This is the word of the Lord.
This is the word of the Lord.
Ezekiel proclaims the message that the Lord says, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep” (Ez. 34). The shepherd is one who proactively feeds and cares for his sheep.
Matthew 25 brings together the image of the ruler and the shepherd in one parable. The Son of Man, seated on his throne as king, will be as a shepherd. Indeed, he is like the shepherd mentioned in Ezekiel. He brings together his sheep and gives them their inheritance in the Kingdom of God. The king acknowledges their works in caring for those in need. He even goes so far as to say that to serve the needy is to serve the king himself!
Yet, there is a twist.
The shepherd who proactively nourishes and feeds his sheep rewards his sheep for proactively feeding and caring for others. How many of you have heard of sheep feeding other sheep? Does this entire image fall apart then? Is Jesus confused?
No, in this story the Lord invites us to probe the mystery of our salvation.
This reminds me of the prayer of St. Francis: It is in giving that we receive.
The sheep who feed others are fed in their feeding. Caring for others nourishes the sheep. Indeed, it saves them.
We who are called to be sheep have been created in such a way that we thrive, grow, and are nourished by caring for those in need. For this reason, the sheep who hear the voice of the shepherd are guided to that nourishment. And the voice of the shepherd we hear in the cry of the poor, the begging of the hungry, the sobbing of the prisoner, and the chattering teeth of the naked. Even if we are not aware of it, we are hearing the voice of the king.
The voice and face of the king we can find wherever we find our suffering brothers and sisters.
The goats are the ones who do not recognize the shepherd’s voice. They do not listen to the voice of the king in the poor, the hungry, the prisoner and the naked. So they ignore the king. Perhaps they stayed out of trouble. Maybe they broke no laws. But that is a life of saying “no” to doing evil.
Christianity is not a religion of “no” but of “yes.” It is not a religion that focuses on the things we should not do. Turning away from the desert of sin is only the first step. We must also turn to green pastures. We must listen to the king’s voice, who shepherds us to those green pastures where we are fed by works of charity and justice.
In other words, we say “yes” to all the good works about which the king would have us. Every day, when we wake up, we can say “no” to sin, and we should. In addition, we can say “yes” to virtue, especially the virtues of charity and justice.
When we pray at night we can ask ourselves the questions: “how often do I say yes? How often do I look for the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, and the naked? Am I proactively seeking to grow as a follower of Christ? Am I actively seeking out the king in those who are in need? Or am I satisfied with just staying out of trouble?”
If we are not proactively working for charity and justice we are already in trouble. No one ever won any trophies for not breaking the law. And no one will win a life in heaven simply by not sinning. The inheritance of the Kingdom of God belongs to those who have been blessed by the heavenly Father. And the heavenly Father blesses those who have blessed his Son, Christ the King, present in the least of his brothers and sisters.
It is quite sad to hear about people that have lived their entire lives without truly getting to know the Lord and doing His will. Yet, I have had the privilege of getting to know some of them as they return to the Lord, even if they have only days or hours to live.
What a holy and awesome privilege I have had as a priest! I share in the joy of Christ our Lord when his servants return; the ones, when asked by God to do his work, said “I will not” yet, in the end, changed their minds and served (Mt 21).
This reminds me of a movie depicting the story of St. John Bosco. He was a very holy priest who served underprivileged juvenile delinquent boys. Throughout his mission, a government official opposed him because he believed that there was no hope for the boys except to keep them in prison.
At the end of his life, as he laid on his bed, sick with grief and guilt, he called out for St. Bosco to visit him. When St. Bosco went to him, the government official repented and confessed his sins before the holy priest. After St. Bosco absolved him the official cried out, “I am so sorry for all that I have done against you! I deserve punishment!”
St. Bosco replied, “nonsense! At this very moment, at the end of your life, you have outdone me in virtue!” St. Bosco had a very powerful sense of the great mystery of mercy at work in this old man who lived a life of bitterness, yet, like the servant who said, “I will not serve,” he served the Lord in the end.
He served the Lord, in his remaining hours of life, by helping St. Bosco advance his mission for the youth and for the advancement of holiness by assisting in forming some very important administrative aspects of it.
We know now that St. Bosco would formalize this mission into a religious order known as the Society of St. Francis de Sales, also known as the Salesians.
Our Lord, for our sakes, works quickly for our healing and forgiveness. The Psalms say that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in mercy and love (103). Do we believe this?
Do we truly believe that the Lord’s mercy to us is limited only by how much we trust in it and ask for it?
Pope Francis, in his first Angelus address to the world said that the Lord never tires of forgiving us. Rather, it is we who are tired of asking for forgiveness!
One of the reasons we tire of asking for forgiveness is shame. We cannot bear the shame of facing our sins for what they really are and the damage they really do. So, like Adam and Eve, we hide from God.
We can forget that our God is loving and that when he looks at us in our sins he does not see what we might think he sees. He definitely does not see us the way we see ourselves. Sin has a way of distorting our view of ourselves and of life in general.
When we sin, we might only see ourselves as worthy of punishment and nothing else. Yet, the Lord sees the one he created, the one he has known from the beginning, the one in whom he has placed his love and the one who he wants to be happy. He sees the one for whom he has many dreams and beautiful plans. He sees the one who bears the features of his only begotten son, Jesus. He sees his own adopted child, whom he takes as his own and will never let go…yet will not force them into his embrace.
He knows how good we are and he knows how bad we are. Every time we sin, how does he respond? The Lord says that if one “has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ez 18).
This is what St. Bosco knew and saw when he looked at the youth in prison. He saw this also in the government official. By the way, he sees us in the same way. How wonderful it is to be under the loving gaze and care of the saints!
So, our greatest challenge is to put aside the shame and turn away from a life of sin. We must do this daily. In the morning we can ask the Lord to help us especially with those sins with which we struggle the most. We can also ask the help of others who love us for who we are, such as good friends and family, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, like St. Bosco, and the angels, especially our guardian angel.
Most importantly, the most effective way to be healed of our sins and change our way of life is the sacrament of confession. In confession we do the opposite of hiding. We open ourselves up and bear all before Jesus. We have no need to hide. Let the eyes of your heart see Jesus in the priest in confession, just like the government official did.
It is sad to think of those who said they would do God’s will and then don’t do it. It is sadder to think of those who said they would not do God’s will, don’t do it, and never repent. We can enjoy the Lord’s mercy here and now as long as we never get tired of asking for forgiveness and striving to live a better life.
Perhaps you may have heard that Resurrection Church will have a mission November 1-5. What is a mission? It is a time of rest and recreation for all of us as a parish. It is an opportunity for us to do what I talked about last week…take a break from the work of the Lord to spend time with the Lord of the work!
It will be a time of comfort, conversion, and community. The theme this year will focus on our rich life of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. This will be a great time to get to know a little more about your faith and take that brief time every evening to pray just a little bit more. It’s also a chance to enjoy some snacks and refreshments while spending time with your fellow parishioners.
What’s more, Fr. Tony Judge C.Ss.R. will be leading the mission. He has years of experience of leading parish missions and retreats for parishes all over the nation. He also offers the mission in both English and Spanish!
I want to tell you a little secret about myself. Every year we priests are required to go on a retreat. Every year that I go, there is a part of me that does not want to. Why? Because I have so much to do! I’m so “busy!”
Yet, once I arrive I can feel all the noise of my life calm down. After I leave from retreat, I feel renewed, refreshed and refocused. Priorities become clearer and I gain the necessary perspective to let go of things over which I have no control. I experience serenity.
This mission coming up in November is your opportunity to experience the same. Each evening beginning November 1-5, you can experience the serenity that helps you refocus on the most important thing in your life, your relationship with Christ and His Church!
(P.S. child care will be provided)
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