Dear Parishioners and Friends,
The following story probably falls into the “let-this-not-happen-to-you” category.
A number of years ago, another friar from St. Francis Church in New York and I went down to Southstreet Seaport in lower Manhattan, an historic neighborhood where sailing ships once docked. It had undergone a restoration and became a popular tourist destination with many high-end shops and restaurants.
While we were there, we decided to find a place for dinner. One of the restaurants had an outdoor dining area, and it was quite busy with people waiting in line to be seated. The other friar (who will remain nameless) spotted an empty table for two and blithely stepped over the row of shrubs that enclosed the dining area and sat down. I was a bit hesitant to follow, but he persuaded me that it was no big deal. Until the maître-d’ came along and gave us both a dirty look. I’m sure the people waiting in line weren’t very pleased either.
I always think of that incident whenever I read today’s Gospel passage, especially the part where Jesus refers to himself as the gate for the sheep. Although I wouldn’t put ourselves in the same category of “thieves and robbers,” we might be more aptly called “interlopers” or “trespassers.”
While I was searching the internet earlier this week to find images to use on the cover of today’s bulletin and song sheet, I came across the work of an artist named Jenedy Paige, a wife and mother of four children, as well as a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons. The image struck me because at first, I thought it was a photo of an actor from a movie depicting a shepherd sitting by the opening of a sheepfold. Looking more closely, I realized it was a painting, not a photo. I also realized how historically accurate the painting was.
The artist herself wrote some comments about the painting which she titled simply: “The Gate” (pictured below). Here is part of what she said: “The sheepfolds in biblical times were constructed without a gate or door. The small opening from which the sheep would enter was the place where the shepherd would rest. This was the best way the shepherd could protect his sheep, as any predator or thief would have to get past him first.”
At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Unfortunately, there are many forces at play today that contradict these words of Jesus. There are the forces of violence that cut many lives short. There are the forces of consumerism that present a false sense of “abundance.” There are the forces of exclusion that tell some people that they don’t belong to the flock because they are different or don’t conform.
But Jesus said, “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” He wants us to enjoy the freedom to find the best way for us live an abundant life, and not to feel that we must shut ourselves away in fear and hiding.
The Eucharist is our gateway to the nourishment and abundant life that only Jesus can provide. And having received that nourishment, we are to go back out and face the challenges and opportunities the world offers. Life in Jesus will be truly abundant when we come at last into the eternal life of the Kingdom of heaven. But in the meantime, we continue to listen to his voice as a sure source of guidance and inspiration. Or, as the beautiful Eucharistic hymn puts it: “As when the shepherd calls his sheep, they know and hear his voice; so when you call your family, Lord, we follow and rejoice.”
Blessings on your week ahead!
Fr. Tim Shreenan, O.F.M.Pastor