Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Easter

Fourth Sunday in Easter
May 11, 2014
Acts 2:14, 35-41; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10

The Good Shepherd readings point us to the delicate balance of leadership and of following. It balances responsive pastoral and spiritual care with a follower’s responsibility to make choices for their best care. Jesus shows his disciples that they can believe the integrity of his actions because he enters the sheepfold straightaway through the gate, not like the other false shepherds who are in the business of taking care of their own honor, prestige, or status.

Jesus asks his followers to pay attention to the subtle ways he cares for them. His words back up his actions and he is not a hypocrite. They know that he is not out to line his pockets with money earned honestly on the backs of hard workers. They know that his agenda is to care for them, which does not mean “to do” everything for them, but to help them see the available resources at their disposal. Giving people what they need is very different from giving them what they want. They know that he will always try to make the best decisions for them, even if they do not seem popular at the moment. They can see through his transparent nature because true care for others is plainly visible. Jesus also knows that the people instinctively distrust a leader whose motives are not wholly pure, and he encourages the people to trust their instincts and then act accordingly.   

In this section, Jesus is punctuating that he is the Good Shepherd. Four chapters earlier in the Fourth Gospel, his actions in feeding the multitudes reveals that he is giving his very self away when he gives them real crunch and munch food and drink, that is, his body and blood. Many turn away from him because they cannot comprehend the cannibalistic actions he suggests, and at the same time, many are brought closer to him because he has the words and actions of everlasting life. Now Jesus declares he is the gate to eternal life – the one through whom all must pass. Greater trust develops between Jesus and his disciples because they are responsive to each other’s voices.

Titles do not make a leader. We all know someone who has a title and we ask, “What does that mean? What is it that you do?” Then we see another person breaking his back with a heavy workload, has full responsibility, but is not given a nebulous title. Just because someone is given legitimate authority does not mean she has the assent of the people. People must accept their leader and entrust the governance of their decisions to her. The leader must prove herself in many arenas before she is truly accepted, and she will be tested by the people to see if her care over them is authentic and filled with integrity. If not, the people will somehow use their feet to vote. The process of accepting leadership takes time, experience, and wisdom.

However, everyone looks at this passage and asks, “What is the leader doing for me?” and they forget to focus on what it means to be a mature, responsible follower because being a follower often entails being a leader. Being a follower means one has to work just as hard as the leader and to strive for unity. A follower must give consent and it is his duty to test the authority to see if her care is authentic, even if it is not the result that he wants. The follower must do his best to inform his conscience, to gather data, to dialogue and ask questions before forming his conclusion. The leader is trying her best and needs others to choose to help in the grand venture. The leader is trying to bring the people into a new unknown future and the follower has to strive to understand. If a follower remains entrenched in the past, he is being disingenuous and false.

Leaders and followers must learn to dance with one another – sometimes with followers take the lead and sometimes the leader moves from the dance floor to the balcony. Leaders and followers empower each other to make amazing dance steps with grace and reverence even though the initial steps will result in many bruised toes and ankles. When we learn new dance steps, we have greater versatility. If we only want to dance the one or two dance steps we know, we get bored and become disinterested.  After a while, we become accustomed to the patterns and we stop getting angry and we simple enjoy the movement. In other words, we stop looking at our feet as we raise our heads and look into each other’s eyes. Somehow over time, we learn to sweep each other off their feet, and then we realize we enjoy being with one another and we do not want to get off the dance floor. Shall we dance?

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

May 12: Nereus and Achilleus, martyrs (early second century), were Roman Imperial soldiers who converted to Christianity. They left the army and were martyred when they refused to sacrifice to idols during Emperor Trajan's reign.

May 12: Pancras, martyr, (d. 304)was a Syrian orphan who was brought to Rome by his uncle. Both soon after converted to Christianity. Pancras was beheaded at age 14 during the Diocletian persecution and buried on the Via Aurelia. A cemetery was named after him, but his remains were sent to Northumbria in England where six churches are dedicated to him.

May 13: Our Lady of Fatima is a name given to Mary after she appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal between May 13 and October 13, 1917. During her appearances, Mary stressed the importance of repentance, ongoing conversion, and dedicated to the heart of Mary through praying the Rosary.

May 14: Matthias, Apostle (first century) was chosen after the resurrection to replace Judas who committed suicide. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, quoting a psalm, told 120 people who gathered that they were to choose a new apostle - someone who had been with them from the baptism of Jesus until the resurrection. Two names were put forward and the assembly cast lots. Matthias was chosen.

May 15: Isidore (1070-1130), was born in Madrid to a family of farm laborers. With his wife, he worked on an estate and became known for his piety and generosity. His remains are the cause of several miracles most notably the cure of King Philip III who became his sponsor for canonization.

May 16: Andrew Bobola, S.J., priest martyr (1591-1657), is called the Martyr of Poland because of his excruciatingly painful death. He worked during a plague to care for the sick, but he became "wanted" by the Cossacks during a time when anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit sentiment was high. His preaching converted whole villages back to Catholicism and he was hunted down because he was termed a "soul-hunter."

This Week in Jesuit History

·      May 11, 1824. St Regis Seminary opens in Florissant, Missouri, by Fr. Van Quickenborne. It was the first Roman Catholic school in USA for the higher education of Native American Indians
·      May 12,1981. A letter of this date, from Secretary of State, Cardinal Casaroli, speaks positively of Teilhard de Chardin in celebration of the centenary of his birth (May 1,1881).
·      May 13, 1572. Election of Gregory XIII to succeed St Pius V. To him the Society owes the foundation of the Roman and German Colleges.
·      May 14, 1978. Letter of Pedro Arrupe to the whole Society on Inculturation.
·      May 15, 1815. Readmission of the Society into Spain by Ferdinand VII. The members of the Society were again exiled on July 31, 1820.
·      May 16, 1988. In Paraguay, Pope John Paul II canonizes Roque Gonzalez, Alfonso Rodriguez, and Juan del Castillo.
·      May 17, 1572. Pope Gregory XIII exempted the Society from choir and approved simple vows after two years of novitiate and ordination before solemn profession. In these matters he reversed a decree of St Pius V.