“I am the Gate of the Sheep” by Fr. Jesus Galindo, OFM, A Sunday Gospel Reflection on the 4th Sunday of Easter (A)

Most of the images of Jesus we see in our churches are those of the Sto. Niño, the Sacred Heart and Christ the King — all with crown and scepter, symbols of power. We seldom see an image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying a lamb on his lap or on his shoulders, or leading his flock. Yet this is how Jesus described himself — not as a mighty king but as a humble shepherd; not in terms of power and prestige but in terms of love, service and sacrifice.

The shepherd image is very much a part of the Old Testament. Yahweh is often called the “Shepherd of Israel.” One of the most beautiful and best known psalms in the bible is psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” A shepherd differs very much from office or factory workers; the latter handle tools, machines, computers, and telephones—all of which they leave behind after office hours. A shepherd, however, deals with sheep—living creatures. He cares for them, feeds them, protects them day and night, and treats them almost as if they were human beings: “They hear my voice… and follow me. I give them eternal life.”

Today’s gospel is part of Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse (Jn 10:1-30). Jesus describes himself as the gate of the sheepfold. He sets himself in contrast to “those who came before me who were thieves and robbers.” Jesus is a good shepherd and a good leader because he feeds and cares for the sheep; while the false shepherds and leaders feed on the sheep, exploit them and take advantage of them for their (the leaders’) own profit. Jesus is the gate leading to fullness of life and salvation.

Today’s gospel is particularly relevant and challenging for all of us who exercise leadership roles in the Church or in society: priests, parents and public servants. Jesus sets himself as the model we should strive to imitate. We priests (and bishops, of course) should ask ourselves: Am I a good shepherd, or just a good administrator, a good manager, a good fund raiser and a good constructor? Where do I spend most of my time and resources, in feeding the sheep or in putting up structures? More often than not, promotion in the ranks is based on a priest’s ability to raise funds or build churches rather than in his work of visiting the sick and the poor or in building basic ecclesial communities.

Parents should also ask themselves: Are we good shepherds or just good providers? Quite often, parents, especially in well-to-do families, think that their main role is to provide for the material needs of their children. “Why do you complain?” they ask their children. “We give you everything you want. You are enrolled in the best school, have the best car, computer… everything.” Yet the young need more than money, cars and computers. They need their parents’ care, affection and quality time. Students in the best schools (who have every gadget) are often victims of psychological problems, drug addiction, etc. So, parents, by all means, be good providers; but, above all, be good shepherds.

As for public “servants,” it is only during electoral campaigns that we hear the word “servant,” when candidates woo their constituents, shake hands, caress children, and issue motherhood statements and unbelievable promises: ”Give me a chance to serve you and I will remove poverty, hunger, unemployment, etc.” Once in office, however, it is an entirely different story; instead of feeding the flock, they feed on it. Anyone who has had to transact business in a government office knows this. It is our task, therefore, to discern and to pray, so that we may find truly good shepherds who will look after the welfare of the sheep and not after own profit.

Good Shepherd Sunday is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations—a day to pray for the increase of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. It is no secret that vocations all over the world, most especially in first world countries, are dwindling. Smaller families, wider range of options open to the youth, and the tarnished image of priests as a result of the sexual abuse controversy are some of the contributing factors. Parents play an important role in sowing the seed of vocation in their children. The Christian community must be made aware of its responsibility to provide shepherds to minister to the flock. Today, while attending Mass and praying for vocations, the members of every parish assembly might look at the Mass presider and ask themselves: “How many priests has our family, or our community, given to the Church?” May the Lord fill the hearts of parents and children with the spirit of service and generosity.

***

About Fr. Jesus and his reflections.

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“Lent and the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance” by Fr. Jesus Galindo, OFM

LENT AND THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
Many of the biblical readings at Mass during this season of Lent can hardly be understood unless we keep in mind the institution of the catechumenate and the religious instruction which the catechumens, i.e., the candidates for baptism, received during the first part of the Mass. One could become a catechumen and receive instruction at any time of the year. In fact, the catechumenate used to last for as long as three years. During this time, the catechumens, under the supervision of the Christian community, tried to put into practice the Ten Commandments. This was called the remote preparation.

When one finally wanted to receive baptism or was considered fit to be baptized, he had to make his desire known to the Church authorities at the beginning of Lent. Those who proved to be serious applicants for baptism were admitted on Ash Wednesday into the list of electi (the chosen ones); during the weeks of Lent, they underwent intense instruction and ascetical training, fast and mortification. This was called the proximate preparation. Baptism was administered only once a year – during the Easter Vigil. Even now, the Vigil’s part three is called, “Liturgy of Baptism.”

After their enrolment in the list of baptizandi (candidates for baptism), they had to undergo three public ceremonies called scrutinia. These scrutinies were first held on the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent, but by the beginning of the 7th century they were moved to Friday of the 3rd week and Wednesday and Friday of the 4th week of Lent. During the second scrutiny they were taught about, and handed a copy of the four gospels, the Creed, and the Our Father. Today, the Masses of these latter days contain several references to baptism – a remnant of the special ceremonies held in those days for the catechumen.

In the pre-Vatican II missals, the first part of the Mass (which we now call Liturgy of the Word) was called Mass of the Catechumens, in reference to the old practice of dismissing the catechumens from church right after the gospel. They were not allowed to participate in the second part of the Mass – the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After the reading of the gospel and the prayers of the faithful, the deacon would say three times, in a loud voice: “Let all the catechumens leave!”; Extant Catechumeni!

The practice of the catechumenate has been revived or restored by the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: “The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and brought into use at the discretion of the local ordinary. By this means the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of suitable instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.” (n.64)

LENT AND THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE
When the practice of public penance was organized in the 5th and 6th centuries, the sackcloth and ashes were chosen as a sign of punishment for those who had committed serious crimes. This practice of putting on, or sitting on, sackcloth and ashes existed already in the Old Testament. (Est 4:1; Jon 3:5) In the New Testament, it is mentioned in Lk 10:13 as a sign of penance.

The ashes were imposed on the very first day of the Lenten fast, the Wednesday of Quinquagessima. The period of penance lasted until Holy Thursday, when public sinners were solemnly reconciled, absolved from their sins and allowed to receive Holy Communion, after having satisfactorily fulfilled their penance, as described below. This, by the way, is the origin of the term quarantine, accepted into common usage, to signify separation or exclusion from human contact (as in the case of certain prisoners and persons suffering from infectious diseases).

The procedure of public penance was as follows: Public sinners
approached their priest shortly before Lent to accuse themselves of their misdeeds. On Ash Wednesday, they were presented by the priest to the bishop of the place. Outside the cathedral, poor and noble alike stood barefoot, dressed in sackcloth, with heads bowed in humble contrition. The bishop assigned to each one particular acts of penance, according to the nature and gravity of his crime. Whereupon they entered the church – the bishop leading one of them by the hand and the others following in single line, holding each other’s hand.

Before the altar, not only the penitents but also the bishop and all his clergy recited the seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143). Then, each penitent went forward; the bishop imposed ashes on his head and put on him the tunic of sackcloth. After this ceremony, the penitents were led out of the church and were forbidden to re-enter it until Holy Thursday for the reconciliation ceremony.

Meanwhile, they would spend the Lenten weeks apart from their families, in a monastery or in some other place of voluntary confinement, where they devoted themselves to prayer, manual work and works of charity. Among other things, they had to go barefoot all through Lent, were forbidden to converse with others, were made to sleep on the ground or on beddings of straw, and were not allowed to bathe or to cut their hair.

The Church, as a loving mother, did not forget her contrite children; some of the prayers and readings of the Lenten Masses seem to have been chosen with the penitents in mind. (CF. Guide for the Christian Assembly, Vol. II) Eventually, the imposition of ashes as well as other penitential practices were shared, not only by public sinners but by all other people as well, leaving their mark both in the Lenten liturgy and in the ascetical exercises of the season.

About Fr. Jesus and his reflections

“Whoever Believes in Me Will Never Die”, by Fr. Jesus Galindo, OFM

Water→Light→Life. There is a steady crescendo, a growing intensity, in the gospels of the last three Sundays—all from St. John. On the third Sunday of Lent, Jesus was portrayed as the living water that gave new life to the Samaritan woman and to her town mates. Last Sunday, fourth of Lent, Jesus was the life-giving light, which opened the eyes of the blind man—and his heart too. Today, Jesus is the resurrection and the life—the Lord and giver of life.

All three gospel events were signs (a favorite term of John’s gospel) meant to bring about faith in Jesus. The Samaritan woman and her town mates believed in Jesus. The blind man bowed down and worshipped him. And in today’s gospel, “many Jews began to believe in him.” Not only did they become believers—in all three instances; they also became apostles: The Samaritan woman brought her town mates to Jesus. The blind man defended Jesus before the Pharisees to the point of being expelled from the synagogue because of that. And Lazarus caused many Jews to believe in Jesus; so much so that the chief priests wanted to kill, not only Jesus but Lazarus as well, “because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.” (Jn. 12:10-11).

These three gospels of John were used already in the early Church to instruct the catechumens (those who prepared themselves for baptism) in the faith, telling them that, through baptism, they were to become, not only believers but also apostles—and even martyrs, of Jesus Christ.

Today’s gospel about the rising of Lazarus proclaims above all the divinity of Jesus, the Lord and Master of life and death. It also underlines his humanity; he is a true man, with human feelings. No other gospel passage plays up Jesus’ feelings and emotions as much as this one. Like anyone of us, Jesus developed strong bonds of friendship. He was no cold and detached preacher but a very warm human being: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” No name is given, and no name was needed. Jesus’ love for Lazarus must have been so special that there could be no doubt about his identity.

Further down, in verse 36, the Jews themselves attest to Jesus’ love for Lazarus, “See how he loved him,” they said. Jesus’ love however was not confined to Lazarus; it extended to his two sisters as well: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” What a lucky family indeed to have enjoyed the special love and friendship of Jesus!

The gospels are usually silent about Jesus’ feelings and emotions. Verses 33 to 38 however are an exception; they are truly emotion-laden. They bare the humanity of Jesus and reveal how deeply the death of his friend Lazarus affected him—even though he knew that he was about to raise him up from the dead: “Jesus became perturbed and deeply troubled.” “Jesus wept.” “So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.”

The core and centerpiece of today’s gospel is, of course, the dialogue of Jesus and Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life… Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” These words of Jesus are the backbone of our Christian religion; they sustain us in our grief over the death of a loved one, with the assurance that death is not the end of it all but rather the beginning of a more beautiful life with the Lord.

Those words of Jesus give us the courage we need to take up our daily cross and to accept illness, and even death, in a spirit of loving submission to the will of God. They dispose us too to enter into the approaching mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection with the firm conviction that suffering, sickness and death will not have the last word. With Martha, we burst into a profession of faith in the promise made by Jesus: “Yes, Lord, we have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is to come into the world.”

More About Fr. Jesus and his reflections.

“Not on Bread Alone Is Man to Live” by Fr. Jesus Galindo, OFM

Lent is not mainly about “giving up,” rather it is about “growing up.” It is a time to enrich and strengthen our faith and to reinforce our weak spots—where temptations are more likely to get through; it might be anger, unforgiveness, addiction to gambling, alcohol or drugs, pride or infidelity. The aim is to get rid of the idols in our life, so as to worship and serve God alone.

Every year, on the first Sunday of Lent, we read at Mass one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptations (this year, Matthew’s). We are reminded that, during the Lenten season, we must gather up strength to be able to fight against the power of evil. For that, we need to intensify our prayer life and our acts of penance and charity. In the Philippines, this Sunday is marked every year as “National Migrants’ Day.” Is it, perhaps, because migrants are easily exposed to temptation? That seems to be the implication, since in the Prayer of the Faithful we are invited to pray, “that the families of migrant workers may remain steadfast in the face of temptation, resist the lure of materialism and strive to stay united in prayer.” (Sambuhay)

When we pray the Our Father and say, “… lead us not into temptation,” we are not asking God to keep temptations away from us, but rather to help us not to give in, or to fall into, temptation. Temptations are part and parcel of human life. They afford us an opportunity to show how strong or how weak our love for God is. If overcome, temptations become a source of merit and grace. The strength of iron is tested by fire. We discover the worth of true love and friendship when they are tested. Likewise, we prove our love for God when we fight and overcome temptations. “The absence of temptation is the absence of virtue.” (Goethe)

Temptation is an invitation to take the easy road and to deviate from God’s commands. This is particularly clear in the account of the temptations of Jesus. He had just begun his public ministry and had committed himself to do the will of the Father by submitting to John’s baptism of repentance. But Satan comes around telling him to take it easy: “Why go hungry? You have the power to turn stones into bread; use it. Show ‘em who you are.” It is an invitation to be selfish, to use power for his own good. Jesus would experience this sort of temptation again and again in his life. For instance, when Peter told him, after the first announcement of his passion: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! (Mt. 16:22- 23) Or when, after the multiplication of
the loaves, the people wanted to make him king. (Jn. 6:15) Jesus withdrew to the mountain alone. Or when people asked him for a sign from heaven—so they could believe in him (Mt. 16:1; Mk 8:11)
Jesus simply refused.

Perhaps Satan’s fiercest attack on Jesus took place when Jesus was hanging on the cross and Satan put in the mouth of people the same old mantra, “If you are the Son of God…” First, “Those passing by reviled him… If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Mt. 27:39) Next, “The chief priests and the scribes mocked him and said, ‘Let him come down from the cross now and we will believe in him… for he said: I am the Son of God’.” And then, “One of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.’” (Lk. 23:39) The temptation of power and greed haunted Jesus up to the very last moment of his life. But he came out victorious by staying on the cross, doing the Father’s will.

Notice how Jesus quotes Scripture passages (Dt. 8:3; 6:13 and 6:16) in order to fend off the devil’s ploys. The Word of God is a powerful source of grace and strength against temptation. But then the devil also quotes a Scripture passage himself. (Ps. 91: 1, 2) Indeed the Word of God can be used in the wrong way and for the wrong purpose too. Discernment is needed before lending credence to any “bible babbler.”

Last Wednesday we started the Lenten season with the imposition of ashes. Lent is not mainly about “giving up,” rather it is about “growing up.” It is a time to enrich and strengthen our faith and to reinforce our weak spots—where temptations are more likely to get through; it might be anger, unforgiveness, addiction to gambling, alcohol or drugs, pride or infidelity. The aim is to get rid of the idols in our life, so as to worship and serve God alone.

About Fr. Jesus and more of his reflections

“Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand.” by Fr. Jesus Galindo, OFM

…to establish the kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, peace, truth and love… for this task to succeed, …(Jesus needed to find) …only a humble and docile heart.

Historical note: Zebulun and Naphtali, mentioned in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah and in the gospel, are two of the twelve tribes of Israel named after the twelve sons of Jacob. When the Israelites conquered Palestine after their Exodus from Egypt, they divided up the land among the twelve tribes (save for the tribe of Levi). The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali settled in the Northernmost part of the country, later called Galilee (Cf. Book of Joshua,19:10-16, 32-39). Zebulun and Naphtali were the first provinces of Israel to be overrun by Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria in 733 BC, who turned them into an Assyrian province–hence the moniker “Galilee of the Gentiles.”

* * *

“Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” These are the very first words uttered by Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. These were also the very first words of John the Baptist when he began his public ministry in the desert (Mt 3:1). What is the relationship between repentance and the kingdom of heaven? First of all, what is the kingdom of heaven? Where is it to be found? Most of us have the idea that the kingdom of heaven is, where else, but up there in heaven. We get there after death. (Mark and Luke use the expression ‘kingdom of God”). Jesus, however, tells us that “… the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). “The kingdom of God is among you” (Lk 17:21). It exists right here and now.

God’s kingdom is not territorial. God does not rule over towns and cities. God reigns over the hearts of men and women who accept his rule and obey his will. God’s kingdom is found in our hearts, if indeed God is in control of our lives.

And it is precisely here that repentance comes in. Repentance means conversion. It consists not so much in beating our chest as in removing from our hearts any obstacle, which may stand in the way between us and God; anything that may pull us apart from God and from our fellowmen. Paul asks the Corinthians to shun divisions and factionalism (2nd reading). With us, it might be pride, vanity, anger, hatred or envy; it might be money, alcohol, drugs, sex … whatever. God cannot set His throne in our hearts if they are already filled with something else. Hence Jesus’ call for repentance.

Jesus’ primary concern throughout his public ministry was to establish the kingdom of God, dismantling in the process the kingdom of Satan, namely, hunger, illness, suffering and injustice. This he did, as the gospel tells us, by preaching and by curing every disease. The cures that Jesus performed were meant not only to restore people’s health but also to restore their faith in God.

In the task of building up God’s kingdom Jesus did not want to go it alone. He chose 12 disciples to carry out that task — even after he was gone. We heard in today’s gospel how he called his first disciples, two pairs of brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John. We might think that Jesus made the wrong choice. Instead of going to the temple or to the synagogue of Jerusalem to look for learned and competent people (priests, scribes, Pharisees), he went to the seashore to look for rude and unlearned fishermen.

Indeed it is often difficult to understand Jesus’ way of doing things. He always seems to oppose or challenge our ways of thinking: “The first will be the last and the last will be the first.” “He who exalts himself will be humbled…” “He who saves his life, will lose it…” But we can be sure that he knew well what he was doing, and in no way can we improve on it. He did not come to set up a business enterprise, a chain of banks or restaurants, but to establish the kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, peace, truth and love. And for this task to succeed, no managerial skills or degrees are needed; only a humble and docile heart. That is exactly what he found in the rude fishermen, and not in the learned scribes and Pharisees.

Hopefully, he will find it in each one of us too!

About Fr. Jesus and more of his reflections

Can God do anything? Is he almighty?

“For God nothing is impossible” (see Luke 1:37).
He is almighty. Anyone who calls on God in need believes that he is all-powerful. God created the world out of nothing. He is the Lord of history. He guides all things and can do everything. How he uses his omnipotence is of course a mystery. Not infrequently people ask, Where was God then? Through the prophet Isaiah he tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Is 55:8). Often God’s omnipotence is displayed in a situation where men no longer expect anything from it. The powerlessness of Good Friday was the prerequisite for the Resurrection.

Does science make the Creator superfluous?
No. The sentence “God created the world” is not an outmoded scientific statement. We are dealing here with a theological statement, therefore a statement about the divine meaning (theos = God, logos = meaning) and origin of things.

The creation account is not a scientific model for explaining the beginning of the world. “God created the world” is a theological statement that is concerned with the relation of the world to God. God willed the world; he sustains it and will perfect it. Being created is a lasting quality in things and a fundamental truth about them.

Can someone accept the theory of evolution and still believe in the Creator?
Yes. Although it is a different kind of knowledge, faith is open to the findings and hypotheses of the sciences.

Theology has no scientific competence, and natural science has no theological competence. Natural science cannot dogmatically rule out the possibility that there are purposeful processes in creation; conversely, faith cannot define specifically how these processes take place in the course of nature’s development. A Christian can accept the theory of evolution as a helpful explanatory model, provided he does not fall into the heresy of evolutionism, which views man as the random product of biological processes. Evolution presupposes the existence of something that can develop. The theory says nothing about where this “something” came from. Furthermore, questions about the being, essence, dignity, mission, meaning, and wherefore of the world and man cannot be answered in biological terms. Just as “evolutionism” oversteps a boundary on the one side, so does creationism on the other. Creationists naively take biblical data literally (for example, to calculate the earth’s age, they cite the six days of work in Genesis 1).

Contributed by Fr. Jesus Galindo OFM
From: Catechism in a Year
Cathechism of the Catholic Church