my US Naval Academy classmates for a weekend in Ormond Beach at one of their homes. And as it is always likely to happen, when we get together, there were lots of sea stories. Daring tales of iron men and wooden ships braving the deep waters – and some of the stories were even true. It was also interesting hearing all the details of my friend’s assignments and their encountering other classmates in those assignments. Several of the men at the gathering had made careers of the Navy; several of us had not. Continue reading
Driving around Florida last week, I mused on this upcoming Sunday, “Good Shepherd Sunday.” I wondered about this column, my homily, and other things along the way. I am assigned as “pastor” of the parish – a shepherd of sorts – and I wonder what the sheep think of all this. I sometimes joke that 25% of the people think I am “OK,” another quarter think I am less than OK on the job, another part have no opinion, and the final 25% think I am Fr. Andrew.
I was not a young man when I was ordained. I had served as an officer on nuclear submarines, worked in the private sector, started companies, sold companies, and all the while was active as a lay volunteer in many ministries in parish life. All of which left a mark, an impression of what it means to lead.
I left all of that aside for just a while (so I thought) to become a lay missioner. I served for a little more than three years in the slums of Nairobi in ministry to the young, old, sick, dying, healthy, and all the things that make up parish life. Many things were the same; so much was different. I was the missionary. I was expected to lead. But things were different there. In the Navy or in business I was expected to lead from the front. As this missionary shepherd among the poor in Eastern Africa, I found myself following the sheep – through their days and nights, joys and sorrows, and their life close to the edge of disaster. Life for me was changed. Borrowing from Pope Francis’ lexicon, I came home with the smell of sheep upon me.
I returned home to the United States, joined the Franciscan friars, and took up the life of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a way of following Christ in the manner of St. Francis of Assisi. Along the way – burdened or aided by my experience of life and ministry (you can decide) – I entered seminary. A lifetime of experience in parishes, sitting in pews, and volunteering – of seeing and listening to priests, talking with parishioners, and living in the world – all that comes along with you. You don’t leave it at the door. I found myself considering other seminarians from the frame of that experience: “Would I want this man to be my pastor? To be my shepherd?” I have to say that for the majority of men (including myself) I met along the way, the answer was, “Yes…eventually.” We all grow into our roles and our vocations. We are all ordained with rough edges, human weaknesses, and a host of human foibles. The question is will we let ourselves be formed into priests by the people we serve and, more importantly, by the fullness of the presence of God in our ministry. The bigger question for those who would celebrate the Sacred Liturgy – priest and lay person alike – is will we let the presence of God in all its forms shape us to be His servants? Or will we insist on shaping it to our sense of how things are in the world?
On Holy Thursday, a day that begins the three holiest days of the Church liturgical year, the Gospel is the Last Supper account where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. When finished, Jesus says, “I have given you a model to follow…” While the Holy Thursday Mass, in part, celebrates the priesthood, in a larger way it celebrates what we, who call ourselves “Christian,” are called to do, be, and lead in the world. If the Good Shepherd, the Christ, our Divine Pastor does this for us, how can we not try to follow and be pastors in our own lives as priests, parents, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers?
Perhaps we are burdened by our own experiences of “being in charge,” which resist Jesus’ words, “I have given you a model to follow…” This was the Divine Shepherd teaching his would-be shepherds. These days our “Good Shepherd,” Pope Francis washes the feet of the imprisoned, men and women, Christian and others. There is a pattern of what it means to be pastor or shepherd in your role in life.
In our own way and time, we are all pastors, hopefully good shepherds. How would we know if we were indeed good pastors? Maybe it is as simple as looking back on our lives and asking if we served, if we washed feet, if we have the smell of sheep upon us. When I look back on my life as leader in the Navy and business, I wish I had “washed a few more feet.” Perhaps not as literally as Jesus, but in a way that served others, consistent with Jesus’ model.
What do I think of this role as pastor/shepherd? We all bring our lives and experience with us in fulfilling our roles of leadership in all parts of our lives. It is easy to lead in the way the world expects. It requires a good deal of intentionality to hold up Jesus’ model. We all begin with rough edges, human weaknesses, and a host of human foibles. We begin by washing someone’s feet. And be we priest or parent, butcher or baker, we eventually become the good shepherd in someone’s life – by the grace of God. That is the hope I carry for you and me.
Verses 17-18 form the conclusion to the discourse. In these verses, the shepherd metaphor is abandoned completely and Jesus speaks directly about his death and relationship with God. These verses focus on three theological themes that are essential to understanding the death of Jesus in John.
First, these verses place Jesus’ death fully in the context of his relationship with God. Verse 17 contains the first linkage of “love” (agapaō) with Jesus’ death in the Fourth Gospel. God’s love for the world (3:16) and for Jesus (3:35) are already known to the reader, and this verse adds a new dimension to that love. God loves Jesus because Jesus lives out God’s commandment fully (v.18). In the Fourth Gospel, the core commandment that Jesus gives his disciples is that they love one another just as he has loved them (13:34). The sign of Jesus’ love for them is that he is willing to lay down his life for them (cf. 13:1; 15:13). Jesus thus obeys the same commandment from God that he passes on to his disciples, to live fully in love. It is wrong to read the these verses as saying that Jesus wins the Father’s love through his death; rather, his death is the ultimate expression of the love relationship that already exists and defines who he is and how he enacts God’s will for the world. Continue reading
The Good Shepherd. At v.11, the focus shifts to Jesus’ self-revelation as the good shepherd. The identification of Jesus as the shepherd was implicit in the figure of speech in vv.1-5, but it is made explicit for the first time here. As before, the positive image of the good shepherd (vv.11, 14-16) is contrasted with a negative image, that of the hired hand (vv.12-13). Continue reading
The Sheep. The latter part of v.3 (the sheep hear his voice) literally translates as “the sheep the sounds (phōnēs) his hear.” While voice might be part of the range of calls the shepherd might use, perhaps when one considers the use of whistles, “sounds” is the better translation. In any case, the key is the link between recognition of the proper phōnēs and the resulting movement: lead-follow. The movement is also twinned: call-answer, lead-follow, stranger-run away. In one, the movement it towards intimacy (v.4); in the other, the movement is towards separation (v.5). Continue reading
- 9:39-41: Introduction. Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees (among whom there is a division) and he condemns them for their blind ignorance
- 10:1-6: Jesus tells a parable about entering the sheepfold and the Pharisees cannot understand. This section is marked with the unique, “Amen, Amen…”
- 10:7-13: Jesus contrasts himself, the door and the Good Shepherd, with others who are thieves, robbers and hirelings. This section is also introduced with “Amen, Amen…”
- 10:14-18: Jesus the Good Shepherd, out of union with the Father, lays down his life for the sheep
- 10:19-21: Conclusion: A division among “the Jews.”