Catholic Church: March 2009 Archives

The Shepherd and the Sheep


According to St. Asterius of Amasea

from The Office of Hours

Let us look more closely at the hidden meaning of this parable. The sheep is more than a sheep, the shepherd more than a shepherd. They are examples enshrining holy truths. They teach us that we should not look on men as lost or beyond hope; we should not abandon them when they are in danger or be slow to come to their help. When they turn away from the right path and wander, we must lead them back, and rejoice at their return, welcoming them back into the company of those who lead good and holy lives.

It is all too easy to dismiss someone. It is all too easy to do so without even being aware that you are doing so. It is so easy to overlook a voice giving advice or asking for help; it is so easy to be annoyed with those who want something from us. How easy it is to give up on everyone and every thing, to give up the transformation of our own lives and the lives of those around us. How easy it is to bulldoze ahead with our own ideas and our own ways of doing things. How easy it can be to curse someone--particularly someone we do not know well; how simple to wish them ill.

And what an effort of will it takes to invite someone back--especially someone who has done a wrong to us. And yet that it what Lent is about--inviting back all who are children of God. And sometimes that means inviting back someone who has personally offended me.

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Yesterday, I was struck by just what this might mean for us and why it is so important to practice the disciplines of Lent. The particular part of the gospel that we are called upon to repent and believe in yesterday's reading is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is evident that most of us don't believe by the way we behave. I do nothing to help bring it about because I have obstinately refused to repent and believe. Like doubting Thomas, I want to see first and then believe.

But the disciplines of Lent are all about opening us up to possibility and reality. The fundamental reality that we should reflect upon is this one--that the kingdom of God is at hand and it is up to us to make it apparent to those who continue not to see, each one of us included.

Repenting is required. Not just expressing sorrow for sins, but truly rethinking everything about how we approach God and His kingdom. To do this, we must have sorrow for our sins, but that is only the beginning. The heart of where we need to go is that repenting should lead to sight. When we have truly repented, we will realize that the kingdom of heaven is a choice we make each moment of life to either believe the gospel message or to reject it. When we choose the former, we can see the kingdom and the actions of the kingdom in almost everything. When we choose the latter, we can mouth the words, but we will never really believe.

The kingdom of heaven is within our grasp. If we choose to do so, we can reach out and touch it as tangibly as we touch the world around us because it is coexistent. With faith and repentance it is present and life-fulfilling, without it, there is only mundane reality with its teasing reminders of the presence of God.

The other day as I was sitting through hours and hours of dance, I saw for a moment the Kingdom of heaven in which David dances before the Lord and sings still the psalms of old and who knows how many that have been written since. I was able to reach out for a moment and touch the kingdom of heaven and realized that the lives of the saints are lives of people who know this wonder on a daily basis even when they are in the darkest of nights. They reach out and touch the kingdom through their faith and their belief.

So Lent isn't about fasting, almsgiving, and prayer for our own good--although that is part of it. Lent is about fasting, almsgiving, and prayer as a way to repent and see again--and in seeing tell--and in telling lead others there. Because the kingdom of heaven requires constant increase. It is greedier (in a good way) than all of Wall Street because it will not be content until every single person is part of it--until every person can see it--until there is a 100% ROI and everyone is celebrating and rejoicing in the Lord.

So take off the sackcloth and ashes and the sad-sack faces, because this is not the fast that is acceptable to the Lord:

Isaiah 53:5-9

5 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the LORD?
6 " Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'

To me this sounds more like a party to which everyone is invited--a time of unbridled joy and a time of feasting. The feast is not in food, which is in mere gluttony, but in the joy and the glory of the Lord, which is the real food that preserves and makes of eternity unending heaven, unending joy.

If your Lent is not directed in this way--if it isn't pointed toward the solemn joy that underlies all the discipline, if it isn't about finding your way to the Kingdom so that you may show others, then it is, simply, misdirected--missing the point. Lent isn't about us, it is about the Kingdom of Heaven and the boundless love God has for us and becoming completely aware of and being immersed in that. And THAT is something each of us can do every day. "Repent and believe the gospel--the kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

What a wonderful way to celebrate the season of Lent--in boundless joy at the revelation of the kingdom. Think about it, and find your way there--the disciplines vanish and what is really important comes forth.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Church category from March 2009.

Catholic Church: February 2009 is the previous archive.

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