Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gospel for Today

NATIVITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (B)

"We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls." - Mother Teresa
 

Today is the day in the Church's calendar when we celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist.  We are used to hearing about St. John during the Advent season, when we all come together in the liturgy to "prepare the way of the Lord."  That was the mission of John's life, to prepare the people of Israel to receive the coming Messiah.  

John the Baptist was an interesting character.  His father was Zechariah, a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem.  His mother, Elizabeth, was a cousin of Mary.  Very little is known of him until he is about 30 years of age, when he appears in the Gospels proclaiming a message of repentance and announcing the coming of one greater than he.  "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"  We hear these words proclaimed every Sunday at Mass, before we receive the Eucharist.  But they were first said by John the Baptist (Jn 1:29).  

In the same Gospel account, when asked who he was, St. John called himself, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Jn 1:23).  Indeed, if you saw John today on the streets, the first word that came to your head would likely be "wild."  In art he is often depicted as a rugged looking man, with long beard, uncombed hair, wearing a loin cloth or ragged clothes made of camel hair.  In today's Gospel reading from Luke, describing John's birth, the passage concludes simply by saying he "grew and became strong in spirit; and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel" (Lk 1:80).

The word translated as "desert" in the New Testament is often also translated as "wilderness."  We should not think of it only as a place where it rains very little (though it certainly was that), but as a place very much outside and away from all human settlement.  John made his abode outside of the city, away from towns and villages, separated from human civilization, very much in isolation.  Why would he do this?

Jesus himself spend some time in the desert.  Before He was to undergo His Passion, he spent forty days fasting in the desert.  We imitate this today during the forty days of Lent before Easter.  Jesus went away in order to prepare Himself for the ordeal yet to come, so that He could more clearly and deeply hear the voice of God.  John the Baptist lived him life in the same way, removed from the noise and distractions of human life, so that he could hear the voice of God all the more.

There is a story in the Old Testament of the prophet Elijah waiting in a cave to hear the voice of God.  First there was a strong wind, but the voice of God was not in the wind.  Then there was an earthquake, but the voice of God was not in the earthquake.  That was followed by fire, but the voice of God was not in the fire.  After all of this, there was "still, small voice," and Elijah knew this to be the voice of God (1 Kings 19:11-13).

God speaks to us in the "still, small voice," but we tend to drown it out with all of our human business.  It can be very difficult to hear Him over the cacophony of our day-to-day lives.  And so the great prophets, including John the Baptist and Elijah, have always sought refuge in the wilderness, where in silence they could commune with God.  

There still exists in the Church today the class of people known as hermits, who live their lives in complete isolation, devoted solely to prayer and listening to that "still, small voice."  Of course not all of us are called to be hermits.  Very few are!  As human beings, we were made by God as social beings, intended to live in community and relationship with one another.  But the most important relationship of all is our relationship with our Maker.  If you never listened to anything your parents had to say to you, would you describe that as a good relationship?  If you never spoke to your best friend, what kind of friend could you claim to be?

To have a good relationship with God means talking and listening to Him.  We need to allow ourselves time in our lives to hear that "still, small voice."  We, too, can retreat into the desert, into the wilderness.  That many not mean taking a trip out to Arizona.  It might mean taking a quiet walk in the Smoky Mountains.  But it can also mean putting your cell phone on silent, turning off the television, and deciding not to check Facebook for a day.  (Believe me, the world won't end if you don't update your status for 24 hours).  You need to give yourself permission to remove yourself mentally from the noise of our society, so that you can hear the voice of the eternal God, ever-present behind all the sounds we create.

The Church sets aside one day each week, Sunday, as the sabbath.  This day is to be dedicated to the Lord.  It's the day we are obliged to attend Mass, yes.  But if we are going to Mass and then getting about our regular business, we are missing the point.  The entire day is holy.  It is the time when we are given permission to say, "I'm not going to worry about my cares and stress of the rest of the week.  I am going to relax, to quiet myself, and allow myself to hear the voice of God."  This is your day for some quality time with Jesus.  

This Sunday, as we celebrate the birth of the "voice crying in the wilderness," St. John the Baptist, try to create a little "wilderness" for yourself.  Take a hike.  Go for a silent walk.  Or if you cannot do that, just turn off everything that makes noise, hums, rings or beeps, and spend some time listening to the silence.  Spend some time listening to the Lord.


--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gospel for Today

ELEVENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

Are you a citizen of God's Kingdom?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Kingdom of God is many things.  Quoting St. Paul from his letter to the Romans, "the Kingdom of God is... righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17).  We are also told the Kingdom of God is announced in the Gospel, present in the Person of Jesus, and remains in our midst in the Eucharist.  So while we may think of the Kingdom of God as some future heaven, perfect yet distant to us, our faith instructs us that it is much closer than that.  Are you a faithful Catholic who attended Mass today?  Then you are present in the Kingdom.  Did you receive the Eucharist?  Then you have eaten at the King's banquet.

The Catechism also teaches us that the Church herself is "a priestly kingdom... in which the Kingdom of God is mysteriously present, for she is the seed and the beginning of the Kingdom on earth."  Christ in today's Gospel reading (Mk 4:26-34) also speaks to us of seeds and kingdoms.

To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.  But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.

The tiny mustard seed can be compared to the Church at her very conception.  Eleven men  (down from the original twelve because one of them betrayed their master and committed suicide), fearful and weak, their small number of followers scattering after the death of their leader.  Hardly the start of a great movement, by our human standards.  But with the help of the Holy Spirit, that tiniest of seeds has grown into the largest of plants.  At Pentecost (the feast we celebrated just a few short weeks ago), Peter preached and three thousand were converted.  The story of the Church from that day till this has been success after success.  Oh yes, there have been failings and set-backs, but looked at overall, the Church has produced so much growth, and so many fruits.  By the end of the Acts of the Apostles the faith had spread from Judea all the way to Rome, preached by Peter and Paul.  Meanwhile the Apostle Thomas was bringing the faith to far away India.  

Today, the Church has spread the Gospel to all corners of the globe.  Over a billion people today identify themselves as Catholic, and the number keeps growing.  The Church created the first hospitals, the first universities, inspired the sciences, reigned in unjust rulers and created law, order, justice and charity in so many lands.  Who would have believed all this possible, looking only at the small seed that Christ planted 2000 years ago?

But the parable of the mustard seed applies not only to the Church at large, but to each individual Christian.  We never know what can grow from our acts of faith.  A little prayer said in earnest, five minutes devoted to reading the Scriptures, or the decision to get up, get dressed, and head to Mass today, instead of sleeping in or watching tv -- these small seeds can grow and blossom and become the roots of great faith in our lives.  Furthermore we never know the effects that the seeds we plant will have on others.  I see this clearly as a campus minister -- it is one of the best aspects of this job.  Students will come up to me and mention some little thing I said to them years ago, something which I don't even recall saying, that had a great impact on their faith.  I had planted a seed, without even realizing it.  But it found good soil in the heart of that person, the Holy Spirit cultivated it, and it grew into something beautiful.  How many seeds do we plant without even being aware of what we do?

This is why it is important to be faithful in all things, great and small.  Because, where our faith is concerned, there really is no such thing as a "small thing."  There are only seeds, waiting to grow.

God bless!
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Gospel For Today


THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI) (B)

A teen was explaining why he hadn't been to Mass in over three months by saying he needed to sleep in.  "Really?" I replied.  "You can't get up just a little earlier one day a week, to give an hour to God?"

No, he could not, he assured me.  But it was ok, he said, because "if you add up all the little moments of prayer I get in during the week, it's more than an hour."

Well, that's certainly commendable that he finds time to pray during the week.  That should be a daily exercise for any Christian.  But my young friend was missing the point.  When we attend Mass it is about so much more than "prayer time."  Mass is about worship.  In fact, we really shouldn't speak of "attending" Mass, as we attend a ball game, or attend a concert.  Those are spectator events.  But we are not spectators at Mass.  We are participants.  We should be part of the action going on, and that action is the worship of the God who made us.

I feel the same way towards those who tell me they don't go to Mass because "they feel closer to God when they are hiking in the forest," or "catching trout in the river."  That's great if you feel close to God in nature.  You should, as our world is His creation.  We can glory in that.  But that does not take the place of our liturgical worship.  

Why is the Mass so important?

In today's first reading, from Exodus 24:3-8, the people of Israel said they wanted to do "everything the Lord has told us."  And so, following God's instructions, Moses built an altar and sacrificed young bulls.  He used the blood to consecrate both the altar of worship as well as the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you..."

Offering animal sacrifices in this manner was part of the duty of the Jewish people.  It was their way of giving their best back to God.  They recognized that all good things they possessed came from God, and their way of saying "thank you" was to give the best of the best back to him.  And so it was not just any lamb they would offer, but an unblemished lamb.  The sacrifice had to be pure and spotless.  It was also their way of making reparation for their sins.

Moreover, the sacrifice could only be offered by a priest.  I read a definition of "priest" once as "one who sacrifices on behalf of others."  I thought that pretty accurate.  And this is what the Israelite priests in the Old Testament would do.  Only they could enter the tabernacle, the holy of holies, and offer the sacrifice on behalf of all the people.

The worship of God through this sort of sacrifice was not seen as optional by the Jewish people.  It was seen as the only proper thing to do, in recognition of their own humility before God, from whom all things come.  But even these animal sacrifices were imperfect.  For no lamb, no bull, could ever be an adequate "thank you" for the infinite goodness bestowed on us by God.  No goat or calf could ever be an adequate "I'm sorry" for the sins we commit against the perfect Lord.  These sacrifices were merely gestures, though important ones.  Not even a human life could measure up to God's greatness.

And this is what makes the new covenant we have with God so astounding.  For God put an end to this system of sacrifices, by Himself becoming the sacrifice.  Our Gospel reading today is Mark's account of the Last Supper, in which Jesus takes the bread and says, "this is my body," and takes the cup of wine, saying, "this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many."  

St. Paul tells us in today's second reading (Heb. 9:11-15) that Christ "entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption... For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant."

Christ has become our priest, offering sacrifice to God on our behalf.  Christ has also himself become the sacrifice, the perfect unblemished lamb offered to the Father.  As God, His sacrifice is the only one that could have eternal benefit for us.   Many Protestants view Christ's sacrifice as "once and forever done with," but we as Catholics view it as "once and forever ongoing."  Christ's sacrifice was for all times and all peoples and we can still plug into that sacrifice today.  That is what we do in the Mass.

The Catechism teaches us:

Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence, since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us 'to the end' even to the giving of his life.  In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us... (CCC 1380).

All three readings today speak of a covenant.  A covenant is like a contract, it is a mutual agreement.  "I will do this, and you will do that."  The Jewish people had their covenant before God, and their ritual sacrifices were a part of how they agreed to live according to God's plan for them.  We have our own covenant with God as a Christian people, and our covenant also involves giving God proper worship.  When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the memorial of His Body and Blood, at the Last Supper, he told us to "do this in memory of me."  

Jesus is forever fulfilling His part of the covenant.  He never ceases to be the ultimate sacrifice for us.  He gives us His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine so that we can commune with Him, take Him into our very bodies.  He set things up this way so that He could be with us through all of our trials and struggles, our joys and celebrations, our mourning and our rejoicing.  He strengthens us with His very presence.  And we now, unlike the ancient Israelites, have the ability to come before our God directly in His sacramental presence and say, "Thank you" (which is what eucharist means), or "I'm sorry," or "I love you."  

What a true blessing.

So when we say things like "I don't need to go to Mass, I get can pray in my own way," we are telling God, "Thanks, but no thanks."  We are saying, "I have my own plan.  I have my own way to commune with you.  I know better than you do how you want to be worshiped."  Is that really want we want to say?  Is that really the attitude we want to have before God?

We can pray and honor and worship God in many and varied ways, and we should do so every day of the week for all of our lives.  But one day each week, on Sunday, the Lord's Day, we gather together not as many different people, but as one body in Christ, and we worship God the way He instructs us.  We worship, adore, and commune with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the same Body and Blood offered for the remission of our sins.  It is our chance to tell Him -- on His terms, not ours -- "I'm sorry," "thank you," and, "I love you."



-- 
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723





--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Gospel For Today


SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY (B)

Today is the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, one of my favorite celebrations of the year.  It gives us an excuse to remind ourselves of one of the great mysteries of our faith, a mystery that we invoke every time we bless ourselves "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," every time we begin or end a prayer in these words, at our baptisms and all other sacramental celebrations, whenever we recite the Creed, and any other time we gather as Christians.

That mystery of the Trinity has variously been described as "God is one in Being and three in Persons," or "God is one in Essence and three in Persons," or "God is one in Nature and three in Persons."  Being, essence, and nature all refer here to the same basic concept.  The Father is God, Jesus Christ the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and all three are the same God.  

How could this be?  How can God be both one and three at the same time?  Is this a contradiction of reason?  No, it is not, for what is "one" in God is one thing, and what is "three" in God is another.  To better understand, we need to get an idea of what we mean by "nature" in this context.  I am a human being, and if you are reading this email it's safe to assume that you are also a human being.  Those qualities that you and I and all other human beings share, which make us different from goldfish, horses, shrubs and earthworms, constitute our human nature.  In this way we are like God, in that we are different individual persons, yet we share the same nature in common.

Well, then, you may ask, what's the big deal?  If human beings are all different people, sharing the same nature, then why is it such a hard concept to grasp with God?  And why do we teach that God is One.  After all, we are all different human persons, with our own independent existence.  So isn't it the same with the three Divine Persons of the Trinity?  Why aren't there three Gods?

The answer has to do with God's nature.  What do we know of it?  We know a little from what He has revealed to us.  When Moses asked God for His name, He replied simply, "I AM."  Now, for you or I that would be an incomplete statement.  I would want to finish that out with "I am Matthew Newsome" (indicating who I am as a person), or perhaps, "I am a human being" (indicating my general nature).  When I say "I am" in either of those statements, I am saying, "I exist as..."  For God, however, "I am" is a complete statement.  When asked who He was, His answer is simple, "I exist."  Period.

You and I share in human nature because we both exist as human beings.  But neither of us has to exist.  We could both never have existed at all and the universe would get on quite well without us.  But not so with God.  God's nature is existence.  That is what the divine essence is -- being itself.  God cannot not exist.  So when we say the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, share in the same nature, we are saying they share the same existence.  

Now there is a radical thought, and if that does not blow your mind just a little bit, you are not thinking about it hard enough.

Allow me to ask you this.  Have you ever been deeply in love?  I hope you have, and if you have not, I hope you are able to imagine what it might be like.  When you fall deeply in love with someone, it can feel like you can never be close enough to that person.  No matter how intimate you become, you always want to grow closer.  Now there are limits to this, of course.  We are unable to actually be inside of someone else's skin, to be inside of their minds, to share intimately in their very being, to become one with who they are.  But God has no such limits.

Because the three Divine Persons share the same existence, theologians have described the life of the Trinity as each Person continuously pouring themselves into the other two in an eternal cycle of love.  This is perfect intimacy.  This is perfect unity.  And this is what we mean when we say, along with St. John, that "God is Love."

You see, love is not something God does.  Love is something God is.  It is part of His very nature, part and parcel of His existence.  We need someone outside of ourselves to love, but God needs nothing outside of Himself.  He is, within His very being, perfect love.  

God is Love.  Love is something we do because we are made in His image.  And it is something we strive to do better, because we want to be more perfectly like Him.  Most important of all we need to love Him, who is Love itself.

So to those who say the doctrine of the Trinity is just "theological mumbo-jumbo, irrelevant to today's life," I say, "What can be more relevant than love?"

This is what the Trinity is about: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God in three Persons, existing in an unending circle of Love.  This is the mystery we are invited into.  This is the God who wants to dwell inside of you, to make His home in you, so that you, too, can be a part of His inner life of love.

God bless!
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723





--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Gospel For Today


PENTECOST SUNDAY (B)

Today is the birthday of the Catholic Church!  The age of the Church is reckoned to have begun at the feast of Pentecost (50 days after Easter) when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.  Why is this such an important occurrence in the early life of the Church?

Well, let's just take a step back for a minute.  Pentecost marks the descent of the Holy Spirit.  So what did Christ have to say about the Holy Spirit?  This is from today's scripture readings.

Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me...  he will guide you to all truth."

This is from the second Gospel option for today (Jn. 15:26-27, 16:12-15).  The first Gospel option (Jn. 20:19-23) recounts when Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said "receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained" (and thus inaugurating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, granting the Apostles the authority to forgive sins in His name).

So just from today's readings we discover that it is the Holy Spirit that not only gives the Church the authority to forgive sins (crucial to the sanctifying mission of the Church), but also leads the Church "to all truth," which is essential to her teaching mission.

Last week we celebrated Christ's Ascension.  Just before He went up to be with the Father in heaven, Jesus gave this final command to the Church: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:19).  The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost empowers the Church to fulfill this command.  It is the fulfillment of Christ's promise to His Church.

The immediate effect of the Holy Spirit's descent upon the Church was obvious and impressive.  The Apostles were filled with a spirit of zeal and began to preach to the masses.  Though they preached in their own language, all the listeners gathered (from many different nations) miraculously heard them speaking in their own native tongues.  About 3000 people were converted and baptized that day.

The gift of tongues is a rare one, to be sure, but there are many other gifts of the Holy Spirit which are still found in abundance in the Church today -- and that means you and me, too.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church outlines these seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord ("fear" in this context means an awesome respect for the Lord's greatness, not the hiding under your bed kind of fear) (CCC 1831).

In the first option for the second reading today (1 Cor. 12:3b-7, 12-13), St. Paul says this about the gifts of the Spirit.  

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

He then goes on to compare this to the different parts of the body being part of the same body, though they have different functions.  This is how it is with all of us in the Church.  The Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts, this much we can count on.  But my gifts are not going to be the same as your gifts.  Nor should they be.  Maybe you have a great musical talent you are meant to use in service to the Lord; maybe you are a gifted teacher; perhaps you are a compassionate listener who can use that gift to spread God's love.  We each were gifted by the Lord with different talents, skills and abilities.  Our job is to use those gifts as best we can, for the glory of God; not to sit around whining and complaining that we don't have the same gifts as someone else.

I imagine most of you reading this today will have been baptized and confirmed.  You have been marked as a child of God's, sealed with the seal of Christ, and blessed by His Spirit.  I encourage you today, as we celebrate the birthday of the Church, to pray about what gifts the Spirit has given you, and reflect on how you have put those gifts to use to increase the body of Christ.

May God bless you on this great feast!

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723





--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Gospel For Today


SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD

Today is the great solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, historically celebrated on Thursday of this past week, but which may be moved at the discretion of the local bishop to the following Sunday.  In the Diocese of Charlotte, the Ascension is celebrated today.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Ascension as "the entry of Jesus' humanity into divine glory in God's heavenly domain, forty days after his Resurrection."  We commonly say that "Jesus rose bodily into heaven."  Why is this important?  Why would it be wrong to believe that Jesus rose spiritually into heaven to be with the Father, leaving his earthly body behind?

Just as the bodily Resurrection of Christ is a fundamental teaching of Christianity, so too is His bodily Ascension.  This is because Jesus, while being 100% fully divine, is also 100% fully human.  And to be human means to have a both a body and a soul.  We have a word for what happens when the human body and soul are separated -- death.  We call a body without a soul a corpse, and a soul with no body a ghost.  Jesus Christ is no ghost.  He conquered death on the cross, and that means rising bodily from the dead.  And that also means that when Christ ascended into heaven, He took His body with Him. 

Think about what this means.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Divine Logos, God Himself, has a human body.  Human nature -- the same nature that you and I have -- is now integrated into the inner life of the Trinity.  God loved humanity so much that He became one of us, not just for the 33 years between the Incarnation and the Passion, but for all time.  Through all eternity now, God has a human face.  Wow.

If that does not blow your mind, you are not paying attention.  

What this means, also, of course is that when Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, He was no longer bodily present to us here on earth... well, not in the way we might ordinarily think of it.  Turns out, He had a plan all along, enabling Him to fulfill His promise to be with us for all time.  That plan is the Eucharist.  "This is my body," Jesus tells us, holding the bread at the Last Supper, and at each and every Mass celebrated from then till today.  "Do this in memory of me."

We call the Holy Eucharist "communion" because when we partake in it, we are communing with Our Lord.  And we don't mean just a metaphorical communion.  We are taking His body into our bodies.  You cannot get any more intimate than that. And by communing with Christ, we are also in communing with all others who are in communion with Him.  And so the Eucharist is an expression of our communion with the entire Church, as well.  

In all options for the second reading in today's Mass, St. Paul speaks of the Church as being the "body of Christ."  And so Christ continues to be bodily present to the world through His Church.  You and I are a part of that body.  We are the hands, the feet, the eyes, and the mouth of Christ.  And just as your own hands and feet don't move about on their own, but follow direction from the head (your mind), the various members of Body of Christ (the Church) have to follow the direction of its head (Jesus).  

And what directions does Christ give us?  From today's Gospel account, from the very end of Mark:  "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature."  Today's first reading is from Acts of the Apostles, and relates the same scene just before the Ascension, where Jesus tells his apostles, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

The word "apostle" means witness, and that is exactly what we are called to be, witnesses to Christ.  When the world sees you, as an individual, they should be seeing Christ.  When they see us, as the Church, working together, they should be seeing Christ.  These are our marching orders.  Let's get to it!

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723





--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Gospel For Today

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (B)

"I am the good shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

A few years back I discovered the paintings of nineteenth century English artist, Richard Ansdell.  Ansdell is known by many sportsmen and naturalists for his paintings of wildlife and sporting activities (hunting, fishing) from England in the mid-1800s.  That's not how I found him, however.  Though English, Ansdell spent his summers near Loch Laggan around Invernesshire in Scotland.  Many of his paintings feature the kilted native men of that land.  That's how I came to know his work, looking for depictions of nineteenth century Scottish clothing.  

Well, if any of you have ever had the privilege of visiting Scotland, you'll have noticed that once you get outside of the urban centers of Glasgow and Edinburgh, the population gets pretty thin and you see more sheep than people.  Sheep are all over the place; on the hillsides, in the middle of the roadways, in people's front yards.  And so many of Ansdell's paintings of Highland men show them working with sheep.  I have a print hanging in my living room of one of his works called "Sheep Washing in Glen Lyon" which shows a kilted man knee deep in a creek, wrestling with a large ram trying to give him a bath.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus refers to himself as "the good shepherd."  Ansdell in fact painted a work called "The Good Shepherd," which shows a Highland shepherd lad carrying a baby lamb, a sheep (the mother?) on one side, and his faithful collie on the other.  It's a nice painting, but there is another pastoral painting of Ansdell's which I think illustrates the message of this gospel even better.  It's called "The Stray Lamb" and it shows a Highland shepherd up on side of this jagged, rocky outcropping.  He's carrying a lamb under one arm, and clinging to the rocks with the other.  The rest of his flock is down beneath him, and even his faithful collie is only about half way up the rock face.  This shepherd has climbed up to this dangerous position (in a kilt, no less!) to rescue this single lamb which had managed to lose its way, separate itself from the rest of the flock, and wander away from the watchful protection of the shepherd.  

Don't we all do that at times?  Many times in the Gospels, Jesus refers to us as sheep, and Himself as the shepherd.  We are the flock which He tends.  And like the lost lamb in Richard Ansdell's painting, sometimes we loose our way.  Maybe we get distracted by a passing curiosity, stray from the fold, and the next thing you know we are caught up on some cliff face which we never intended to end up on.  Perhaps, as in today's Gospel, we are frightened by some wolf that has made its way into the flock, scattering us in different directions.  It matters not.  We have a good shepherd.  

We have one who will stop at nothing to find us and bring us back home, safe, reunited with the flock.  "A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep," Jesus says.  A hired man who watches the sheep does not.  He sees danger and runs away.  This is because the sheep are not his own, Jesus explains.  He only works for pay.  But not Jesus.  We belong to Him.  "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep."

We belong to Christ.  My children have a game they like to play with their youngest sibling, who will turn two next week.  If I am holding her, one of them will run up to hug me and say, "This is my daddy," and she will then push them away so that she can hug me and say, "No, my daddy!"  I have to say, it's nice to be fought over. :-)  But the children know I belong to all of them.  And they belong to me.  This is love.  There is great comfort in knowing that no matter what happens in their lives, they will always be mine.  

"Beloved, we are God's children now."  So says St. John in the second reading today.  The message here is the same as in the gospel.  We belong to Christ.  We are His, not in a sense of ownership, but in a sense of love.  Our baptism leaves an indelible mark on our souls, it marks us as a child of God, branding us as one of Christ's flock.  No matter how far astray we may wander, how lost and wounded we may become, we will still belong to Christ.  He will find us.  Even if we reject Him in our anger and stubbornness, He will not reject us.  He will find us.  He will bring us home.



--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723





--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723