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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Easter

April 29, 2012
Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

                Jesus declares, "I am the good shepherd" and then explains how his actions are different from other hired shepherds who primarily look out for their own interests. He always places the interests of others before his own - so much so that he will give his life for the safety of the flock. Religious leaders who imitate his motives will be recognized as good shepherds too because their motives show real concern for the flock.

          However, Jesus recognizes that other religious leaders will pretend they act as shepherds, but their revealed motives are for their own self-protection and self-promotion. Jesus gives the flock credit. He knows it does not take much to easily discern between good and false shepherds because the good ones pastorally respond to the needs and concerns of their flock and place their interests first. They are not concerned with teachings and rules, but for well-being and safety. A good shepherd gathers and nurtures, while a false shepherd scatters and deserts. A good shepherd encourages freedom.

          This morning I visited a Montessori pre-kindergarten to Grade 2 school run by two Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. I saw good shepherds in action. These two religious sisters and their loyal staff of teachers and volunteers provided a orderly environment of education based on mutual respect and freedom. It is absolutely clear that these sisters go out of their way to help these students in any way possible. Their school is run by charity that arises from their faith. They believe in their students' potential to be thoughtful boys and girls who care for others - at any age.

          Well-communicated rules foster growth and maturity. Every morning, each student makes a plan of daily activities with their teachers - with structured guidance. They are encouraged to choose the order of their day. These children respond to high-level expectations for civilized conduct and respectful treatment of others in a culture that promotes thinking and feeling. All the while, they remain children who cope with the demands of life. They are expected to merely be children while learning best ways to relate well to others. I have never seen such a tidy, orderly school. Surprisingly, the place swarms with an holistic atmosphere of freedom and joy rather than rigidity and structure. A healthy self-esteem is nourished. Dignity is promoted. Love of neighbor ranks with love of self. Hope triumphs. Their energized lives fill my heart with gladness.

          My heart warms as I think of these two sisters and their staff who provide remarkable shepherding of these children. I wish I attended their school as a boy. I wish for my nieces and nephews and all my friend's children and grandchildren to experience this school of excellence. The heart of this school lies in the heart of these sisters whose hearts lie deeply in the heart of Jesus, the good shepherd. Instinctively, I trust this goodness. It is the type of goodness Jesus wants all religious leaders to have for their flocks. This goodness fosters a freedom that allows human dignity to soar and reach its God-given potential. The fruit of this work is seen immediately, but its greater reward lay ahead.

          Thank God for our religious sisters who work tirelessly in their vocations. While their reward is eternal, I pray they receive the earthly honor and dignity they rightly deserve.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: We continue with the Acts of the Apostles with the Apostles' decision to include the Gentiles into the community. Peter lifted the Jewish dietary laws for them declaring that, "God granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too." Those who had been dispersed since the persecution that followed Stephen's stoning began proclaiming the story of Jesus Christ to their new communities. The number of converts increased dramatically. The word of God continued to spread and grow. At Antioch during prayer, the Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." In Perga in Pamphylia, Paul stood up and told the story of God's deliverance of the people from bondage and slavery. God's work continued in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord, but strict Jews opposed Paul and Barnabas and claimed they told the wrong story. The Gentiles were delighted when Paul and Barnabas opened scripture for them and told them of their inclusion as God's elect. Salvation was accessible to them.

Gospel: The Good Shepherd tale continues in John as Jesus tells his friends the characteristics of a self-interested person who pretends to be a shepherd. The sheep know and trust the voice of the good shepherd. On the Dedication feast, Jesus declares he is the good shepherd and that he and the Father are one. Jesus cries out, "whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me." Jesus speaks and acts on behalf of the Father. Further "I am" statements are made by Jesus as in John 13 when after Jesus washes the feet of the disciples declares that "I am." Jesus, in his farewell discourse, begins to console his friends. He tells them that he is going away but will soon return to take away their fear. He reassures them that since they know the mind and heart of Jesus, they also know the mind and heart of the Father since they are one.

Saints of the Week

April 29: Catherine of Siena, Doctor, had mystical visions as a girl that continued during her 3rd Order of Dominican profession at age 16. She persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon in 1377 in order to heal the great Western Schism. She is said to have a brilliant theological mind. When she died at age 33, she was found to have the stigmata. 

April 30: Pius V, pope (1504-1572), led the church through the Reformation (1566-1572). He was ordained a Dominican priest and taught in seminaries, became master of novices and a prior to several houses, and eventually became the General of the Inquisition. His excessive zeal led to his publication of Trent’s decrees on the Roman catechism, breviary, and missal. His alignment with European monarchical forces stopped the decline of Islamic advances by the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 in the gulf of Patras in the Ionian Sea. 

May 1: Joseph the Worker was honored by Pope Pius XII in 1955 in an effort to counteract May Day, a union, worker, and socialist holiday. Many Catholics believe him to be the patron of workers because he is known for his patience, persistence, and hard work as admirable qualities which believers should adopt.

May 2: Athanasius, bishop and doctor (295-373), was an Egyptian who attended the Nicene Council in 325. He wrote about Christ's divinity but this caused his exile by non-Christian emperors. He wrote a treatise on the Incarnation and brought monasticism to the West.

May 3: Philip and James, Apostles (first century), were present to Jesus throughout his entire ministry. Philip was named as being explicitly called. James is called the Lesser to distinguish him from James of Zebedee. Little is known of these founders of our faith.

May 4: Joseph Mary Rubio, S.J., priest (1864-1929), is a Jesuit known as the Apostle of Madrid. He worked with the poor bringing them the Spiritual Exercises and spiritual direction and he established local trade schools.  

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Apr 29, 1933. Thomas Ewing Sherman died in New Orleans. An orator on the mission band, he was the son of Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. He suffered a breakdown, and wanted to leave the Society, but was refused because of his ill health. Before his death he renewed his vows in the Society.
·         Apr 30, 1585. The landing at Osaka of Fr. Gaspar Coelho. At first the Emperor was favorably disposed towards Christianity. This changed later because of Christianity's attitude toward polygamy.
·         May 1, 1572. At Rome, Pope St. Pius V dies. His decree imposing Choir on the Society was cancelled by his successor, Gregory XIII.
·         May 2, 1706. The death of Jesuit brother G J Kamel. The camellia flower is named after him.
·         May 3, 1945. American troops take over Innsbruck, Austria. Theology studies at the Canisianum resume a few months later.
·         May 4, 1902. The death of Charles Sommervogel, historian of the Society and editor of the bibliography of all publications of the Jesuits from the beginnings of the Society onward.
·         May 5, 1782. At Coimbra, Sebastian Carvahlo, Marquis de Pombal, a cruel persecutor of the Society in Portugal, died in disgrace and exile. His body remained unburied fifty years, till Father Philip Delvaux performed the last rites in 1832. 

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