Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year A

Once when I went to confession in St. Peter's as a young seminarian
there was a Maltese Friar hearing confessions in English.
I could tell from his accent and the languages on his door.
I wasn't good at Italian yet so I went to him.

He was kind and gentle and piously heard my confession.
He offered good advice and encouragement and I was happy I went to him.

Then after he finished he said matter of factly…
Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep of his flock
to help you remember that
for your penance go to the Blessed Sacrament chapel
and meditate on that very important truth
and when you are finished
quietly bleat like a sheep out loud.
And then he quietly went like this Baaaah
And gave me absolution.

I was stunned mortified.
Bleat like a sheep in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome…
It wasn't as if I killed anyone
I was to afraid to challenge him and very slowly walked over the chapel with my head down

There were about 20 people before the Blessed Sacrament
it is a pretty big chapel but it was a weekday evening so it was not crowded
I sat there so embarrassed wondering if I would ever have the courage to do my penance

I tried to think of a way out there was none.
I almost went back to ask for another penance what if the new one he gave me was worse

I kept trying meditating on the fact that I was the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd
but it was hard to concentrate because I was terrorized of making that sound.

I was about to choke and leave when very quietly from a bench in front of me
this small little woman bleated like a sheep
It was really quiet but I heard it

As soon as she did that a guy on the other side of the chapel did the same.
It was almost like he got his courage from her
Just once very quietly but I was sure I heard it again

Then all of a sudden I heard another sheep behind me
and as I glanced back with a smile it was the guy behind me in line.

He was smiling back
Finally I had the courage to do my bleat
and slowly but surely the sheep of God's flock left the chapel.

You know a sheep is a very docile animal.
Sometimes they are so busy eating that they don't even realize there is a predator around them.

It is very easy for them to wander off and get lost
sometimes when one sheep wanders off
the others will simply follow them.
Kind of like the blind leading the blind

They aren't the smartest animals in the world
If there is food right over there and no one takes them to it
they are capable of starving because they are not smart enough to go and find it

Their safety and well being depends on the shepherd who guides them to the food and protects them from foes who would hurt them and binds up their wounds.

The Gospel is full of analogies which compare us to sheep

Quite often when we blindly rely on ourselves and are oblivious to the world around us.

We spend our time wandering from place to place from day to day from fad to fad
Often we never really thinking about what we are doing.
We don't live thoughtful lives

Quite frequently we dedicate ourselves and our energies to things which don't make us better people
And don't nourish us.
Bad food if you will
There might be good things for us right around the corner
but we don't expend the energy to find them or make them part of our lives

Just like sheep we often lead each other astray
Sometimes its on purpose
But most of the time it is not

We lead people astray by being bad examples
Or by being no example.
Or by not being the best that we can be.

Let's face it we are vulnerable just like the sheep
Vulnerable to our own stupidity
Vulnerable to the mistakes of others
Vulnerable to following the crowd

Am sadly there are many in our flock who have wandered off
We can't find them anymore
They don't even remember that they are part of us
Part of our flock part of our Church.

Good Shepherds were courageous and caring.
They would often stop at nothing to save their sheep

Remember the story that Jesus told in the gospel
About the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the one that was lost

Sometimes to keep the sheep from running off and protect them from other animals and people and even themselves
shepherds would make a circle of stones out in the fields usually about 3 feet high
and then they would stick brambles on top of it to keep the sheep in

At night the shepherd would lay in the opening
so anything or anyone who wanted to get at the sheep
would have to face the shepherd.

In a very real way the shepherd became the gate just like the Gospel said

If we are God's Sheep then
Jesus is God's Shepherd
Jesus leads us home
Jesus provides us with food
his word and the Bread of Life

Jesus and his message protect us from error
His word and his teaching keep us from wandering off
Jesus shows us the way home and protects us on our journey

Like a shepherd Jesus built us the sheepfold
we call it the Church
In the Church we find the consolation of our brothers and sisters
In the Church we find safety and security

Just like a sheep can never be alone in his flock
We can never be alone in the Church
Just like a good shepherd would lay down his life for his flock
Jesus laid down his life for us.
He died for us
He paid the price of our sins
He paid the price our brokenness
The price of our stupidity our arrogance

We are the Sheep and Jesus is the Shepherd
Are we willing to listen to his voice
Are we willing to follow him
Like the sheep listen to the voice of their shepherd and won't follow anyone else

Yes We are the sheep and Jesus is the Shepherd
And that is a very important truth which we have to remember

You know looking back
I know that The only reason I ever had the courage to bleat like a sheep was because the little woman in front of me and the guy across the aisle had the courage to do so first.

I never would have made it without them

To recognize our place in God's plan
To have the courage to follow God's voice
To truly live as members of the flock of the Good shepherd

We need each other
We need to inspire each other
and we need the Church

After that experience I walked out of St. Peter's Basilica thought St. Peter's Square toward the 238 bus home on the Lungo Tevere
I remember I allowed myself to think youthful cocky thoughts
I remember thinking what a dumb penance
What was a matter with that priest?
I remember thinking no wonder people find it hard to go to confession
Blah blah blah blah

Here it is 29 years later and I never forgot that moment
or that penance
or that priest or that experience

Everytime I hear that passage from Scripture
I remember well that confession
And the important lesson it taught me

And here I am even preaching on it to you
Now I remember the whole experience with a smile

Father wherever you are prayers promised
and thanks.

I'll try not to forget

1 comment:

sodajunkie said...

Great story! I'm grateful that you never gave Penances that were that tough!! But, I can truly appreciate the humility of that type of Penance. His method certainly got you to think it over for a long time and provoked you to think of things differently...which is a gift that you have. You always seem to challenge our worldly thoughts and get us to focus back on what is important. Maybe this Confessor had something to do with that!

Hope all is well!