Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

We are nourished by the Lamb who has become our Shepherd

In the past two weeks, at Sunday and weekday Mass, we have heard from the Gospel of John.  In particular, the Scriptures chosen by the Church have focused on the themes of the Eucharist (John 6) and the Good Shepherd (John 10).  Each of these chapters is a discourse on its respective theme, which is divisible into three parts. 

The Bread of Life discourse is John 6: 22-71.  In the first part, verses 22-40, the people ask Jesus for a sign: "What can you do?  Our ancestors ate manna in he desert..."  They are challenging Him to show them a miracle to prove He is the Messiah.  If He is the Messiah, they reason, He will be able to do remarkable things as Moses did for their ancestors in the past.  Jesus ups the ante and tells them that it was Himself, as God, who fed them then and who will feed them now with the Bread of Life.  They beg Him, "give us this bread always."  He clarifies that HE is the Bread of Life.  This brings about the first objection.  The crowd murmurs because they insist that they know Jesus as the kid from Nazareth.  They scoff at the notion that He is from Heaven. 

Next, in verses 43b-52, Jesus goes deeper into His teaching and reveals that the Bread of Life is not just "Him" in a generic sense but His flesh and blood.  In Greek, He is telling them they need to munch or gnaw on Him, to consume Him in order to have life.  This ignites the second objection.  The crowd is disgusted by the notion of eating the flesh and blood of Jesus and they question "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  They still think Jesus is only a man. 

In the third part, verses 53-66, Jesus does not back down in the face of opposition but reiterates that the one who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.  Notice the location of this discourse in verse 59: "These things He said while teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum."  Jesus is teaching in a place of honor in the synagogue - with the backdrop of the scroll of the Torah, in the role of authority of the Rabbis, on the foundation of the law and the prophets.  In this sacred place the Word of God is heard.  The Word Incarnate speaks the truth that comes from the Father.  To the Jews, His words were a line in the sand: believe or turn your back on eternal life!  This sparks the third objection.  The crowd has heard, they have listened, and they have determined that Jesus' saying is too hard for them.  They walk away and return to their former way of life.  Jesus' further clarifications fall on deaf ears.  They turn their backs on God's Word.  Finally, in conclusion, Jesus elicits a promise if fidelity from the remaining few disciples, the Twelve.  "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." 

When God's Word to us is challenging for us, it is easy to come up with objections: we know better, we are disgusted to be asked to do something beyond our comfort zones, we find Jesus' teachings too hard to accept.  Perhaps we even know well one aspect of Church teaching and are closed to learning more or to having a deeper relationship with Jesus.  May we have the courage to go deeper and overcome ourselves in order to follow Jesus. 

In John Chapter 10: 1-39, Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd.  Again, there are three sections to His teaching.  The Church places these readings on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, years A, B, C.  They also appear on weekdays during the Fourth Week of Easter. 

Verses 1-10 speak of the gate of the sheepfold.  In the ancient world, shepherds would entrust their sheep to a common corral under the watch of a gatekeeper so they could sleep at night.  In the morning, each shepherd would call our his won sheep, who would hear his voice and follow him.  The people of Jesus' time would have had this scene clearly in their minds when He used this parable.  Yet, they are still slow to believe that Jesus is the gate through which His flock enter into eternal life and the shepherd who leads them there.  False prophets are robbers who steal the sheep away from the Lord.

Next, in verses 11-21, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.  In contrast to the cowardly hired man, the Good Shepherd is responsible for the fold and sacrifices out of love for them.  This deeper teaching of Jesus again ignites division among the crowds.  some say He is possessed; other wonder how He could be because He has done great miracles. 

Thirdly, in verses 22-30, Jesus explains that the flock of which He is the shepherd belongs ultimately to the Father and has been given to Jesus by the Father.  In saying that He and the Father are one, Jesus identifies Himself as consubstantial with God.  This the Jews interpret as blasphemy and they try to stone Jesus, who escapes from their power.  Once again, we see Jesus going deeper and deeper in His teaching - not backing down in the face of opposition - and the crowds reacting ever more violently.  Jesus is rejected for doing good and speaking the truth. 

Notice that in all three Good Shepherd passages speak of the shepherd's VOICE.  There are many voices clamoring for out attention today - Trump, Cruz, Sanders, Clinton, CNN, FOX News, militant atheism, the gay "marriage" lobby, Planned Parenthood and more.  Some voices want us to reject Jesus and throw stones at the Church's Tradition.  In order to live a virtuous life, we must first quiet ourselves and shut out the noise, in order that we might hear the Shepherd's voice.  A faithful sheep ignores every voice but that of his own shepherd, Christ Jesus, who died for us lowly sheep.  We have a High Priest who was tempted in every way, yet without sin, and thus sympathizes with our weaknesses, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us.  We have a Good Shepherd, who was first a Lamb, the sacrificial Lamb of God, who was immolated for our salvation.  In His voice we will hear only love, only mercy, only truth.  He will never lie to us.  He will never abandon us. 

May we remain always fiercely loyal to the voice of our Shepherd, who nourishes us with Himself. 

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