Posts Tagged 'Discipleship'

The Gift of Youthful Fidelity

When Pope Benedict XVI met with young women religious at World Youth Day last week, he said, among many other beautiful things, that “the Church needs your youthful fidelity, rooted and built up in Christ.” It seems like such a simple statement, an obvious reality. But as I have sat with this since last week, I have been struck by his use of the word need.

I have the privilege of spending lots of time with young women who are either contemplating a religious vocation or have recently begun the formation process in religious life. I experience their “youthful fidelity” on a daily basis, and it is always—always—a source of inspiration and encouragement to me. There is a freshness and a vitality to their love for Christ that rekindles my own “first love” and reminds me of just why I have committed myself to Christ in the service of the Church for a lifetime. I think the Pope was 100% on-target with his use of the word “need.” The Church does need the witness of youthful fidelity to Christ, as a confirmation that boldly proclaims that all we have been promised by God is trustworthy…and that God is worth the gift of our lives!

The Holy Father went on to say to young women religious: “Your lives must testify to the personal encounter with Christ which has nourished your consecration, and to all the transforming power of that encounter.” It all starts with a personal relationship with Christ…and from there, if we remain open to his love, he can transform all that is fearful within us to trust, all that is anxious within us to courage, all that is doubtful within us to deep, deep faith. May the Christ who knows each of us so personally, through the power of his Spirit, fill you this day with the love of his Heart.

Shepherds and Robbers

Well, that was a little surprising. Here I was, ready at yesterday’s Fourth Sunday of Easter to hear another of the Resurrection accounts for the Gospel, when lo and behold, instead we hear Jesus talking about sheep and thieves. Even more strange than that, as he uses this imagery, he doesn’t say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the shepherd,” like we might expect. Instead he says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.” He is the gate? Then who is the shepherd? Well, if I’m really paying attention when the Gospel is proclaimed, I’ll hear his answer: “Whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.”

I’m no exegetical expert, and I have no vast theology background in the Christian Scriptures, but it seems to me there must be something happening in this passage from the Gospel of John that is “bigger” than what I’ve noticed before now. If we were to keep reading (continuing where this Sunday’s Gospel leaves off,) we would hear Jesus immediately say, “I am the good shepherd.” But before I jump to that imagery with which I’ve been familiar since childhood, I feel the need to sit a little bit longer with the imagery of Jesus as the gate. Only those who enter through the gate do so with integrity, freedom, and understanding. Those who try to get in and out of the sheepfold other ways are “thieves and robbers,” trying to take by force what would likely be freely given them if they simply came in through the gate…since, according to Christ’s own words, anyone who enters through the gate is a shepherd.

So what’s the take-home value of this Gospel? For me, it’s about discerning whether I’m a thief or a shepherd in my spiritual life. Do I “go through” Jesus in order to gain life, or do I try to “steal” it in other ways? Do I pray through all aspects of my life, or do I only have recourse to God when my own efforts have come up short? Do I “play God” in my relationships and ministry by trying to fix things (or people!) and control outcomes, or do I place it all in his hands and allow him to take care of what is rightly his anyway?

Yes, yes…there are some powerful truths for me to learn in this weekend’s Gospel. Might there be for you, too?

“Which Means Sent”

Isn’t it funny that I’ve overlooked that little phrase from this Sunday’s Gospel even though I’ve read or heard it dozens and dozens of times? I readily focus on the story of the blind man—the miracle performed by Jesus in restoring his sight, the very odd dialogue that happens between him and the Pharisees, the strange relationship he seems to have with his parents, even the dynamic that he finds himself immersed in through a chance meeting of this miracle-worker named Jesus Christ. But not until today have I ever taken note of a simple little phrase thrown in by St. John as Jesus is actually in the act of healing the man. “He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, ‘Go wash in the Pool of Siloam’—which means Sent. So he went and washed, and came back able to see.”

Which means ‘Sent.’ Strange detail to include, John. Just a translator’s note? A geographical reference? An idiosyncratic side comment? I think not. Indeed, I think not! And it seems to me Pope Benedict might agree. He writes in his Lenten reflection for this week that the man born blind joyfully exclaims, “Lord, I believe!” thus “giving voice to all believers.” Is that merely to say that his proclamation of faith is one echoed down through the centuries? Is the pope implying that the courage of the healed blind man spurs the rest of us believers on to profess faith in a God even when that faith might meet with resistance, if not outright opposition? Perhaps. But as I read both the Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Lent and the Holy Father’s reflection on that Gospel, I understand something a little bit different…something more. When Jesus healed the man born blind, he did so with a commissioning. Go and wash in the pool that will both heal you and send you. Be sent. Receive your sight, and then go out and profess your faith, that all might believe. After all, you didn’t just receive your sight today. You received vision.

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