Sheep Without a Shepherd

February 4, 2023

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd… (Mark 6:34)

SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD: When actual sheep do not have a shepherd, it is not by their choice.

However, when we act as “sheep without a shepherd”, we are making a choice. God is right here with us and WANTS to be our shepherd. However, human beings struggle with following, have difficulty giving up control.

Rather than thinking of it in terms of giving up control, perhaps we should look at it as allowing God to love us. We should replace something we want but don’t need – control – with something we desperately want and need – God’s love.

Pope Francis said: How do I welcome the tenderness of God?  Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?  “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond.  Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to find me and caress me with tenderness.  The question is: Do I allow God to love me?

Rather than reject His will (his desire to shepherd us) because we do not understand it, we need to reflect on it in our heart.

We need to allow the Lord to let his face shine upon us, and be gracious to us, for Him to look upon us kindly and give us peace.

Turning control over to Him, acknowledging him as our shepherd, is a choice. It is simply a matter of allowing Him to love us.

Hospitality

February 3, 2023

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. (from Hebrews 13:1-8)

HOSPITALITY: When I first began working with the homeless population, I was given this advice: “Treat everyone with love and compassion, regardless of their appearance or demeanor; we don’t know their story.”

We tend to be quick to judge: A person with a peculiar hair style is placed in this category, someone wearing disheveled or ragged clothing into that category, and someone speaking a language we don’t understand into yet another category.

What we see and hear is surface data. We can’t know a person’s heart until we welcome her. We can’t know a person’s pain until we show him compassion. We can’t love anyone until we are willing to do both – until we are willing to extend genuine hospitality.

If we are courageous enough to extend genuine hospitality, we open ourselves up to the possibility of an epiphany – Christ revealed in a chance encounter.

My Eyes Have Seen

February 2, 2023 – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

…when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he (Simeon) took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Luke 2:22-40)

MY EYES HAVE SEEN: Simeon was able to identify the child Jesus as the Christ as soon as he saw Him. For the remainder of Jesus’ time on earth, very few others were able to do the same, despite hearing Jesus teach and seeing Him perform miracles. The Christ was right in front of them, and they missed Him.

Some things never change. So many of us spend our lives with tunnel vision, focused only on what we want or what we need. We miss what is most important. We miss Christ among us.

I suggest that if we want to see Christ, we look at life through the eyes of our hearts.

Accepting Jesus

February 1, 2023

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” (Mark 6:1-6)

ACCEPTING JESUS: These words from Mark’s gospel come from Jesus after he was rejected in his hometown. The people who lived in his native place could not wrap their minds around the fact that Jesus, the young man they watched grow up, was “special” in some way. It made them uncomfortable, so better to reject the notion.

I think of this Gospel passage when we pick and choose which directives of Jesus we follow. We consider ourselves good Christian people, but we often ignore or reject those teachings that make us uncomfortable.

We are all for Jesus, but we don’t really have time for him other than an hour on Sunday. We claim to be pro-life – narrowly defined by us as against abortion – but we can’t concern ourselves with the needs of the elderly, the imprisoned, or the homeless. We are called to share the gospel message, but that makes us uncomfortable. We make the excuse, “My faith is private.”

When we pick and choose which parts of “love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself” we act upon, we are no different than the people in Jesus’ hometown who rejected Him.

“Just have faith”

January 31, 2023 – Memorial of St. John Boscoe

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.” (Mark 5:36)

JUST HAVE FAITH: In today’s gospel from Mark, we are offered a “miracle story within a miracle story.” A synagogue official asked Jesus to come to his home to cure his daughter, who was near death. Jesus agreed, and on the way encountered a woman that had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.

We experience three distinct levels of faith in the reading:

First, we saw the faith of the synagogue official. Despite the fact his daughter was near death, he believed if Jesus would just place his hands on his daughter, she would be cured. He knew it was possible.

Then, we experienced the incredible faith of the hemorrhaging woman. She believed she simply needed to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak in order to be cured. Jesus did not cure her; her FAITH in Jesus cured her. She knew it was possible.

Finally, we saw the lack of faith exhibited by the people in the synagogue official’s home. The official’s daughter had died, they said, and nothing could be done. Despite the fact Jesus was there and wanted to help the girl, they believed it was impossible. They even ridiculed Jesus for acting as though more could be done. He reassured the official, saying, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

The gospel reveals a full range of faith levels – from lack of faith to incredible faith.

The constant in each example? Jesus was there.

Our faith fluctuates. At one time or another, we have likely experienced each of these same levels. Jesus will meet us where we are. He is whispering in our ear, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

Proclaim

January 30, 2023

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed. (Mark 5:18-20)

PROCLAIM: In today’s Gospel, Jesus drives a “Legion” of demons from a long-suffering man. The man was so grateful, he wanted to go with Jesus and be with him forever.

The passage above tells us of Jesus’ response. In summary, he tells the man: “It is not necessary for you to go with me. Your job is to announce the Good News to others.”

Showing gratitude to God is certainly important. Not for God, he is in no need of your gratitude. It is important for the one offering the gratitude. It is a sign of humility, a recognition that the good things in life come solely by the grace of God. Nothing is possible without God, and nothing is impossible with God.

While gratitude is important, Jesus tells the man what he really wants is the man’s apostleship. He wants him to share his good fortune with others and proclaim the goodness of God.

Proclaim means to announce officially and publicly. It means to speak with confidence, with authority.

Anyone can be a disciple, getting in the boat and following Jesus. We are called to be apostles. We are sent out to proclaim the Good News to others.

Keep It Simple

January 29, 2023 – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s gospel is taken from Matthew Chapter 5 and the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Jesus sharing the beatitudes.

When I was in kindergarten, the “rules” of the classroom were painted on the wall for all to see. Three colorful animal figures were on display, each holding a sign. One sign said, “Be nice!” Another said, “Share!” And a third said, “Help others!”

The strategy of using these three simple messages made sense. Can you imagine trying to write up all of the possible rules needed for 5 and 6 year-olds? The list of all of the possible things that could go wrong, and the number of rules that would be needed to ensure that they wouldn’t go wrong, would be endless.

So, the school kept it clean and simple; they focused on how we should live our lives and interact with others. Do these three things and everything will be OK. And while my memory isn’t crystal clear from when I was a 5-year-old, I’m pretty sure everything was OK.

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Turning my attention to today’s gospel and Jesus offering the beatitudes: The Jewish people had well over 600 precepts (or laws) the faithful were expected to follow. Half of the list included things they needed to do, the other half things they needed to avoid doing.

When Jesus offered the beatitudes we heard detailed in today’s gospel, he attempted to do the same thing my kindergarten had done – keep things clean and simple and focus on how we should live our lives and interact with others.

The beatitudes were offered in response to the scholars of the Jewish faith, in particular the Pharisees. If you have been following along with the daily readings over the last few months, Jesus had been continually challenged by the Pharisees: “The law says this, but you do that.” They challenged Him on healing on the Sabbath, eating without washing his hands, dining with sinners, and on and on.

The beatitudes offered a teaching moment, a way for Jesus to say, “Don’t get so caught up in the law itself that you lose sight of the spirit of the law.”

Focus instead, on the core values. What would Jesus paint on the walls of His kindergarten?

Blessed are they who mourn – He would paint in big letters, Be compassionate

Blessed are the meek – Be humble 

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness – Do the right thing

Blessed are the merciful – Forgive others

Blessed are the peacemakers – on the wall He would paint, Be peaceful

There is an old poem called, Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten. Jesus affirms that sentiment with the beatitudes.

In kindergarten it was, “Be Nice,” “Share,” and “Help Others.”

In everyday life, Jesus tells us it is, “Be Compassionate,” “Be Humble,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Forgive Others,” and “Be Peaceful.”

It’s not rocket science. It is a simple message focused on how to live our lives and interact with others.

Terrified

January 28, 2023

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:35-41)

TERRIFIED: Even the staunchest believers experience doubt, don’t they?

We say we trust in Jesus. We say we are committed believers. We say we will put our lives in His hands. But when all of the stresses (winds) and doubts (seas) of life mount up (violent storm), we panic. We are afraid. We go frantically searching for Jesus when He is right there with us all along.

Do we choose to live in stormy waters, because we are unable to trust in God and relinquish control to Him?

Or are we one of the fortunate few who trust God completely, knowing He is ever present in our life?

Endurance

January 27, 2023

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised…We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life. (from Hebrews 10:32-39)

ENDURANCE: Throughout Scripture, we are offered subtle pep talks. In today’s Letter to the Hebrews, we hear, “Stay with it! You can do this!” (That’s my simple translation anyway.)

We all need encouragement and affirmation. It is no different in our faith lives. Staying the course in our faith is difficult. There are challenges at every turn: societal norms, temptation, unanswerable questions, etc. Facing these challenges day in and day out can be exhausting, leading to faith fatigue.

Faith fatigue cannot be handled in the same way as physical or mental fatigue. If I have physically exerted myself, or the stresses of my job have me mentally fatigued, I can step away. I can stop the physical activity and simply rest. I can step away from the workplace in the afternoon, grab my fishing pole, and relax for a few hours.

However, we cannot set aside our faith. We can’t just step away.

Ironically, we deal with faith fatigue by delving deeper into our faith. We draw energy from the very same faith that fatigues us:

  • We turn to prayer
  • We seek out the support of faith-filled people who love us
  • We participate in the Eucharist
  • We focus on serving others

Hear today’s pep talk: “Stay with it! You can do this!”

Homily: No Lampstand Required

“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. (Mark 4:21-25)

This homily, based on the same gospel we have today, was originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis BACK IN 2014:

The theme of today’s Gospel is clear. The message we hear is about light – our light and our ability to shine that light, to share that light with others.

It is a powerful image, and one of my favorite Gospel passages. I have used this image many times when giving talks to young people on leadership retreats. I impress upon them that God gives each one of us incredible gifts, and we have an obligation to share those gifts – to let them shine brightly for the world to see.

If you have a beautiful voice, you need to sing. If you have artistic ability, you need to draw, paint, or sculpt something beautiful to share with the world. If you are gifted academically, you need to put those gifts to work. If you have leadership gifts, then you need to lead.

If you do not share these gifts, if you hide them under a bushel basket, you are being selfish. You would be rejecting a gift from God. This is powerful message.

However, when I read the Gospel this time, another message emerged. I wonder if my focus has been too narrow in the past.

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