The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Sheep and shepherds feature as a strong metaphor in our Readings for this Sunday.

I recall a time when I was studying in the US and was present at a Sunday Mass in the Diocese of Trenton, NJ.

As luck would have it, the Gospel of the day was the gospel we proclaim today (John 10: 1 – 10).

The homilist was a Scripture scholar from the diocesan seminary. It is a homily I have never forgotten. He began his homily with these words:

“There’s 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 in order to appreciate what Jesus says about himself as the Good Shepherd.

“Sometimes very early on in the life of a lamb, if a shepherd sensed that this particular lamb is going to be a congenital stray and forever be drifting away from the flock, he deliberately breaks its leg so that he, the shepherd has to carry the lamb until its leg is healed.

“By that time, the lamb becomes so attached to the shepherd that it never strays again!”

I have no means of verifying the validity of the shepherd’s practice, however it got me reflecting; maybe there is a deliberately “broken bit” in me that is my conduit into a relationship/attachment with Jesus.

When I reflect on the Gospel stories, I notice the broken people come to Jesus ‘in their brokenness’, and leave healed.

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

Will I let Jesus carry me until I am healed?

Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

For many, this day of prayer encourages prayer for more people to enter religious life and/or priesthood.

“If we pray more and with greater earnestness more will ‘enter’”.

Vocations has never been a numbers game, rather it is a question of attentive listening.

One of the facts that people seem to dismiss from the equation is quite simply, “There are fewer persons to hear the call!”

The average number of people per New Zealand household is 2.7 people, which has remained unchanged since 2006.

I invite you to enlarge the possibility of those for whom we pray.

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 a 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 the ministerial priesthood.

Each of these vocations is of equal value.

One is not more efficacious than the other.

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

Also, have you seen a shepherd work a flock without dogs? Dogs are pretty much essential to a shepherd’s work. It might be advantageous this Vocations Week to pray for sheepdogs as earnestly as we pray for shepherds.

3rd Sunday Easter

This Sunday’s Gospel introduces us to ghosts! (Lk 24: 35 – 48)

[The disciples] told what had happened on the road, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. (Lk 24: 37)

A rustle in the bushes, a creaking floorboard, the curtain blowing at the window on a wind-less night, and the anxiety that follows.

For as long as human beings have been self-aware, it seems they have also been aware of ghosts. The concept of ghosts, and ghost stories, dates far back into human history and has captivated and mystified the human race for generations.

Oresteia, a trilogy of Greek tragedies first performed in 458 BC.

Pliny the Younger the Roman lawyer recounted his famous ghost story around 100AD, proving that these chilling stories have been commonplace for at least two thousand years.

Shakespeare’s treatment of ghosts was used as a key storytelling tool, as can be seen in his revered play, Macbeth and the ghost of Banquo.

Ghosts appear also in Richard III, and of course Hamlet.

Referred to in the stage directions as ‘Ghost’, the ghost appears just three times in the play, acting as a catalyst for Prince Hamlet’s actions.

In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote what is probably the most famous ghost story of all time “A Christmas Carol”, which follows the journey of Ebeneezer Scrooge from miserly money-lender to a kind and loving man.

Told in five chapters, or ‘staves’ as Dickens called them, Scrooge is visited by four spirits on Christmas Eve, each of whom opens his mind to the world around him.

Divine Mercy Sunday

On national television (TV1), a programme titled “The Repair Shop” is being shown.

Each episode follows professional craftspeople from around the UK who restore family heirlooms with sentimental value for their owners.

Heirlooms are found mostly through social media, and their owners are not charged for the restorations.

One such tradesperson is Kirsty Ramsey. She is a renowned ceramics expert.

People who have brought their family treasures and valuables to Kirsty for repair are astounded that they cannot see the repair.

It is as if the object had never been broken.

“Kintsugi” is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold.

The process highlights cracks and repairs events in the life of an object, rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage.

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is illuminated.

The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, knocks, and shattering to which ceramic ware is also subject.

Kintsugi is the general concept of highlighting or emphasizing imperfections.

It visualises mends and seams as additives, an area to celebrate or focus on rather than absence or missing pieces.

The Japanese artist Makoto Fujimara, notes “the kintsugi bowl is far more valuable than it was before it was broken.”

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas is a painting of the subject of the same name. It is one of the most famous paintings by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602. The painting is part of the collection of Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Germany.

The Sunday immediately after Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday; might this Sunday have a by-line, ‘Mended in Gold Sunday’?

At the heart of being redeemed in Christ is “being mended in gold”, and as a result being more valuable!

The painting recounts Thomas’s encounter with the wound of Christ. A powerful image I suggest of being “mended in gold”.

Easter Sunday

The common Western image of the Resurrection shows Christ as a triumphant yet singular figure.

This figure is surrounded by bright light, is sometimes semi-naked, and dressed in white.

If other humans are present at all, it is often as guards lying asleep by the tomb or in some way falling away from and shielding their eyes from the spectacle.

In Western Christian iconography, Christ is ‘going up’.

An example is a triptych painting of The Resurrection of Christ, which Peter Paul Rubens completed between 1611 and 1612 and is currently housed in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp.

The iconography of the Eastern (Orthodox) church has Christ ‘going down.’

The familiar Eastern icon of the anastasis shows Christ breaching the gates of hell, generally with two long, broken gates lying in the shape of a cross and a personified Hades or Satan lying conquered under his feet.

The key element in this icon is Christ firmly grasping Adam and Eve’s wrists and pulling them up toward him.

As Jesus is risen, so are those fundamental flaws that hold us bound.

The Resurrection of Jesus is not a singular event, and its sole focus is on the person of Jesus. Instead, it is an ‘us’ event, as we pray:

Dying you destroyed our death,
Rising you restored our life,
Lord Jesus, come in glory.