“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (Jn 15:12).
God created us to be loved, and to love. The love that Jesus is talking about is unconditional and not just relegated to those closest to us, although, hopefully, in our families and friendships is where we first experienced being loved and learned to love in return.
The love that Jesus commands that we are to participate in as his followers, is a going out from, a giving of ourselves to one another. We are not to seek in return, but are to empty and give ourselves away. The return we get is from experiencing the infinite wellspring and source of the Holy Spirit the rises up within us. The more we hold back, the less we receive, the more we give, the more we experience. We are to resist withdrawing our love and assuming a selfish posture that leads to us becoming more like a stagnant pool. Instead, we are to remain open so as to allow the living stream of God’s infinite love to flow through us.
The love Jesus commands cannot be done on the fly. Love is accepting the interruption and choosing to be present. Love means stopping, setting aside our agendas, and accompanying another. Love is also not coercion and manipulation, it is accepting another as they are and where they are. Love is sharing the journey of life together. St Thomas Aquinas has written it best: Love is to will the good of the other as other. This is more than mere emotion, feeling, or sentiment but actually wanting the best for someone else and to rejoice in their becoming fully alive. We are also not a doormat. We hold people accountable – for to love is also to be clear about respecting our’s and another’s dignity.
This practice of love is also not exclusive but universal. Yes, we are to love those in our family, community, place of worship, tribe, political party, and nation, while at the same time we must be willing to go out from our comfort zones and protected bubbles to risk opening ourselves up to those who we feel are different, those who do not see the world as we see it, and even those we consider our enemies. This does not mean we have to agree or even like someone else, but we are commanded to love, to respect the dignity of the person as our starting point.
A dialogue grounded in love means that we are to state clearly our beliefs, our thoughts, and dreams, but also allow others to do the same. In this way, though we may differ in our points of view, we can see how we are much more alike than we are different. When we talk at and over one another, demean, belittle, or are condescending to one another, we dehumanize. In an open dialogue, we begin to encounter the person and the prejudicial caricature we carry begins to dissolve. Instead of keeping each other at arm’s length, we can then learn to embrace and grow from one another. From a place of mutual, loving dialogue, we can recognize and remember again who we are, friends, brothers and sisters on this journey we call life.
Photo: Wolf Den Pow Wow, with my hunka father, Fire Hawk, in late 80’s. He lived and loved life to the full.
In today’s Gospel reading, we experience the imagery of the vine and the branches. As the branch of the vine matures, it begins to look more like the vine itself. As it remains connected, is sustained by the nourishment provided, and protected by the vine grower, the branches become more and more conformed to the vine. This is also true in the event that a branch not originally attached to the vine is grafted to it. Over time, the branches are almost indistinguishable from the vine itself.
Our hope, as disciples of Jesus, no matter what our background, culture, gender, ethnicity, or race will be the same. We are to be one as the Son and the Father are one. As St Paul has written to the Churches in Galatia and Collosse: In Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, circumcision or uncircumcision, male or female, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free because we are all one in Christ (cf. Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).
We are not to be automatons, cyborg, ants, all following mindlessly. Being a Christian means the opposite, the more we are conformed to Jesus, the more we come to know him and also to really come to know the uniqueness of ourselves. We begin to let go of the pressures to conform to that which stunts our growth and begin to embrace who we are, the truth of our reality and dignity. That sense of being fully who we are that sometimes just wants to burst out is allowed to be free when we die to our false selves and live in Christ.
We must resist the temptation of turning in upon ourselves, for when we do so, we disconnect ourselves from the vine, from the very source of our life. Just as the body will suffer without water regularly, so our soul will suffer if we are separated from the living spring of our sustenance. Remaining attached to Jesus, the vine, means that we will mature and live our life to the full, with joy that reaches out beyond ourselves to serving the needs of others, thus bearing fruit to share.
We can bear fruit that will last today and all days by putting the words of St Paul into action: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15).
Have you ever wondered why there is so much violence? How many countries, including our own, were founded on taking of lands by force and oppression of aboriginal peoples? Has there ever been a time without war? How many of our youth and citizens die from gun violence and mass murders? So many examples of road rage, domestic abuse, human trafficking, terrorism – foreign and domestic, and the myriad of random acts of violence that are occurring daily?
We often hear goodwill speeches, petitions, and intercessions ringing from our pulpits and prayer groups, participate and see people march, and vote for change. There are those working in the trenches, putting their own lives at risk, matching their words and their deeds, yet do any of these efforts make a difference? And we have been overshadowed by the pandemic for the past year and a half.
Amidst our own experiences, directly and indirectly, and with the constant temptation of cynicism and despair biting at our heels, the words of Jesus are proclaimed in today’s Gospel from John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27).
The peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that is not of this world, has been and continues to be offered to us as a gift. Many have indeed said, “If there is a God, well then, why doesn’t he do anything?” He has. The reality is, the peace that God shares through his Son, is one person at a time. This is why when he resurrected he only appeared to those he chose and not the whole world. Even if he had, these experiences, in time, would have been attributed to mere myth and legend. Jesus must be encountered and his relationship is built with each person in each generation. What we pass on as disciples are our experiences of our relationship with him. Our accounts and presence provides for others the opportunity to open their hearts and minds to receive and enter into their own relationship with Jesus, to accept the gift of his grace that he offers.
This peace that Jesus offers is not some abstract formula and the command to love is not some pie in the sky universal love for all. The acts of peace and love Jesus shares throughout the Gospel are very concrete, individual, and personal. Jesus interacts with people as people, not as numbers. He interacts and directs us to do the same, by encountering, accompanying, and loving a person. The real question is not why isn’t God doing anything? The real question is why have we left the gift of his peace that he has given us unwrapped?
If we want peace, our heart and mind must be open to receive it, to embrace it, and to live it in the most minute of details. We also need to have the room to receive it so we must be willing to let go of our own weapons of hate, prejudice, cynicism, racism, paternalism, and the like. God created us as beings who are interconnected, which means that what one does affects all, for the sun rises and sets on the good and the bad alike.
If we want peace, we need to be more aware and mindful of our thoughts, words, actions, and even the expressions of our faces. The thoughts that we feed are the ones that bear fruit in our words and deeds. Figuratively and literally, we need to be willing to “beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks” (cf. Isaiah 2:4).
This verse becomes real in our lives when we disagree with someone and resist being disagreeable and respect the person. When we make a mistake, we resist beating ourselves up over the process and instead look to learn from our misstep, and begin again. We also need to be willing to offer the same understanding and patience to someone who speaks or acts in a way that gets under our skin.
Can we really bring about world peace? In some abstract form, for all people, for all time, no. What we can do, is choose to respect the dignity of each person we encounter. We can offer a smile, a random act of kindness, an encouraging ear or word, we can be patient and understanding, even with someone who we have kept at a distance. What we need to decide today, is if we really want to receive the peace that Jesus gives and put it into practice, person to person as he did.
In our growing global and increasingly interacting world, a sense of pluralism, the recognition and affirmation of diversity and peaceful coexistence has become more and more of an ideal. In and of itself, the embracing of diversity is good. Especially when we have and continue to experience and see such atrocities committed in the name of “tribalism”. What can be a dark side of pluralism though, is that for the sake of getting along we are not true to who we are, we limit our public discourse so as not to offend.
Identity is also not to be held up as the sole model either. Because identity has a dark side as well in that we can easily slip into a defensive posture when we feel our identity is threatened. This is why we are told that if you want to have a conflict free conversation you may want to avoid speaking about politics, religion, and I forget the third. The reason is that in these areas we identify ourselves with our personal beliefs and if someone critiques or criticizes our beliefs we feel personally threatened, and more often than not, we slip into a defensive posture and the dialogue devolves into talking at and over each other.
These thoughts lead me to the opening verses in today’s Gospel from John: Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:6-7). This may not appear to be a pluralistically sensitive comment if wanting to keep calm at the dinner table. Though it is a statement of truth.
The statement that could raise the hackles of those who are not Christian is “No one comes to the Father except through me.” This may appear at face value to be a very arrogant statement. Unless, Jesus is who he says he is, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. If Jesus is God, then of course to get to God you will be going through Jesus. Jesus does not say that you have to be a Christian to get to God. Jesus himself was not a Christian.
Regarding interfaith dialogue the Catholic Church has come far regarding some dehumanizing stances from the past to embrace a truer interpretation of Jesus’ statement. The Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate, meaning In Our Time, the first lines of the document, states that the Catholic Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy… She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all…”
The place to enter dialogue is not to avoid sharing about the truth of our beliefs, but to be able to reclaim the ability to share clearly what we believe and be willing to allow someone else to do the same. We have lost the ability to have a good argument or debate that is founded in the respect and dignity of the person first, an openness and understanding for different and diverse opinions and beliefs, grounded in the ultimate goal of learning and growing from one another.
We can reclaim the gift of dialogue if we are willing to let go of the need to talk at others, to be right, and entrench ourselves in our positions, and instead seek to be more grounded in integrity instead of identity. To grow as a person of integrity means developing the ability to think critically and with a more nuanced outlook, resisting absolutes and black and white thinking. Another line from Nostra Aetate states: “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture.”
Being a person of integrity means standing up for the dignity of another person no matter who they are because they are a human being, created in the image and likeness of God. This is what the parable of the Good Samaritan was all about. Being a person of integrity means martialing the courage to hold someone accountable and refuse to look the other way just because they are of the same gender, political party, religion, or tribe. Being a person of integrity means saying what we believe and allowing another to do the same, respecting our differences, agreeing to disagree, and finding common ground where we can. In this way we are more open to growing and broadening our understanding of the people and wonder of the world around us.
Being a person of integrity is not easy. To follow Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life, demands courage to speak truth to our peers, to power, to speak truth in and out of season, in the midst of our fear of conflict, of offending, of being wrong. We are also to have the humility to recognize when we have not respected others and are willing to be held accountable ourselves. Though to strive for it is worth the effort, otherwise we succumb to a slow death of cowardice that eats away at our soul. When we are true to who we are and who God calls us to be, we can experience the soaring heights of the freedom and joy we were created for!
Jesus, help us today in our discernment to be true to who your Father calls us to be and help us to be more willing to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with his courage, joy, and love so to strive to be people who are willing to be aware, to care, to enter into dialogue, to serve, and to be people of integrity.
Photo: Come Holy Spirit, fill our mouths with the words you want us to speak – photo credit – Jack McKee
Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions, October 28, 1965. Tr. in Vatican Council II: Vol. I: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Costello Publishing, 2004.
John recalls for us in today’s Gospel the imagery of the vine and the branches when he records Jesus as saying, “I am the vine and you are the branches” (Jn 15:5). Jesus used this imagery to show the interconnectedness that his disciples and us today share with him, God, one another, and all of humanity. God is the vine grower, he is our Creator; Jesus is the vine, he supplies our sustenance and nourishment; and we are the branches, we exist, mature, and bear fruit as long as we are connected to the vine and are shaped and cared for by the vine grower.
We are created by God, we are one with Christ, each of us are unique and individual branches, yet at the same time we are interconnected to each other through our connection to the vine. God, the vine grower, provides the nutrients to the soil, cares for the vine, maintains and prunes the branches and protects the branches from being broken or stolen. The vine receives the nutrients and water from the roots and supplies the nourishment needed to each of the branches.
This imagery becomes relevant and practical, when we recognize that the goal of our connection to Jesus is that we are not to merely exist and go through the motions each day until one day we die. We are not only to survive, but we are to thrive. The goal of any vine grower in planting a vine is that it will bear fruit. God within himself as a divine communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is totally self sufficient, yet he created us to share in his divine life. We are to be participants in the majesty of his creation.
We are to participate in the divine life of his Son, and through our participation, we are to bear fruit. Our sin, is our turning away, our rejecting the life to Jesus working in our life. When we sin we turn in on our self, and in so doing cut our self off from the very source and sustenance of our being. We still may have life in this situation, but we are limiting our self from the divine assistance that is available to us.
You might say, “I know atheists that are happy and joyful and appear to be fulfilled.” I do not disagree with you. God has created us with a soul, he created us to be in communion with him, he has created us as a living desire and hunger to be in communion with him and one another, and this is true for the atheist and believer alike. People can still answer and respond to God’s leading and guidance even though they may not be aware or define in any way that they are following God’s invitation.
Some atheists may be responding better to the life of Christ than we practicing Christians. Blessed John Cardinal Newman calls the conscience the “Aboriginal Vicar of Christ”. This is where God communicates with us, engages us, and guides us. We say yes or no in our own way. The mystery of God’s creation and communion is a wonder and a joy to behold. How we interact with him is unique and a gift of free will.
Looking back at my own life’s journey, my own stepping stones, I can see times where I have said yes and no to God. The times I have said yes, I have found more fulfillment. Through my Middle School years, to the best of my recollection, we were cultural Catholics, but I led a pretty much secular life. My joys and pursuits were self motivated, self focused, and pretty much turned within myself. Any external interests revolved around sports, a few friends, school, movies and the like. Through high school and into college I began to feel a draw to seek more. I became interested in my native American background and spirituality, the environment, while at the same time began to be active in Christianity through the Congregational Church and some non denominational experiences.
After college I became more engaged in environmental work with the National Audubon Society as an environmental educator, I also became more involved in native American culture, practice and spirituality, as well as an Assembly of God/Pentecostal church while at the same time returning to the Catholicism of my early years. During the summer of 1989 or 1990, I spent a month on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations. When I returned I experienced a ten-day silent Carmelite retreat. Both were powerful experiences.
At that point my life I was at a crossroads. The short version is that I followed the Catholic road more intensely than the Lakota, and entered the Franciscans of Holy Name for two years, before taking a leave of absence, and after two years decided not to return. I went back to working at the Audubon Society and nursing home work, and three years later met, JoAnn, and her three children. We were married May 25 of 1996. We had both attended, at different times before we knew each other, Calvary Christian Chapel, an Assemblies of God Church in Massachusetts, so we returned there together, I attended Catholic Church less and less until we moved to Florida.
In Florida, we found a Congregational Church to attend, but all the while, I felt a continual pull to return to the Catholic Church which happened around 2002. JoAnn, prior to her death, and I have been attending St Peter Catholic Church ever since. In 2013 I was ordained a permanent deacon and I presently teach at Cardinal Newman HS. While still in Los Angeles, after JoAnn died in September of 2019, I was blessed to have connected with a wonderful group of people at ZCLA: Zen Center of Los Angeles. While visiting there, I learned the practice of Zazen, sitting meditation, which has been a helpful addition to my daily spiritual practice.
This is just a snippet of the journey through the winding roads to where I find myself today. Each step of the way, the vine grower has had his hand in guiding, protecting and shaping me. Jesus continues to be my source and life, and each year I have felt closer to him, and even during this time of mourning JoAnn’s death and my still present recovery from pneumonia, I am beginning to feel more comfortable with being me. Each of us is on our own unique journey, while at the same time we are all interconnected. We do not journey alone. I invite and encourage each of you reading these words to be true to yourself and who God is calling you to be.
Photo: A quiet moment a year and a half ago in San Francisco visiting Mia.
In our reading from the Gospel of John today, Jesus explains to Philip how he and God the Father are one. When Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus responds: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Even though Philip had lived with Jesus, experienced the authority of his teachings, witnessed his works of healing and exorcism, witnessed to the inclusiveness of his ministry, he, as we, struggled with comprehending what Jesus was talking about regarding the unity between his Father and himself.
One of the reasons is that God is God and we are not. God is not one being among many, he is not even the Supreme Being, nor is God even in the genus of being. God so transcends our reality and sphere of understanding that any words we say about him are going to be limited. God is Infinite Act, God simply is. We are finite. At the same time, this does not mean that God is an impersonal force. God transcends all of his creation, time, and space, is the source and foundation of all that exists, and yet he is closer to us than we are to ourselves, each and every one of us.
God came closer still when, in the Person of his Son, he came to dwell among us. This is what Jesus meant when he said to Philip that when he saw him he saw God. Each person, God the Father and God the Son are distinct but because of their infinite essence they are also, as we say in the Nicene Creed each Sunday, consubstantial, they are of one and the same substance.
The Son came to be one with us while remaining fully divine and in full communion with his Father, so we can be one with him and experience the intimate relationship that they share. We participate in the life of Jesus because he became human, and as human beings, God created each of us as being interconnected with one another. So what happens to one of us, happens to all of us.
Through our Baptism and participation in the Sacraments, we participate and become conformed to the Body of Christ so to encounter Jesus in an ever deeper intimacy and share in the divine Communion between God the Father and God the Son, as well as the Love that is shared between them who is God the Holy Spirit.
The wonderful gift of participating in the relational communion with the Holy Trinity, is not just for us alone as some treasure to sit on, as some secret knowledge to be shared with only a few chosen ones. This is a universal message to be shared with all. As we grow in our relationship and participation with God, we are to make him known to others. We to do so through our participation in the life of Jesus. As Jesus said to Philip, “[W]hoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12). Jesus seeks to work, love, and serve through us as the Father did through him.
Each of us is given a particular charism, a ministry of service to build up the kingdom of God. The key is to believe in Jesus and seek his guidance so that he can help us to discern how best we can serve him and build up his Body. Those we call saints were those who came to know that one thing that God called them to do. They then surrendered all to their vocation. This is not just for clergy or religious, this is for each and every person on this planet. The only requirement is that we are willing to follow Jesus, say yes to the invitation to experience the love of the Holy Spirit he freely offers, and be willing to be sent to allow God to happen in our interactions with one another. In so doing, we find meaning and fulfillment in our lives.
Embrace today the reality that the God of all creation loves each and every one of us more than we can ever imagine. Embrace the unique relationship he calls us to participate in, which is a share in his Trinitarian Communion. Embrace this unique blessing so we can open our hearts and minds to the service and ministry he calls us to through our participation in the life of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, through the Love of the Holy Spirit.
Photo Credit: Photo I took of St Mother Teresa in Massachusetts early 90’s
Our days are so full of activities, conflicts, health issues, technological stimulation, 24/7 news cycles, social media interaction, and mix into all of this, our present ongoing pandemic which can all contribute to our emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual undoing. If we do not have the proper foundation and orientation, we can feel stretched, hollow, and/or fatigued at best. One day can seem to blend into another, and another, and another. The image of being on a hamster wheel or an unending treadmill can fall afresh in our mind’s eye when we actually do take a minute to breathe. Anxiety, worry, stress, fear, prescriptions, and addictions all appear to be on the rise and swirling out of control.
Is there an answer to this hyper pace or are we doomed to just keep going until the wheels fall off? The opening verse in today’s reading provides an antidote when we are feeling any or all of the above.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me” (Jn 14:1).
We are invited to place our trust in God through his Son, Jesus. By putting them first does not mean that the externals to our life will take an abrupt turn for the better, but what it does mean is that we will have support and divine assistance. It means that we are not alone in our struggles. The disciples found this out when in the midst of a sudden sea squall. Their boat was taking on water as the waves grew higher they were terrified and so, called to a sleeping Jesus. Jesus awoke and with a word, he calmed the sea (cf. Mk 4:35-41).
Jesus may or may not calm the sea of our trials and tribulations, but what he will do is be present with us through our storms in life and we can trust in him that he will guide us through. As we grow more confident in our trust in Jesus we will come to be assured that no matter who or what comes at us, he will be there to assist us. There will experience more peace and calm within ourselves – no Prozac or Zoloft required. The ultimate assurance that Jesus provides is that when we surrender our life to him we belong to him, we are not alone or orphaned. He gave his life for us, to redeem and save us so that we can be assured of our home for eternity.
If we are struggling at any level and are seeking to build our trust and faith in Jesus, we do need to realize that this takes time. We need to daily ask Jesus for help, seek his discernment about where we can make changes in our life, and make periodic efforts to stop in our day to be still. This time does not need to be lengthy, three to five minutes to start can do wonders. On the surface level, by stopping for five minutes to pray and breathe more deeply and consciously, we get off the wheel, we step out of survival and reaction mode, so we can then make more mindful decisions, and we can come to see that we truly have options, but more importantly, we begin to develop a relationship and intimacy with Jesus so to begin to recognize his voice that is calling out to guide us.
The Liturgy of the Hours and meditation have been spiritual anchors for me especially over the past year and a half. Even while in the hospital in January, I brought and prayed with my breviary and rosary. Having set times to stop to meditate and pray throughout the day has been helpful, especially on those days when my schedule is full to overflowing. Author Wanda E. Brunstetter, wrote, “If you are too busy to pray, you are busier than God wants you to be.” There is a lot of truth in her statement. I have had busy days, weeks and months, where I have wondered if taking the time to pray and meditate was really the most sensible choice. Time and again it has been. I have also been pondering during my recovery about the fact that I have been way too busy for some time.
The Rosary is another great way to get into God’s word by meditating on the mysteries of the life of Jesus and Mary. If you are not able to pray the whole Rosary in one sitting, start with one decade a day. Read for a few minutes from the Bible once in the morning and then return to meditate on the same verse or verses that touch or challenge you throughout the day. You can also read the daily Mass readings and place your self in the scene and allow the account to open up before you as if were actually there.
Each of these practices offer us a few of the many ways to stop the madness, to slow down, simplify, and connect with the power, the love, and the grace that Jesus yearns to share with us such that no matter the external or internal upheaval, we may experience his peace, that peace that surpasses all understanding (cf. Philippians 4:7).
Photo: My anchors for slowing down to hear God in the quiet of my heart.
Today’s Gospel from John begins as Jesus had just finished washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus then said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him” (Jn 13:16). Jesus not only taught the truth that God the Father sent his Son to serve and not be served, he modeled this practice consistently.
From his conception, gestation, and birth, the Son of God developed as a human being in the very simplest of conditions and endured the hardships of those on the margins. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were political refugees very soon after his birth. The young family was forced to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt. When Herod the Great died they returned to Nazareth, and other than the incident in the Temple, we hear nothing about the life of Jesus until he begins his public ministry. The most likely reason for this was that there was nothing to tell. Jesus most likely apprenticed with Joseph, in the trade of a simple tektōn, a woodworker, which was pretty low on the rung of the social ladder.
Through the short time of his ministry, Jesus modeled for his disciples what a follower of his entailed and what it meant to be one of his successors. To follow in his footsteps they would need to participate in servant leadership. He not only taught them but lived and modeled that there is no task too menial that we can’t roll up our sleeves and dive in to help. There is no person too other that we can’t assist when they are in a need.
A good prayer and meditation for us today is to ask Jesus to reveal for us how we have resisted his urgings in the past regarding serving others as well as when we have refused to interact or treat someone with anything less than the basic human dignity which they deserved. Have we ever thought that what he was asking of us was beneath us? Have there been people we have kept at arm’s length or refused to reach out to? For those ways in which we have withdrawn within ourselves and refused to be of help may we ask for his forgiveness.
Being willing to allow Jesus to shed some light on our lack of embracing opportunities to serve is a good place to begin. Then renewed with his forgiveness and healing touch, may we be more willing to be bearers of the understanding, grace and mercy which we have received. May we be more open to each of the people and/or tasks that God will place before us, the discernment to know his will, and the clarity and courage to act as his servant with humility and without hesitation.
Photo: Grounds work during my novitiate year with the Franciscans in Brookline, MA around 1992.
“I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness” (Jn 12:46).
What might be the darkness that Jesus refers to? It could be anything that turns us within ourselves, away from that which is True, Good, and Beautiful. This can be prejudice, ignorance, cynicism, sin, violence, hatred, war, division, dehumanization, and the list goes on.
A major root that keeps us in this darkness is fear. Jesus offers us the light of his Father. He encourages us to leave our self-imposed imprisonment by loving us as we are, more than we can imagine, and more than we can ever mess up. Christianity is not just a set of moral principles, a set of doctrines, a philosophy, or a theology. Christianity is about an encounter with a person, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
The light of Jesus leads us and invites us to experience that which we have been created and are restless for – an intimate relationship with God the Father and each other. Through the light of his love, Jesus reveals to us those apparent goods, false substitutes, and idols that distract us and keep us separated from deepening our relationship with God. We come to know God when we are willing to receive the love of the Holy Spirit, to be ourselves free of our masks, and are moved to share that love with each other.
Jesus, please help us to resist any selfish impulse or reaction based on any fears or past hurts and guide us instead to love as you have loved us. Even in quarantine or from a distance, we can still smile, be aware of and offer to be of help, reach out to someone and be present and willing to listen, and/or choose to be more understanding, supportive, and encouraging. In these small ways, we allow the light of Jesus to shine in and through us outward to others and the darkness will not overcome it!
Photo: Sacred Heart of Jesus statue on the grounds of St Peter Catholic Church, Jupiter FL
Jesus continues to present the imagery of the shepherd in today’s Gospel reading from John. He offers the assurance of security and protection that is to be found for those that are in his fold when he says, “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:28-30). How does one enter the fold of the Good Shepherd? All who hear his voice and follow him will be known by him and so be a part of his flock.
Yet, there are those who hear his voice and do not recognize the Shepherd. They do not follow him and so are not known by him, although he seeks them out. They may know about the Shepherd, have heard of him, but do not know him. Their hearts and minds are closed. They do not believe in his miracles, his exorcisms, his teachings, and the question of those opposing him in today’s reading is, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (Jn 10:24). Jesus did just that by saying that he and the Father are one. The response to the forthright comment of Jesus is that those who are closed to his answer pick up rocks to throw at him (see Jn 10:31).
Jesus offers the gift of relationship with him and his Father, to experience the love shared between them, the Holy Spirit. This offer is without condition. Jesus is open about who he is, who we are, and who we can become in participation with him. Those who say no to his invitation do so for their own reasons; a demand for proof, a listing of the terms and conditions that need to be met first, assurances sought for, and/or excuses offered, diversions, distractions, temptations. Just as Jesus invites us to freely come to him, he will only come so far as we are willing to receive him. He does not conform to us or to our will. Jesus does not need us, yet he loves us by willing our ultimate good.
Even we who have said yes, only go so far. We hedge our bets, dip our toes into the water, and maybe go in ankle-deep, but not too many of us are willing to relinquish control, let go, and surrender fully all at once. Jesus offers, eternal life, true, but also a life of meaning and fulfillment now. A perfect life? No, there will continue to be challenges, conflicts, mistakes, and misfires as well as Jesus’ voice continuing to call us to follow him to go into the deeper waters, to seek freedom from our anxieties, fears, and weaknesses. He urges us to face conflicts, to be disciplined in resisting temptations of apparent goods, and to risk and trust him as he has his Father.
Through all our experiences, the ups and downs, the only assurance is that we are not alone. No matter what we may face today or tomorrow, we can be assured that Jesus will never let us go and no one can take us out of his hand. Each step of the journey we take, we can be confident that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, will be there to guide and protect us.