These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)
Prayer and the Laying On of Hands have been essential elements of the Rite of Ordination from the earliest days of the church. Today I remember my own ordination to the priesthood on May 6, 1978, forty-two years ago today. I have always been grateful to Bishop Michael Begley who ordained me and sent me to serve God’s people.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:25-26)
How important is Barnabas in the story of the church. He reached out to Saul who had persecuted the church but had since had his conversion. When the others wouldn’t have anything to do with Saul . . . Barnabas reaches and invites him into the work. And Saul becomes Paul. I always liked the Cotton Patch Gospels which was an attempt to translate the New Testament into Southern idiom using Southern place names. I’ll never forget this particular passage:
And it was here in Mobile that the disciples were first labeled "Christians.
And, of course, Mobile is my hometown!
Jesus said: “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.” (Jn 10:14-15)
When folks lay down their lives for others, they become icons of the Good Shepherd. Thanks to the coronavirus, we have all been amazed to have discovered the Face of the Good Shepherd in so many people that are normally taken for granted: the cleaning lady; the trash collector in the neighborhood; the man who stocks the shelves at the grocery store. So many people who serve our needs without ever calling attention to themselves. Perhaps, after the virus, we will return to normal and take them for granted again . . . but maybe not this time. Maybe, just maybe, we now realize that it takes all of us together to be the Face of the Good Shepherd to one another. The Face of the One who came not to be served, but to serve and to lay down his life for us all.
Jesus said: “I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:9-10)
Abundant life . . . to be fully alive. It was Saint Irenaeus who said a long time ago:
“The glory of God is man, woman, fully alive."
This Good Shepherd Sunday we pray for all those who seek to be fully alive in service to the community of the church.
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:66-68)
The gospels are pretty harsh with Simon Peter. They usually recount how Peter puts his foot in his mouth. But today’s gospel is different. For once, Peter gets it right. When many of the disciples abandoned Jesus, the Lord turns to the Twelve and asks if they also want to leave him. And Simon Peter answers for them and for us:
“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him”. (Jn 6:53-56)
To remain in Christ and Christ in us . . . the Bread of Life Discourse makes our communion with Christ the center of our faith. And so, meal time is God time for us. The Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker reminds us of how the meals at home point to the communion we have with one another and with Christ. I remember going to bless a home when I was studying Spanish in Mexico. Over the dining room table there was a picture of the Last Supper and underneath it an inscription: El Huésped Invisible en Todas las Comidas (The Invisible Guest at Every Meal).
As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?” Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36,38-39)
The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (or as the poor lector read in church, the Ethiopian “Unch”) is one of the most important stories for the early church. The eunuch’s question, “What is to prevent my being baptized?” is the essential question for the church then and now (because some folks are always looking to exclude others). The answer to the question, "What is to prevent my being baptized?" is, of course, the Law of God! Because the Bible says:
No one whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may come into the assembly of the Lord (Dt 23:2).
Eunuchs were considered an abomination . . . and couldn’t be part of the community. (The passage tells us that the eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship . . . but being a eunuch he couldn’t even enter the Temple!) But with the guidance of the Spirit, the church set aside the Law of God in favor of inclusion and salvation, and the eunuch is baptized and “continued on his way rejoicing.”