Life as a Prayer

Continuing with my reflections on life as a disciple I am drawn by today’s Mass prayers to our struggles in our journey.

The ongoing struggle of our journey home is a never ending contest between our desire to follow the Lord and our inability to live up to His expectations.  Throughout our life we can identify the many times that we failed to meet His example.  I would venture to say that in those exceptional moments, good or bad, we tend to remember Christ’s teaching and bear good witness.  It is in our daily, normal routines and encounters with those around us that we tend to not rise to the level of discipleship.  This problem or challenge seems to be universal – the Collect for today’s Mass shows that it is a concern for everyone

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism
may, under your protective care, bear much fruit
and come to the joys of life eternal.

With this prayer we hear Holy Mother Church acknowledging our struggle and our need for help.

For me, the reason this happens is clear;  I can’t or don’t keep Christ in my heart and mind at all times; at work, I am thinking of work; driving I am thinking of driving; shopping, shopping and so on.  So when situations or opportunities of evangelization or witness come up – I am not prepared.

So how do we constantly keep Christ in our hearts and minds? St. Paul gave us the answer when he admonished the Thessalonians to “Pray without ceasing.”  We need to train ourselves to live our life in prayer, indeed we need to live our life as prayer.  With this type of constant connection we are strengthened in the ways of God; we are viewing the world as it comes to us through eyes of the Holy Spirit.  There is never a need to remember our faith, call to mind Christ’s teaching because He is one with us;  His ways become our ways, it is who we are.  The communion antiphon today celebrates Christ’s words ‘I am the true vine and you are the branches…Whoever remains in me, and I in him, bears fruit in plenty, alleluia!’  This is more than metaphor or analogy, it is what happens – we are fed and strengthened if we remain in Christ, and this is only done through the sacraments and prayer – both.

This renewal of our life into a life of constant prayer will be a lifelong task.  Our abilities to attain this connection will ebb and flow as we journey, but with constant attention and discipline we will notice that the ebbing comes farther apart and is weaker and our life in prayer will lengthen and grow stronger.  Never despair by looking at the goal and compare to where we are now; but look at where are now to where we were before, notice the small steps and victories. When we notice these small progressions and with Christ’s help we will notice that we are, as the Prayer after Communion today prayed for, passing from former ways to newness of life – through Christ our Lord.

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Truth and the Shepherd

The short Gospel reading  (Jn 10:27-30) that we heard at Mass today is part of the larger Good Shepherd discourse in which Jesus is confronting the Pharisees with their ‘spiritual blindness’; because they expelled the blind man Jesus had just healed on the Sabbath – which the Pharisees see as evil. To put it bluntly – Christ is disturbed, maybe even mad. Jesus is now proclaiming the truth to these religious leaders and will not back down. He has already announced that He is the bread of life and now He challenges the Jewish religious leadership directly – showing no fear.

But with His confrontation with the Pharisees we see, in this short reading, the good news of Easter. Christ will never leave us; He has declared that No one can take us out of His hand.  Come what may in our life, Christ will be with us, to strengthen us, to guide us, to feed us – as a shepherd does.  The only thing that can come between us and Christ is ourselves – if we leave His hand.  It is only by our decisions that we can find ourselves not in His flock.

But, if and when we do find ourselves alone and lost, we need only open the ears of our heart to find our way back. “My sheep hear my voice.” He says.  His voice is readily available to each of us, and His voice speaks to each of us. If we truly listen with our hearts there is no doubt that we will understand.  “I know them, and they follow me.” He tells the Pharisees.

Our Shepherd is leading us to where we were meant to be – eternal happiness – heaven.  His goal for us; our true goal, is eternal life with Him.  What we are going through during our stay here is nothing compared to what He has planned.  For this He has come, to lead His flock to their God-given destiny.

And He tells us that we can be sure of this plan, of His guidance His shepherding. ‘The Father and I are one.’ He is GOD; and as He will show everyone on Easter morning – nothing is out of His grasp. But now, in this moment of the today’s Gospel, He announces to these ‘harden’ Pharisees who He is: plain and simple, Ipse est – He is.

In this short Gospel we are told the glorious news of Easter:
We are God’s beloved sons and daughters.
Christ will never leave us; He will keep us and lead us.
We can be assured of His promise, He is God.

But this Good Shepherd discourse, highlights a very important aspect of Christ’s message about truth.  Jesus throughout His ministry teaches and ministers with love, accepting the faults and failures of others, hoping that they will see the light, hoping they will eventually desire the truth. He never forces Himself or His message on those who don’t want to hear. But He draws the line in the sand, so to speak, when it comes to what is the truth.  He will not allow reinterpretation, reinvention of the truth He proclaims.  ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ He does not tells us – I am a way, a truth.  He is very clear ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. Without the truth, the way is lost and eternal life in Heaven is missed. There is no other alternative.  Living this life of truth is only way to stay in God’s hand; because living a life of truth is living within God Himself.

But the tasks and the challenges we have, to stay in His hand is difficult and sometimes threatening.  All we need to do is look around us and see the societies of the world. See the ideology of secularization that is marginalizing Christ; that is pushing away the truth.  It is exhausting to keep battling this and other anti-Christian ideologies, as we see Saints Paul and Barnabas do in the first reading today. It wears us out and maybe wears on our ability to discern. And when we do find ourselves lost all we need to do is look at how our lives are buzzing with action and distractions that make it so hard to hear His voice.

All of this shows the importance of prayer; constant communication with our Heavenly Father through our Lord.  We need to define within our day time to listen, to shut out the chaos of our lives so that our hearts can know peace and be receptive to the Good Shepherd’s voice.  We need to be able to enter into the calm that the Easter joy brings so that we can be strengthened with the truth and remain within God’s loving hands.

Wasn’t this what we asked God for as we prayed the Collect today:
Almighty ever-living God,
lead us to share in the joys of heaven,
so that the humble flock may reach
where the brave Shepherd has gone before.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

May we echo St. Peter

The Easter Vigil is packed with symbols that, if we let them, speak powerfully about our faith.  They bring the past to the present and we are plunged into salvation history.  Along with the readings these symbols remind us that we are part of an eternal story, God’s story.

For me, one of the strongest symbols is at the very beginning, when outside in darkness St. Dominic Parish lights the new Pascal Candle from a fire. As the candle is lit Father says “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”  Every year at that moment I am reminded of the other great Solemnity that uses light and dark – Christmas.  Light amid the darkness is powerfully presented there as well; but whereas at Christmas I see the glory of God being born quietly, almost secretly into this world of darkness, to mankind who had no room at the inn for His entry; at the Easter Vigil (and every time this candle is lit) I am reminded and consoled that in spite of the darkness salvation powerfully entered the world – beyond any doubt. Entered to our knowledge is the King of the Universe rising from the dead for me, for us.  Made known to the world is God’s eternal plan to bring us home to His side.  Made manifest to us is the greatest joy – Love and its ultimate outcome.  Revealed to each of us is our true worth: ‘I am God’s beloved.’

It is this message of hope and joy that the Church has been, with varying degrees of success, proclaiming for almost 2,000 years.  Since that day of His resurrection Christ’s followers have felt the joy of God’s Love; since that day on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius Christian’s have made their own St. Peter’s words: “Lord, you know that I love you.” and have strived to live up to Christ’s command “Feed my sheep” Since those days in the Holy Land; we, who have seen this great light, go out and try to radiate it; spread this good news to those who still dwell in darkness.

I am constantly aware of almost 2,000 years of our ancestors who were given this great news and its commission, and followed Christ into the darkness holding His flame high.  Through centuries of human triumphs and trials, our spiritual ancestors, holding fast to Christ and His message, have guaranteed that Christ is still shining brightly.  They have, through great cost, fed His sheep by passing on the faith, living the Gospel, radiating the light of Easter.

As our parish celebrates its 50th anniversary Monday I am made even more aware of this mission as a continuation of those who entrusted it to us.  I am humbled by the sacrifice and determination of those who started this parish; who built the school; built this church; who, as the disciples did in our gospel today, relied on Christ to guide the way.  Who in their hearts trusted in the Lord’s wisdom and cast their nets to great results.  Their gift to me gives me greater determination to make sure that their efforts; that the efforts of every faithful witness for the last 2 millennia, is passed on to those who come after us; because this gift wasn’t handed to us as a reward to keep and admire; but was given to us to pass on by radiating Christ’s light in our world, a world that, sadly, is still in darkness.

The Word of God has come and has spoken, He continues to come and speak; but the story of salvation is still being written with us as its current authors. This is our challenge, at the beginning of the third millennium of the Universal Church, at the threshold of the next 50 years of St Dominic Parish: what are we going to write with our witness in this eternal story?  Is our narrative one of self-interest, inward isolation – is our answer to Christ we have no more room for Him or His people? Or do we write a narrative that, as apostles did in the first reading show that ‘We are witnesses of these things’; witnesses of the Lord and His love for everyone and our love for Him by loving everyone?  Will our part of story be about Christian discipleship; proclaiming the good news, holding the flame of Easter high by living the faith given to us by our ancestors near and far, given to us by our Lord?

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his great book Life of Christ: “When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be: ’There was no room in the inn’” Brothers and sisters, let us make sure that along with these ‘saddest of words’, the words that we authored will echo St. Peter: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.