4th Sunday of Easter

I am a great gatherer of stories that might provide a ‘stepping off point’ for my and others’ reflections. I recall studying in the US and attending a Sunday Mass in the Diocese of Trenton, NJ. The Gospel of the day was the Gospel we proclaim today about the Good Shepherd. (Jn. 10: 27 -30). It is, somewhat surprisingly, no more than four verses long; however, further proof that the best things come in small packages! The homilist began with these words:

“There was a practice among shepherds in Israel that existed at the time of Jesus and is still in use in parts today that needs to be understood to appreciate what Jesus says about God as the Good Shepherd. Sometimes very early on in the life of a lamb, if a shepherd senses that this particular lamb will be a congenital stray and forever be drifting away from the herd, he deliberately breaks its leg so that he has to carry the lamb until its leg is healed. By then, the lamb becomes so attached to the shepherd that it never strays again!”

Through quite an extensive search, I have found no evidence that the practice ever existed, and for me, it sounds rather barbaric.

However, it has provided me with some worthwhile reflection. I am of the period when “you put on your Sunday best” to attend Church on a Sunday (and, of course Holy Days of Obligation). The ‘dressing up’ I consider an important symbol – a symbol of bringing  your ‘good self’, your ‘washed and polished self’, a self that would ‘prove acceptable’ into the presence of your God

When I read and reflect on the Gospel stories, I notice it is the broken people who come to Jesus, (deaf, dumb, blind, lame, issue of blood, demon possessed, and many more). They arrive ‘in their brokenness’ and leave healed, some even leave their sleeping mat where it lies.!

Maybe there is a deliberately “broken bit” in me that actually is my conduit into my relationship with Jesus.

Through my silly theology have desperately tried to hide away this “broken bit” to present an acceptable and pleasing face to Jesus.

The question may well be: will I let Jesus carry me, with my broken pieces, until I am healed?

Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Let us not reduce this day of prayer to a day of prayer for a select few discerning a call to the religious life, or to ordained ministry. Let us be broad and expansive in our prayer.

Let us pray for a listening ear and a generous heart for women and men throughout our world, attentive to the vocational call of the Good Shepherd – a call to the single life, to life lived in the commitment of married love, to a life lived through the vocation of religious life, to a life lived through the vocation of ministerial priesthood.

Let each of us hear again the foundational call of Christian women and men through the Baptismal grace which names us as daughters and sons of God.

3rd Sunday of Easter.

Imagine for a moment a classroom. A group of young children are sitting on the floor in a half circle. In front of them sits the teacher. The teacher has on their lap a book. The teacher opens the book and begins, “Once upon a time . .” and the children move quite perceptively to get more comfortable. For a moment, just a moment, you too may have been sitting on the floor!. Why do stories have such power?

Storytelling has always been at the heart of being human because it serves some of our most basic needs: passing along our traditions, confessing failings, healing wounds, engendering hope, strengthening our sense of community.

In her book “ O Pioneers” the American novelist Willa Cather, writes “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

Stories hold our truth; who we are as an individual, a family, a nation, a culture. We are forever telling stories; stories to enlighten, stories to remember, stories to invigorate and renew.

Stories are imaginative, of course, both in the telling and the hearing. But they also offer substance. The more we hear and the better we listen, the better sense we get of what life might be about, even why we are here.

To lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.

In 2 days’ time we will tell a story – we call it Anzac day.

Our Gospel this Sunday is about story-telling (Lk. 24: 13 – 35). “what things?” asks the traveller who joins the two disciples on their walk to Emmaus, and so the story begins. . . .

Second Sunday of Easter

Our Gospel for this Sunday (John 20: 19 -31) is remembered as the story of doubting Thomas — this in spite of the fact that Thomas makes the most resounding act of faith in Jesus in the whole Gospel of John. It should really be remembered as a story of faith — believing Thomas. But that will never catch on, simply because we identify more readily with the figure of doubt — just that bit nearer to our experience.

There is a painting by the celebrated 17th century Italian artist, Caravaggio which is titled “The Incredulity of St Thomas”. The painting was completed between 1601-1602. It is the most copied painting of Caravaggio, 22 copies from the 17th century are known. The painting represents visually what we have proclaimed in today’s Gospel, namely the invitation by Jesus to Thomas to “put your finger here and see.” In Caravaggio’s painting Thomas has the forefinger of his right hand inserted into the side of Jesus as far as the first knuckle joint! It is a dramatic presentation of today’s Gospel and invites a reflection on touch.

Touch speaks the wordless words of love and intimacy.  We receive so much touch when we are babies and so little when we are adults.  Our Holy Thursday liturgy has individuals touching another’s feet in the intimacy of foot washing. At the Good Friday liturgy, we are invited to venerate the Cross, and many come forward to touch the wood with hand or lips. Each time we gather to receive Holy Communion, we hold our hand and are touched with the Body of Christ.

And then standing in a crowded bus or train bodies jostle back and forward and touch with the movement of the vehicle.

Being human people, we are embodied, enfleshed, as Jesus was when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. ( Jn 1: 14)

Touch has a vocabulary of its own. In friendship touch often gives more life than words.  A friend’s hand stroking our back, a friend’s arms resting on our shoulder, a friend’s fingers wiping our tears away, a friend’s lips kissing our forehead — these are true consolation.  Two lovers speaking their love through the intimate touch of the other’s body.

These moments of touch are truly sacred.  They restore, they reconcile, they reassure, they forgive, they heal.

John’s Gospel tells of a deep personal peace that comes when we are freed from fear and confusion. Jesus indicates this freedom as he asks Thomas to feel his wounds, dissolving Thomas’ fear and distrust by letting himself be touched so intimately.

Everyone who touched Jesus and everyone whom Jesus touched were healed.  God’s love and power went out from him (see Luke 6:19).   When a friend touches us with free, non-possessive love, God’s incarnate love touches us and God’s power heals us.

The illustration is of “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”, 1601 – 02 , currently in the permanent collection of Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam, Germany.

Divine Mercy Sunday

We need to risk God’s mercy more. The place of justice and truth should never be ignored, but we must risk letting the infinite, unbounded, unconditional, undeserved mercy of God flow free. The mercy of God is as accessible as the nearest water tap, and so we, like Isaiah, must proclaim a mercy that has no price tag: “Come, come without money and without virtue, come everyone, drink freely of God’s mercy!”

What holds us back? Why are we so hesitant in proclaiming God’s inexhaustible, prodigal, indiscriminate mercy?

Partly our motives are good, noble even. Concern for truth, justice, orthodoxy, morality, proper public form, proper sacramental preparation, fear of scandal, and concern for the ecclesial community that needs to absorb and carry the effect of sin, these are not unimportant things. Love needs always to be tempered by truth, even as truth must ever be moderated by love. However, sometimes our motives are less noble and the hesitancy arises out of timidity, fear, jealousy, and legalism – the self-righteousness of the Pharisees or the bitter jealousy of the older brother of the prodigal son. No cheap grace is to be dispensed on our watch! God’s mercy, as Jesus revealed it, embraces indiscriminately, the bad with the good, the undeserving with the deserving, the uninitiated with the initiated. One of the truly startling insights that Jesus gave us is that the mercy of God cannot not go out to everyone. It is always free, undeserved, unconditional, universal in embrace, reaching beyond all religion, custom, rubric, political correctness, mandatory program, ideology, and even beyond sin itself.

The illustration I have found helpful over the years when contemplating the mercy of God, is that of a waterfall – the water somehow keeps tumbling over! This image is of Niagara Falls. The Falls span the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York in the United States. Go near them and you will get wet – get near to God and you will be shown mercy!