Our readings for this Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Resurrection of the Lord, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday are here.
These are the poems, my notes, and interpretations of Fr Dennis’ homily on April 17, 2016 at the 8:30 Mass.
This post is dedicated to the many Good Shepherds of our lives who have emptied themselves and turned over their lives to Christ for the sake of the Kindom.
The poem Fr Dennis references in 2016 is:
- Sheep in the Winter Night by Tom Hennen, a prose-poem
In 2016, we reflected on —
- The Cycle C gospel reading is brief, making it difficult to get a warm sense of being part of the flock.
- “The Father and I are one” is a very direct identity statement for Jesus to make.
- The first reading from Acts seems more Lenten in the hostility and threat that Paul and Barnabas face, ultimately being expelled from Antioch Pisidia. The Lenten readings are selected to help the catechumens understand the potential consequences of their faith and commitment. With the reading of excerpts from Acts in the Eastertide readings, we are reminded of the sometimes high stakes of the Way, even after the Resurrection of Jesus.
- The post-Resurrection readings often describe persecution and the differences between the Gentiles and Jews.
- We tend to think “our” group is loved by God but not “yours.” Fr Dennis offered the joke in which various religious groups (all flavors) meet St. Peter at the gates of heaven and are welcomed but asked to be quiet as they pass “Room 8” (or the like), but always the same room number. When someone finally asks “Why?”, St. Peter checks around and confides quietly to the newest member of heaven that “Room 8 is the Catholics room, and they think they’re the only ones here.”
- All this is to say to each and every one of us: God Loves us, As We Are.
- Tom Hennen’s poem captures a richness about sheep we often disregard, as well as the implicit safety of holding close in the barn from the threats of a winter’s night.
- rl notes that: the poem captures the variety of ovine-Christian references in today’s readings with
- the dangers of being Christian/proclaiming Christ (Acts),
- we as God’s flock (psalm and Revelations),
- Christ as sacrificial Lamb (Revelations), and
- Jesus as the Good Shepherd of the reading from John’s Gospel (we know his voice and follow him).
Today’s image is a Salvadoran painted & lacquered crucifix of the Good Shepherd. The corpus and attending figures are two-dimensional in the manner of the San Damiano crucifixes of Assisi.
The crucifix reminds me of Fr Dennis and his gentle call for us all to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and as he would wish, of his Jesuit friend, Fr Dean Brackley, SJ, who discerned he would go to El Salvador following the 1989 assassinations of fellow Jesuits and their friends, including the housekeeper and her daughter, by the Salvadoran Army. He served as Professor of Theology and Ethics (link to Marquette Liberation Theology lectures & videos) and Director of the School for Religious Education at the Central American University, San Salvador until the year before his death in 2011.
In the original film version of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1973), the director Norm Jewison insisted that Ted Neeley (the actor portraying Jesus) NOT be visible in the end scene at all — not as an actor boarding the bus home, certainly no resurrection in the character of Jesus, and not left on the cross. This directorial choice is one that led to some theological criticism. However, unbeknownst to all, at the end scene of landscape, a shepherd and his flock walk in silhouette against the hill, rather than easily observable against the sky like the empty cross. Apparently God decided on the final director’s cut! (Pope Paul VI loved the film and its potential to draw people to find out more about Jesus Christ.)
If you’d like a taste of North American sheep herding, you might try the film SWEETGRASS. It is a documentary filmed over eight years and depicts one of the last private sheep drives on a federal grazing permit through federal lands. The sheep are driven to access the high sweet pastures in the Absaroka-Beartooth (Montana) lands.
The older shepherd, the gentle-toned one is John Ahern, who passed in 2019; Pat Connolly is his younger partner on the trail. Two of my favorite quips in the film are the coining of “sheep wreck” for the pile up of sheep in a narrow mountain trail. And, after scaring off a night-time visit by a bear and her cubs:
John: I know one thing worse than a bear.
Pat: What’s that?
John: A wolverine.
Happy Easter to all and to all your Good Shepherds, earthly and heavenly! 🙂