Saturday, April 25, 2015

"I am the Good Shepherd" - homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter 2015

Easter – 4th Sunday                                      April 26, 2015
Acts 4:8-12                Ps 118                        1 John 3:1-2              John 10:11-18
1st Communion Sunday

"I am the good shepherd."

This is one of those “I am” statements that Jesus makes in the gospel.  Whenever he says one of these, we need to pay attention, because it is really important.  These statements always say something about the fulfillment of prophecy regarding the promised messiah.  They also say something about the very nature of God.  Jesus is saying something really important here.

The prophets in the Old Testament talked about the shepherds of Israel, usually in judgment because of their weaknesses and sins.  In an amazing passage from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, God addressed Israel with these words, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”  So when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” he referenced Ezekiel’s prophecy about God shepherding his people.  Jesus made a bold statement about himself.  Once again, he revealed his divinity to the people.  Jesus is revealing who He is to us.

Jesus said something very important about why he is good.  We all know that Jesus is good – but when we think about just how good Jesus is – how much he loves us – it is really amazing.

Right away Jesus said this – “a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Now, for those of us who have farms - my family raises cattle up in Spencer County -  this statement is a little strange.  Farmers know what it means to work the farm, and to make sacrifices so that the farm prospers.  But when it comes to the cattle on the farm, most farmers would never go so far as to say they would lay their lives down for the livestock.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Most people think cows are delicious – we like hamburgers, steaks, pot roasts, any and all beef products.  The cows lay down their lives for us. 

Now, as much as we human beings think we are superior to cows, which we raise on our farms for beef, God is infinitely more superior to us.  God is greater than anything we can imagine.  And God,  who became one of us in Jesus, just told us that he is the good shepherd, and that he would lay down his life for us. We celebrated that reality just a few weeks ago when we came to church on Good Friday and remembered how Jesus laid down his life for us on the cross.

What is amazing about this promise to us is that it didn’t happen just once on Good Friday some 2000 years ago.  Remember Holy Thursday?  That’s when Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “take this, all of you, and eat of it.  For this is my body, which is given up for you.”  Then he took the chalice and said, “take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in memory of me.”  What Jesus did for us on the cross 2000 years ago is made present for us again today in the Mass.  Jesus the good shepherd lays down his life for us today.  He feeds us with his body and blood, soul and divinity.  His promise from the gospel today becomes present to us in each and every Mass.  This is why it is so important to stay faithful to the Mass.  Because when we are faithful to the Mass then we are faithful to Jesus the Good Shepherd.  He loves us and he gives us his life. 

Jesus said something else very important in the gospel today.  He said this, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.”  That means that Jesus knows each and every single one of us very well.  He loves us.  Personally.  Individually.  He knows us – all about us.  He knows our history.  He knows our present.  He knows our future.  He loves us with the kind of love that made him willing to go to the cross for us.  That’s why he also keeps telling us about himself.  He wants us to know him very well.  Personally.  Individually.  He wants us to be very close to him.

Let us all choose to stay close to Jesus our Good Shepherd.

Jesus the Good Shepherd said – “these also I must lead.”  So let’s invite Jesus to lead us.  I share with you a prayer I have prayed since I was a child.  It goes more or less like this:
“Jesus I will do what you want me to do, go where you want me to go, and be what you want me to be.  I am yours.”  Jesus always leads us to be our very best selves.  Let us not be afraid to give ourselves completely to him.  Jesus, please lead us.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd.  He leads us to the fullness of life, to the best of all possible joy and happiness.  Let us give our lives to him today, especially in the Most Holy Eucharist.  And let us follow him because he leads us to the life of joy that never ends.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Standing With Christ

Mark Mallet is one of the writers I have been following for the past year or so.  I find his writings on the signs of the times to be compelling as well as faithful to the Church.  That is greatly consoling to me as I also watch and pray and consider God's call as things seem to be unraveling.  Mark speaks of a Great Storm, and I think that is an apt metaphor of what is happening in the world and what is coming, even to our own back doors both today and in the next few years.

Come what may, we are all called to Stand with Christ.  Day in and day out he wants us to be faithful, and to bring more and more people to faith in him.  In the end, he wants us to be with him to heal the world.  

To that end, I offer you the following article as well as the link to the blog.  May you be encouraged and blessed.

Fr. Bill

Standing With Christ

Photo by Al Hayat, AFP-Getty

THE past two weeks, I have taken time, as I said I would, to ponder my ministry, its direction, and my personal journey. I’ve received many letters in that time filled with encouragement and prayer, and I am truly grateful for the love and support of many brothers and sisters, most of whom I’ve never met in person.
I’ve asked the Lord a question: am I doing what you want me to do? I felt the question was essential. As I wrote in On My Ministry, the cancellation of a major concert tour has had a big impact on my ability to provide for my family. My music is akin to St. Paul’s “tent-making.” And since my first vocation is my beloved wife and children and the spiritual and physical provision of their needs, I had to stop for a moment and ask Jesus again what His will is. What happened next, I did not expect…

While many celebrated the Resurrection, the Lord took me deep into the tomb… if not deep with Him into Hades itself. I was assailed with incredible doubts and temptations that I’ve never experienced before. I questioned my entire calling, even questioned the love of my family and friends. This trial uncovered deep-seated fears and judgments. It continues to reveal to me areas in need of further repentance, letting go, and surrender. A Scripture that is speaking deeply to me at this time is Our Lord’s words:
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35)
Jesus wants me to give up everything. And by this I mean every attachment, every god, every ounce of my own will so that He can give me every ounce of Himself. This is hard to do. I don’t know why I cling. I don’t know why I hold onto trash when He offers me gold. He is showing me, in a word, that I am afraid. 

There are two levels of fear operating today. The first one is that which every Christian, and in fact every Old Testament figure from the beginning of salvation history has had to face: the fear of trusting totally in God. It means losing control. Adam and Eve grasped for control in the Garden of Eve and forfeited their freedom. True freedom then is totally giving God control of our lives. We do this by following not only His Commandments, but by living our lives in imitation of our Master who loved, and loved, and loved until the end. He did not seek comfort; He did not seek after His own welfare; He never put His own interests first. You see, before Jesus gave up His body on the Cross, He first gave up His human will in thirty years of total abandonment to the Father’s will.
Gethsemane was a tough hour for Our Lord. It was the complete denudation of His human will because, until then, He walked away from His persecutors, from the edge of cliffs, from storms that would have sunk anyone else. But now He was facing the Storm. And in order to do so, it required absolute trust in His Father’s plan—trust in a path that passed through suffering. We don’t trust God because we don’t want to suffer. Well, the truth is that we are going to suffer in this life whether we suffer with or without God. But with Him, our suffering takes on the power of the Cross and works constantly toward a Resurrection of His life in and around us.
And that leads me to the second fear we are facing that is particularto this time and generation: it is literally a demon of fear that has been unleashed upon the entire world to drive men crazy, to bring them into despair, and to silence otherwise good men and women in the face of great evils. Several times since Easter, the vision a woman had last year has come to mind. Her mother, whom I know, said this daughter of hers has been gifted with a window into the supernatural. In Hell Unleashed—a writing I strongly recommend re-reading—I quoted this woman’s vision, as relayed by her mother:
My older daughter sees many beings good and bad [angels] in battle. She has spoken many times about how it’s an all out war and it’s only getting bigger and the different kinds of beings. Our Lady appeared to her in a dream last year as our Lady of Guadalupe. She told her that the demon coming is larger and fiercer than all the others. That she is not to engage this demon nor listen to it. It was going to try to take over the world. This is a demon of fear. It was a fear that my daughter said was going to envelop everyone and everything. Staying close to the Sacraments and Jesus and Mary are of the utmost importance.
What is so strange is that several other leaders I know have also experienced this demon since Easter as well, going through experiences that all of them likewise recounted as “going to hell and back.” Having talked about it, and discovering that we are all experiencing something out of the ordinary, has given us encouragement along the lines of Peter’s exhortation:
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. (1 Pet 4:12-13)
And again:
Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. (Heb 12:7)
I can clearly see the hand of God in all of this. He is not abandoning us, or rather abandoning us to ourselves. Rather, He is bringing us through a denudation, a stripping of self-will so that we too can enter His Passion, and thus receive all the graces of His glorious Resurrection. He is preparing us, and all of you, to rule over the nations with the rod of His Divine Will (which is the most gentle of shepherds’ staffs)…
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their judgment they shall shine and dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect. (Wis 3:5-9)

There was also another common theme that emerged among us as we spoke of our trials the past two weeks: healing through the Sacraments. As the daughter said above, speaking in a wisdom from beyond this world: “Staying close to the Sacraments and Jesus and Mary are of the utmost importance.” For me, as for another leader, it was the Sacrament of Confession and Marriage that brought about healing. Even now, as I speak of this, I am deeply moved by the unconditional love my wife gave me during this time. Perfect love casts out fear[1]Through her, Christ loved me, and through Confession, He forgave me. And not only cleansed me of my sins, but delivered me from the pressing darkness of this demon of fear (who is still barking, but is now back on his leash).
I want to tell you that this is absolutely essential: that we stay near Jesus in Confession and the Eucharist. Look, these Sacraments were established by Jesus Himself in order for the Church to encounter Him in a personal and intimate way during our sojourn. The biblical texts are explicit regarding Christ’s desire to feed and forgive us through the sacramental priesthood. The authority to forgive sins came directly from His mouth [2] as did the institution of the Sacrifice of the Mass. [3] What Christian can read these texts and yet continue to attend a church that neglects these personal gifts from Our Lord? I say so indeed to trouble in a friendly way my beloved Protestant readers. But even more so to trouble those Catholic readers who hardly ever frequent the confessional or take advantage of the daily offering of the Bread of Life.
Furthermore, God’s key and plan for victory in our times is through Mary. This too is explicit in Sacred Scripture. [4]
On this universal level, if victory comes it will be brought by Mary. Christ will conquer through her because He wants the Church’s victories now and in the future to be linked to her… —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 221
I was deeply moved by the testimony of a Nigerian bishop whose country is afflicted by the scourge of militant Islam through Boko Haram. [5] He recounted how Jesus appeared to him in a vision:
“Towards the end of last year I was in my chapel before the Blessed Sacrament… praying the Rosary, and then suddenly the Lord appeared.” In the vision, the prelate said, Jesus didn’t say anything at first, but extended a sword toward him, and he in turn reached out for it. “As soon as I received the sword, it turned into a Rosary.”
Jesus then told him three times: “Boko Haram is gone.”
“I didn’t need any prophet to give me the explanation. It was clear that with the Rosary we would be able to expel Boko Haram.” —Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme, Diocese of Maiduguri, Catholic News Agency, April 21, 2015
When Our Lady of Fatima said “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God,” she was not being poetic or figurative: she meant it literally. Our Lady has been sent by Heaven to protect God’s children as a kind of “new Ark.” Consecrate yourself or renew your consecration [6] to this Woman who “will lead you to God.”Pray her Rosary, for with it you can stop wars—most especially those in your own heart and home. Do what she is asking of us: prayer, fasting, reading of Scripture, and frequenting the Sacraments. Think of the Rosary beads as Our Lady’s hand: grab it, and don’t let go.
Because the Storm is here.

While I was writing this, a reader emailed asking:
What point are we at? Horses? Trumpets? Seals?
Yes. All of the above.
There is another grace that emerged for me in just the past few days: a deeper clarity and confidence in the words that I have written you regarding our times. Once again, I am extremely reticent about timelines. Have we not learned from the prophet Jonah or the “Fr. Gobbi’s” of the world that God’s mercy is a wonderful mystery that knows no limits or boundaries, most especially that of time? Still, I am hearing in both the secular and spiritual world that this September could bring about one of the greatest economic collapses the world has ever known. All our lives will change virtually overnight whenever that comes. And it is coming. [7]
When I re-read the Seven Seals of Revolution or Hell Unleashed, and then scan the headlines, I am left speechless. The Drudge Reportreads like a daily nightmare. I can barely keep up with the exponential explosion of troubling events and trends—and I study them everyday. I mean, people aren’t even blinking anymore at headlines that only ten years ago people would have considered an April fool’s joke. We truly are living in the days of Noah and Lot, “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building” [8] while the horizon billows with blackened clouds (though, in the Middle East, the thunder, rain, hail and lightning has broken out upon the Church in full force).
We cannot hide the fact that many threatening clouds are gathering on the horizon. We must not, however, lose heart, rather we must keep the flame of hope alive in our hearts… —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Catholic News Agency, January 15th, 2009
Herein too is the work of the Divine Surgeon: cutting away the worldly wax built up in our hearts so that we can become living flames of love burning brightly in the darkness. I am beginning to believe that Pope Francis’ call for the Church to become a “field hospital” [9]is more a word for tomorrow than now. For you see, in the story of the Prodigal Son, the boy was not ready to be healed until he was absolutely broken. Only then were his father’s arms recognized for what they were: a home for the hurting. Likewise, the world in its present condition must be broken (so deep is the spirit of rebellion). And then, when all seems lost, will the arms of the Father become a true field hospital. That is, your arms and mine—one with His. We are being prepared for a triage of epochal dimensions, and this demands that we too be broken…
I have said enough for now. So let me conclude by sharing the answer to my question: what, Lord, do you want me to do? And the answer, through you, my spiritual director, and my bishop, is to keep going. And so I will. This is the hour that we must choose to stand with Jesus, to be His voice, to be courageous. No, don’t listen to this demon of fear. Don’t engage his “rationale”—a stream of lies and distortions. Instead, recall what I wrote you on Good Friday: you are lovedand nothing, no principality or power can change that. Remember this Scripture friends:
…the victory that conquers the world is our faith. (1 John 5:4)
You and I are being asked to walk by faith and not sight. We can do this; with His help, we will conquer.
I am with you, my beloved brothers and sisters, as long as Jesus wants…

Graces in greater abundance

Hi all,

Back with the blog here on this 3rd week of Easter.  It has been an intense Lent and Easter thus far, so sorry I haven't kept up with publishing the message, though I have been busy preaching it.

In my ongoing reading of the signs of the times, I felt great consolation in the message by Janet Klasson (Pelianito is the name of her blog).  Charlie Johnson calls her the "poet laureate" of our times, and I am inclined to agree.  Her Spirit-filled messages are beautiful and challenging.

Let us all be encouraged to "throw ourselves into His service."  Fiat!

Ephesians 4:20-21 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
“Beloved do not doubt! I am showering graces in greater abundance than ever before upon those who are open to receiving them. This has nothing to do with your own merit of grace, but has everything to do with the significance of the times. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. Then do not limit what I wish to do in you and through you. Believe that I am acting in new ways. Throw yourself into my service. Hold nothing back. Let go of all that you cling to. This will make the coming trial easier to bear. Become love. Love those I send you. Repent as soon as you sin. Pray ardently. Desire to live in complete union with me. Fuse your own will into mine. I am calling you anew, dear children. Look into your lives and cast off what is unnecessary. Cling to me. Become love. Children I am calling. What is your response?” 
Beloved Father of my heart, by your grace, my response is, Fiat! In the Divine Will I beg for the grace to give my will completely over to you. Help me to accept every gift and grace it pleases you to give me. Help me to pray more ardently and divest myself of all unnecessary attachments, that I might become love and live only and always in the Divine Will. Jesus and Mary please obtain for me these graces, especially that I might fuse my will into the Divine Will. Here I am Father, I come to live in your holy and adorable will. Amen.