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Easter

Celebrating Easter in a World Turned Upside-Down

“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb” (John 20:1).

Our experience of Lent this year has been intensified by the distress and restrictions caused by the worldwide pandemic, resulting in a situation many of us would not have imagined six months ago. At the same time, since mid- Lent we have been distanced from Mass and the immersive liturgies for Holy Week. How do we celebrate Easter when our world has turned upside down and we know that the global dark days are not over?

Sharing in the sufferings of the world certainly makes this Easter unique for me, but this is not the first Easter where joyful celebrations felt out of place or even impossible. Several years ago, my Easter was a time of grief and loss: a close friend had just died of a devastating illness and two family members became seriously ill. Something inspired me to take Saint Mary Magdalene as my guide that Easter, and she has accompanied me through my Lents and Easters ever since. Initially, I chose her because of her immense grief at Jesus’ Crucifixion, but the more I prayed with her, the more I was moved by her relationship with Christ.

Saint Mary Magdalene is the perfect guide through Holy Week and Easter because, even before she met Jesus, she knew darkness and grief on a level that most of us can only imagine: Jesus healed her from seven demons. The Gospels don’t provide any details so we don’t know much about it, but it must have been a terrible experience of darkness.

When Jesus healed her, her desperate soul must have seen the first glimmer of hope—a hope that blossomed as she became Jesus’ follower. We don’t know how long Mary accompanied Jesus during his public life—a month? a year? Maybe long enough for that new, fragile hope to begin to take root in her heart. Nonetheless, her overwhelming sorrow at Jesus’ Crucifixion hints that her Lord’s suffering and death crushed her tender, newfound hope. She comes to visit Jesus’ tomb not because she has hope, but because she carries immense grief.

Mary’s anguish at witnessing her beloved Master’s tortuous execution left such a profound mark on her that she is the first to come to visit Jesus’ tomb—“while it was still dark.” Interiorly, her soul, too, must have been in the dark. Matthew’s Gospel tells us plainly that Mary Magdalene came to see the tomb. She came to grieve, to mourn, perhaps to try to begin to come to terms with such a great loss.

Mary is focused on his tomb: a place of death, darkness, loss. Her eyes and her heart are so darkened that initially, she doesn’t care about the extraordinary message of the angels, and she will not even recognize Jesus when she sees him.

This Easter is for us. Easter is not a time for cute bunnies and jelly beans, sunny days and new bonnets. Easter is especially for those of us who, like Mary Magdalene, are burdened by disillusionment, grief, anxiety, suffering, and despair.

In visiting Jesus’ tomb, Mary Magdalene discovers that even in death, the Lord has not abandoned her. Though she cannot see him yet, Jesus is there in the dark with her, and he brings the dawn with him. Let us, too, approach the darkness in our lives, the “tombs” where hope has died, where joy has been shattered, where faith is so shaky we don’t think we can lean on it anymore. That first Easter morning, it took time for Mary Magdalene to recognize her Beloved Master in the garden; it may take time for us to recognize how Jesus is present today, in our lives and in our world.

This Easter is for us. In Mary’s visit to Jesus’ tomb, she clings to the Source of her hope in the only way she knows. His tomb may be the only place where she feels she can treasure her memories and feel some closeness to the Lord she thinks she has lost. In coming to the tomb, Mary is still clinging to the Lord as best she can. And it is as this loving, persevering seeker of the Lord that Mary Magdalene can inspire us. Her love for Jesus wins out, even over her hopelessness. Her showing up at the tomb enables her to receive the very first hints of the great mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection: the stone has been rolled away, his precious Body is missing.

This Easter is for us. That first Easter morning, without knowing it, Mary Magdalene engages with mystery—discovering the empty tomb and running to impart the news to Peter and the beloved disciple, even though she doesn’t know what that news means. A few verses later in John’s Gospel (Monday’s reading), Mary is back outside Jesus’ tomb, still weeping for her missing Lord. And it is at that moment that Jesus appears to her, and his tomb is transformed from a place of death into a garden brimming over with Life. Upon finally recognizing Jesus, Mary discovers that Jesus’ love—a love he died to prove to us—conquers all sadness, all grief, all sorrow, even death itself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls Jesus’ Resurrection “the crowning truth of our faith in Christ” (#638). Christ’s Resurrection is God’s dramatic promise of God’s faithful love, that this world is not the final fulfillment of God’s saving plan for us. Eternal joy awaits us, and that conviction transforms our earthly experiences, not just giving us hope, but also giving us the courage to continue to act lovingly,  even amid great sacrifice and suffering.

In 2020, Easter is the celebration we most need. It is an important reminder to us to become today’s Magdalenes:

  • to seek the Lord, to look for him both at our tombs and in our newly blossoming gardens;
  • to recognize the presence of the Risen Lord, who has not abandoned us, and to allow him to transform us so that we can bring Jesus with us wherever we are;
  • and to cling to the love of the Lord, allowing the joyful promise of his eternal loving embrace to become always more the anchor of each day, enabling us to live even dark days with serenity and hope.

 

Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP, has been a Daughter of Saint Paul for over 30 years, serving as a Catholic TV producer, author, vocation director, and film commentator. She currently serves as an acquisitions editor for Pauline Books & Media, the publishing apostolate of the Daughters of Saint Paul. Her books include See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: 52 Meditations To Grow in Self-Esteem and Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Scriptures for a Pandemic

We’re all in a period of not-knowing right now. In times like these, it’s easy to fall into a state of anxiety and allow worry to rule your thoughts. When that happens, we’re unable to live presently—because our thoughts are being hijacked by tomorrow’s concerns. We’re not the first ones, or the only ones, to feel that kind of fear and anxiety, and God’s word addresses our concerns:

  • Remember God’s love: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
  • Breathe deeply and let go of anxiety: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 6-7).
  • Trust that God is in control: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8-9).

The word of God is a consistent force of sustenance in our lives in the midst of disorder and confusion. Sometimes reading Scripture might feel like the only thing that gets you through—but it will always get you through.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Saints to Give You Confidence in God

Like everyone else these days, you’re probably inundated with emails telling you what to do, how to protect yourself, a true cacophony of voices that it’s hard to sort through. But there are three voices we’d like you to listen to, today, three voices that can perhaps help lessen your anxiety and give you confidence that God is with you. Here’s just a few words from each of them; go and explore more if you feel they’re speaking to you.

  1. Meet Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Priest, spiritual director, and a voice of reassurance. “When I have done all in my power or which I felt before God I ought to do, I leave the rest to him, abandoning everything entirely and with my whole heart to Divine Providence, blessing him beforehand for all things and wishing in all and above all that his holy will be done. I am convinced by faith and by numerous personal experiences that all comes from God, and that he is so powerful and such a good Father that he will cause everything to prosper for the advantage of his dear children. Has he not proved that he loves us more than life itself…?”
  2. Meet John of the Cross. Carmelite mystic, and a Doctor of the Church. “People, then, should live with great patience and constancy in all the tribulations and trials God places on them, whether they be exterior or interior, spiritual or bodily, great or small, and they should accept them all as from God’s hand as a good remedy and not flee from them, for they bring health. The combat of trials, distress, and temptations deadens the evil and imperfect habits of the soul and purifies and strengthens it. People should hold in esteem the interior and exterior trials God sends them, realizing that there are few who merit to be brought to perfection through suffering and to undergo trials for the sake of so high a state.”
  3. Meet Teresa of Avila. Another Carmelite mystic. Perhaps their time has come! “It wouldn’t be bad when at times you wake up with those impulses of love of God to sit up in bed for a while; always being careful though that you get the sleep your head needs (for unawares you could end up incapable of prayer). And be careful and try not to suffer much cold, for the cold is not good for the pains in your side. I don’t know why you want those terrors and fears, for God is leading you by love. They were necessary back then. Don’t think it is always the devil who impedes prayer, for God in his mercy sometimes takes it away.”

We don’t ever have to go through trials or difficulties alone, though these days with churches shuttered and social distancing in practice, it may feel that way. We have a host of people who have been through trials as well and have triumphed. It is time to turn to them

Lent

With Your Rod and Your Staff You Comfort Me

My car recently had a flat tire, and, as it was a nice day, I decided to change it myself. Or at least attempt to; I’m not exactly known for my practical skill set. I emptied out my car’s trunk and assembled what I thought I would need to change the tire. I struggled for a while (what is that thing supposed to do?) before deciding I didn’t really want to spend the entire day changing a tire, and I called AAA. The gentleman who responded had my tire changed in under five minutes. He had experience, and he had the right tools.

Having the right tools, it seems to me, is the answer to many of life’s problems and challenges.

In While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, a chapter is devoted to a tool I’d heard of but never thought much about: the staff. Everyone knows the Psalmist’s words, “your rod and your staff comfort me,” but perhaps, like me, you never wondered precisely what this rod and this staff are that provide such a comfort to a frightened soul.

The rod, it turns out, is defensive. For centuries, shepherds encouraged the flock with their rods; they threw the rods at predators approaching their flocks. Most importantly, perhaps, the sheep were made to “pass under the rod” when they were counted and inspected every night, as the shepherd checked each one for any wounds or the presence of parasites.

The other wooden implement used by the shepherd is the staff. Tall enough to lean on, frequently curved at the top, it’s a tool with many uses: it’s used to keep sheep apart from each other during lambing, for rescue operations, and to guide sheep through a pass. A very useful tool indeed.

For a more vivid description of the staff in action, we turn to the biography of Dr. Alexander Duff, a Christian missionary to India who lived in the 19th century:

In 1849 Dr. Duff was traveling near Simla under the shadow of the great Himalaya mountains. One day his way led to a narrow bridle path cut out on the face of a steep ridge; along this narrow path that ran so near the great precipice he saw a shepherd leading on his flock following him, but now and then the shepherd stopped and looked back. If he saw a sheep creeping up too far on the one hand, or going too near the edge of the dangerous precipice on the other, he would at once turn back and go to it, gently pulling it back.

He had a long rod as tall as himself, round the lower half of which was twisted a band of iron. The thick band was really a staff, and was ready for use whenever he saw a hyena or wolf or some other troublesome animal coming near the sheep, for especially at night these creatures prowled about the flock. With the iron part of the rod he would give a good blow when an attack was threatened.

I’m reading that passage and there’s part of me that’s saying, lucky sheep! What a feeling of security!

It’s a feeling not a lot of us are experiencing right now. The world around us, we have learned, is unsafe. In fact, we’re understanding that even the people around us have become, in these days of the coronavirus, a threat to our wellbeing. No one feels any sense of security: losing jobs and income, worrying about our families’ health, not knowing what might happen next. Lucky sheep, indeed!

Jesus is called the Great Shepherd. He defends his sheep with his rod, but he also brings back the wandering or straying sheep with his shepherd’s crook. The staff has a curved end that fits the neck of the sheep perfectly, taking care of little lambs as well as the grown sheep. He can defend the flock from the wolves by his rod, and correct us by his rod when we need it; he keeps his sheep close to him by his staff. This is how Micah referred to the staff, writing “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your heritage that lives apart in a woodland, in the midst of an orchard.” (Micah 7:14).

God loves us so much not to leave us to ourselves. He is the shepherd whose life is closely intertwined with ours. If he didn’t love us, he’d let us wander off like sheep over a cliff. His rod protects us from the enemy and he uses his staff to keep us close to the Shepherd. Jesus is the Great Shepherd who uses both the rod when we need it—and the staff when we need it, too.

Let’s take a look at what the staff means to a shepherd out in the field with his sheep. Being a shepherd is a difficult job. It’s not the stained-glass window picture of someone standing there looking rather beatific. Not at all. Shepherds work hard, and they get dirty. If you’re a shepherd, there are three reasons you need the staff:

  • First, you need it because you’re leading the sheep out in the country. You’re on rocky ground, so you need a staff to help keep you stable. In that sense, it’s like a hiking stick. It catches you when you fall.
  • The second reason you as a shepherd need a staff is that it’s an offensive weapon. If somebody’s coming against the sheep, you use the staff to fight them, to keep them away. Your job, after all, is to protect the sheep.
  • Then there’s a third reason: sometimes sheep have minds of their own. They aren’t always very smart, and they need correction. They might wander off. When that happens, you can use the staff to pull them back into the flock, to keep your sheep in line.

Of course, these are the very things that Jesus the Shepherd is doing in your life. He wants to help keep you steady, particularly when you’re walking in a difficult season, as we all are now. He wants to fight on your behalf against the enemies that come against you. And if you’ve made a commitment to say, “I will follow you,” he takes you very seriously.

So if he says, “Go this way,” and you’re going another way, he’ll use his staff to correct you, to bring you back in line. Not because he’s mean, but because he loves you, and because if you go that way, you could encounter a pack of wolves. Your Shepherd wants to keep you safe.

All three of these are ways Jesus demonstrates his love:

  • By steadying us when life is hard.
  • By fighting on our behalf when we need somebody to do so (and we all do from time to time).
  • By correcting us when we’re going the wrong way.

But this staff represents not just Jesus’ ministry, it also represents the Church. God has given the Church a community responsibility: we are called to be the shepherd’s staff in the community where God has placed them.

Steadying

Who in the community needs people to come and stand beside them and steady them because life is hard? That’s the Church’s ministry to the community. There’s a reason Jesus emphasizes the same things over and over again: Care for the weak. Care for the sick. Care for the poor. A Church that claims to be under the authority of the Good Shepherd has to demonstrate that kind of care to those in need.

We’ve all been the recipients. We’ve received forgiveness when we didn’t deserve it. We’ve received mercy when we didn’t deserve it. He gave his life for us, he saved us, even though we didn’t deserve it. He has steadied us in our walk. And if Jesus is steadying us in our walk, being part of a community means we need to take up this staff and care for others. Because that’s what Jesus is doing for us. We are here to steady those in need. This coronavirus crisis is a particularly good time to show we all belong together… even when we cannot actually come together.

Protecting

Who are the people in your community who need someone to come and fight on their behalf? The system isn’t helping them; their neighbors aren’t helping them; even often their own family members aren’t helping them. Who are the people who need somebody to come and stand beside them and say, “What can we do to help?” It could be legal assistance. It could be education. It could be someone helping them find counseling and care. It could be prayer, because more often than not, fighting the battle in prayer is often the thing that breaks loose what needs to happen in somebody’s life. There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t need that. I hope none of us feels they can get through this crisis without saying, “I need somebody to pray for me right now.” Because we all do. And God has built that kind of interdependence between us.

Correcting

We used to rely on families or bosses to help raise people up into positions of responsibility, to love them enough to correct them when they needed correcting. But part of what we’re wrestling with is that people in responsible leadership positions no longer take time or care to mentor, to correct, and to reach out. And so there are many people who haven’t learned important lessons, who don’t understand the need they might have for correction, because they think they should be free to do whatever they want. But that’s not true freedom. Our freedom is the freedom to serve the common good, to reach out to others, to care for people, to give sacrificially. All of us need this staff of correction in our lives.

That’s what it means for the Church to take on the ministry of the shepherd in the communities it serves. That’s what it means for the Church to be God’s steadying, protecting, and correcting staff.

And remember that if the shepherd starts off with one hundred sheep, he will surely bring home one hundred sheep, so we can say, with the psalmist, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

So now let’s imagine again. Imagine yourself to be one of the woolly sheep in a large flock. You don’t think much. You pretty much follow whatever the sheep in front of you is doing. You make a lot of noise when you’re hungry, or unhappy about something. You might not think; but what you do is sense. You can sense danger. You can sense fear. And right now you’re feeling both of those things.

You don’t know why you’re afraid, but you know in your heart there’s something to be afraid of. You huddle even closer to your neighbors. Maybe they can keep the Bad Thing away from you. Maybe you can hide in the midst of them. But you realize that they, too, are shivering; they, too have picked up on the danger. Everyone is at risk. Oh, no! What are you all to do?

And then you hear his voice, the man who takes care of you. He is shouting, but not at the sheep, not at you. He is shouting and running after something, his rod in the air. When he comes back, you feel it right away: the fear has lifted. The danger is gone. You didn’t even know how close you came to disaster—but he did, and he kept it away from you.

There’s no reason to belabor this point. Carry the image with you as we move through this terrible time of a global pandemic. Carry it as we get closer to the end of our Lenten journey, to the final cruel week. Jesus is our shepherd, but he is also the Lamb of God, ready to die so his flock might live on.

 

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

 

 

 

 

Inspiration

What to do when you can’t go to confession

The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” rings especially true in this COVID-19 pandemic. Many Catholics feel the loss of not being able to attend  Mass and to receive Holy Communion due to the shutdowns. But many of us also miss the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession, especially since it’s Lent.

Some priests have found creative ways to offer the sacrament, such as drive-thru confessions. But if you don’t have this available, don’t despair. Here are some steps you can follow in prayer in  case confession is not available  in your area:

  1. Contrition—Be sorry for your sins. This is the essential act of the penitent when going to confession. Take some quiet time and make an examination of conscience. Consider how those sins have harmed yourself or others and then think about Jesus’ great love and mercy. You can look at a crucifix and think about his incredible love in giving his life to save us from our sins. We should never think of our sins apart from the mercy of Jesus. Jesus told Saint Faustina that he is love and mercy itself.

When we are sorry for our sins because of the love of Jesus and not just because we fear some punishment, this is called perfect contrition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about perfect contrition:

“When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’—contrition of charity. Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” (no. 1452).

An act of perfect contrition brings the forgiveness of sins, even mortal sins, outside of the sacrament of Reconciliation. You should also resolve to confess any mortal sin when the sacrament is available again. Even though reconciliation with God can happen before confession, by confessing our sins we are reconciled with the Church community, which has been damaged by our sin.

  1. Confession—Tell your sins directly to Jesus in prayer. By speaking our sins openly it’s easier to truly repent of them and be sorry. You can tell Jesus everything that happened and then listen for the healing word he may send you. Recall that he is looking at you with great love.

Conclude by praying an Act of Contrition:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

  1. Do a penance—Make a sacrifice to help make amends for our sins. You can give yourself some penance to do, whether it’s a prayer, an act of charity for someone, or some type of self-denial. By doing this you will be showing that you desire to repair the harm your sins have caused and that you desire greater configuration to Christ.

If you happen to know anyone who’s dying and can’t receive the sacrament, it would be very important and loving to walk them through the first two steps and assure them of God’s mercy and love. God is not bound by the sacraments and can make his grace available outside of them when necessary. But this does not diminish the importance of receiving the sacraments when we can, because they provide us with special sacramental graces.

by Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Cope with Fear

This is a scary time for all of us.

Did you know that when we’re afraid, bad things happen to our bodies, minds, and souls? Fear activates the brain’s amygdala, a sensor that gives us three response options: fight, flight, or freeze. To ensure we have everything we need to carry out this instinctual response, the amygdala limits activity in the prefrontal cortex, where logical thought, clear decisions, and rational choices are generated. So fear keeps us from being our best selves.

What can we do?

  1. Pray. St. Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” When faced with fear, pray for courage, and trust that all things work for the good for those who love the Lord. You’ll find it easier to plan your next steps when you start with prayer.
  2. Take action. Help someone else, volunteer some time, donate some money, share a meal or a coffee with a friend to talk, cool down when you feel angry by breathing deeply or taking a walk. Do your best to turn toward solutions rather than amplifying problems.
  3. Choose joy. In these difficult times, joy is an act of resistance against the darkness. There are moments of beauty and peace all around us: try to see them. If you can see the light, you can become a light for others.

Remember: there has always been something to fear. We’re not alone; history proves there have been times worse than the one in which we live. If we can see the world as it is, rather than as we are, our perspective changes. God made this world and loves this world. If we can reflect that love, the world will become more lovable.

Inspiration, Lent

I Am Patrick: From Slave to Saint

Finally, a film on St. Patrick that’s not about snakes and shamrocks – not that there is anything wrong with that! Welsh actor, John Rhys-Davis (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lord of the Rings) does a superb job as the older St. Patrick who tells us about his life and journeys. I wish I could say the same about Robert McCormack, the young Patrick, but thankfully his screen time is limited.

The film’s successful and accurate portrayal of Ireland’s favorite son relies on its heavy use of Patrick’s own words from his Confessions for the film’s narrative. As a young man in Britain, he comes from a wealthy family and though his father is a deacon, Patrick is not religious and prefers a life of privilege and dissoluteness. The turning point comes when, at sixteen, Irish pirates capture him and force him into slavery for six years to the point of near starvation. However, his imprisonment becomes a time of conversion, prayer and spiritual development. The Lord’s powerful mercy comes upon him as he repents for the sins of his youth and recommits to living his Catholic faith.

During this time of fervor, he receives what would be the first of many visions from the Lord telling him that he would escape and make his way back to Britain and his loved ones. But Patrick soon realizes that he is called to return to Ireland and that despite the many difficulties he would encounter, the Lord calls him to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants of this rough and wild land. He is seen as a foreigner who opposes the Celtic kings, takes no part in the Druid ceremonies, and when falsely accused by his own bishops who want him to return to Britain – his stance never waivers. Patrick converts thousands of Irish to Christianity. His trust is solely in Jesus Christ, His Lord and Savior.

I’ve seen other films about Patrick and none of them have told me how he converted all of Ireland – a task that seems almost impossible for just one man. This film reveals his “secret.” He formed small groups of believers and when he felt that they were strong enough to be on their own, he left to start anew on the next town or tribe. As he left, Patrick encouraged them to spread God’s word to all those around them.

A word of praise must be given to cinematographer, Colm Hogan. I found his shots of the Irish countryside to be a fitting tribute to the beauty of the Emerald Isle.

As Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, so nicely sums it up,In short, Saint Patrick was a good, courageous, and holy man whose entire life was informed by his encounter with God and his belief in the Gospel. His impact on the Christian Church and the whole Western World is enormous. That’s why his memory, celebrated on March 17th, deserves to be marked with much more meaning than can be offered by civic parades, green beer and shamrocks. Clearly, the movie I Am Patrick points us in the right direction.”

If you’re looking for something special to do for St. Patrick’s Day, here it is – a film on a great saint he entire family can enjoy! Click here for theatrical release locations.

 

By Sr. Christine Salvatore Setticase, FSP

https://www.fathomevents.com/events/i-am-patrick

[Photo credits: ©2020 The Christian Broadcasting Network Inc. All rights reserved.]

Lent

Social Distancing: Only the Shepherd Knows The Way Through

We’re living in a time when it’s easy to panic. Calls for quarantine, for social distancing, for staying away from others are all very scary to hear. There’s certainly more than enough fear to go around.

The Lenten program we chose months ago, before the coronavirus was the threat it’s become today, is the extraordinary book While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks. And indeed God must have directed us to that book, for it is also relevant to the situation in which we all find ourselves. Timothy Laniak—who spent years in the Near East observing the lives of shepherds—remarks on the singular mentality of sheep. Here’s what he observed,

“First one sheep jumped to its death. Then another and another, and then dozens more. Having left their herds to graze while they ate breakfast, stunned Turkish shepherds now watched as nearly 1,500 others leapt off the same cliff” (p.201)

“It is,” he concludes, “a curious behavior of sheep that once one picks a trail, the rest simply follow the tail in front of them without regard for their destination.”

I will be honest: up until recently, I didn’t understand how this sort of thing could happen. When I first read the passage I quoted above, about the sheep following each other off the cliff, my first thought was, how stupid are they? I felt terribly superior to the poor sheep. I would never do anything that silly.

Oh, really? Like many of us, in the first days of understanding that an epidemic was heading our way, I panicked. What would happen to my cat if I fell ill? Have I written my will? How will my elderly neighbors survive? Will I ever see my stepchildren again?

The shepherds know how easily panicked their sheep are; that’s why they’re there. They love the sheep. They know them each by name, or personality, or size. They watch as their sheep pass under their rod, making sure every single one is accounted for, morning and night. They make sure to lead the sheep onto the right paths, the paths that will bring them to sweet grass or a desert oasis of blessed water. They keep the sheep from following the wrong path, from jumping off the cliff.

There are so many paths one could follow, crisscrossing each other, leading in different directions. This is as true for us as it is for the flocks in the Holy Land. And we’ve seen the results, already, of panic over the coronavirus: grocery stores stripped of everything on their shelves, fights breaking out over rolls of toilet paper.

If left to our own devices, how would we know which path to take? Whom would we follow?

Blessedly, we are not left to our own devices. We have a Shepherd who loves us and cares for us. Who shows us the way to live, the path to take, so that we can be in communion with him and, together, become a community of faith. Even if for a time that community needs to be virtual.

Part of the reason for a society to have laws is to keep its citizens on the right paths, the paths that won’t take them over the edge of a cliff, the paths that will enable everyone to live and thrive together. Breaking the law means moving off on a different path. Breaking the law doesn’t just endanger the lawbreaker, it endangers the whole community. We’re seeing that acted out right now, as we’re urged to maintain social distancing, to stop going out, to be cognizant that we can all endanger each other without meaning to: those are the paths that will help us all survive.

The Bible is filled with imagery that speaks of walking in God’s ways, on God’s paths. “My steps,” say the Psalmist, “have kept to your paths; my feet have not faltered” (Ps. 17:5). Elsewhere he implores, “Make known to me your ways, Lord; teach me your paths” (Ps. 25:4).

This imagery isn’t accidental. We live in a complex world where it’s often difficult to perceive the right way through any given situation—much less a way through the days and years of our lives. “Midway on life’s journey, I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost,” laments Dante in the Inferno.

It’s fundamentally simple. Our Shepherd has our best interests at heart; we are called simply to follow where he leads. The path he’ll take us on isn’t always easy; at times it will feel rocky and hard to follow. But if we trust and love him, we know he won’t take us on a path we cannot follow, or on a path that doesn’t ultimately lead where we need to go. For the sheep, that is the safety of their enclosure at night; for us, in the night of our lives, it is the joy of the Kingdom.

Sheep-paths are worn into ruts because they are the best way through the landscape. Generations of shepherds have guided their sheep into these righteous ruts. And if we look at the history of the Church, we’ll see there are some righteous ruts there, too.

Do we all follow the right path, the one on which Jesus is leading us? What would be helpful to us along the journey? As we all live through this uncertain time—and cannot perceive for ourselves the right way forward—trusting our Shepherd to watch over us is the best pandemic precaution we can take. And with additional time to reflect, we might be able to add some practices to keep us on the right path. What would help you trough this crisis and moving forward? Morning prayer? A daily Scripture reading? An evening examen? As we move through these troubled times, let’s pray for guidance to the right path.

 

by Jeannette de Beauvoir
Image by Steven Lasry for Unsplash

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Your Keys to a Bright New Beginning

Along with whatever practices we’ve set ourselves for Lent, there’s something else that’s new, at least for us in the Northern hemisphere: the undeniable start to spring. Crocuses are starting to push their way through the winter’s detritus. Just as the new year brought resolutions, spring brings a sense that it’s time to start something new. We have some ideas:

  • Pray. Lent is penitential, but it doesn’t remove joy from our lives. Make it part of your practice to spend some time outside, feeling the new softer air, watching the natural world awaken. It is hard to not pray when you’re in a garden!
  • Let go. Coming into a new season and springing forward in faith means letting go of the old season. We can’t hang on to past hurts, past struggles, and past relationships and still move through the Lord’s new springtime garden.
  • Pray again. John Paul II wrote, “Jesus Christ is the new beginning of everything.” Feel Jesus’ presence in the new warmth of the sun, in the moments you linger in a park or garden, in the whole earth giving a chorus of joy. The joy is yours, too!

There is something to celebrate in the new life God brings with the spring. We are moving slowly, inexorably toward the Resurrection, and we have hints of it all around us. God bless and enjoy!