Friday, May 10, 2013

The Good Shepherd FEEDS his sheep

Did you know that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, doesn’t want his sheep to be thin and scrawny, spiritually speaking. He wants them to be nourished, he wants them to be strong. That’s why he leads them to fresh pastures. If he doesn’t, they eventually die.

There is so much starvation in the world. We only have to pay attention when World Vision and other international aid agencies fill our TV screens with all those gut-wrenching pictures of starving children in Africa and other places. They have to do it to shock us into giving generously from our affluence to alleviate the misery of others. 

But, you know that’s not the only starvation in the world today. There is a much more widespread starvation than physical starvation - and that is SPIRITUAL starvation. It’s all around us. It leads to a sense of futility, emptiness, aimlessness, disconectedness and despair - indeed the feeling of being dead on the inside. It is responsible for the breakdown of community and it contributes to the alarming rise of violence and youth suicide throughout the western world in general and Australia in particular.

But it’s not just those outside the Church who are starving. So many Christians are malnourished. Sometimes that’s the fault of those clergy who proclaim every personal opinion from the pulpit, but never teach the Scriptures. Other times it’s our fault for not availing ourselves of the food God has so generously provided for us.


The Documents of the Second Vatican Council, talk about how we are nourished at two tables when we come to Mass - the “table of God’s Word” and the “table of the Lord’s Body”. Where this has been understood it has led to a renewed emphasis on the reading and preaching of the Word of God Sunday by Sunday, as we try to do here in this parish. Why that emphasis? Because if the Word of God is not being proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit within the Eucharistic Assembly, the people of God are being denied the food they need in order to grow into personal, spiritual and emotional maturity. 

Every one of us needs to be nourished by the Word of God. The pulpit is not the place for the priest to promote his favourite political party, engage in theological speculation, cast doubt on the Christian Faith or demonstrate how clever he is. The pulpit is for the feeding of the people with the words of life, and every sermon, whatever its theme, must have the same goal: to move the hearts and minds of the people to honour Jesus Christ as Lord and to respond to his love so that they might have life in all its fulness.

The same Vatican Council said that because (in the words of Saint Jerome) “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”, the people ought to read and ponder the Scriptures frequently. We’ve already spoken about how important the Scriptures are to receiving guidance in our daily lives. Now I want to tell you about “Bible Alive” - a great daily Bible reading program. A growing number of people in this parish are committed to Bible Alive. They receive their guidebooks monthly, read a short passage from the Bible each day and reflect on its meaning - what God is saying through the passage and how the passage applies to their daily lives. 

Bible Alive is a wonderful means by which our Good Shepherd can feed and nourish us daily. It is EVANGELICAL and CATHOLIC at the same time! As the advertising brochure says: “Five minutes a day can transform your life.” Many people around here have a real excitement about the things God has been doing in their lives since they started on this simple program. They are fed daily. They are nourished. They are actually growing. Speak to one of us after Mass if you want to find out more details.


The second way that the Good Shepherd feeds us is, of course, at the table of his Body, where in the Blessed Sacrament he comes to us under the veils of bread and wine to fill us with his own risen life.

My dear brothers and sisters, you come here week by week (some of you travelling vast distances) not because nibbling bread and sipping wine helps you to remember something that happened a long time ago. (If that’s all it was - if it was just jogging our memories about a past event - you’d be better off prayerfully watching a “Jesus” video in air-conditioned comfort at home!) 

No! You come here because you believe with the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived, as well as with most Christians in the world today, that in the midst of our gathering to praise and thank the Lord, by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, at the hands of a priest ordained in the Apostolic Succession, the bread and wine on this altar are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Kneeling there we receive HIM! The holy bread that we call the “Sacred Host” is the Body of Jesus before whom the angels of heaven veil their faces. Holy Communion is a supernatural event! The Blessed Sacrament is supernatural food!

In case you think that this is some sentimental medieval idea, I remind you that writing between 80 AD and 110 AD, - that is, while the Apostle John is still alive - Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, calls the Blessed Sacrament:

“the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, 
the flesh which suffered for our sins 
and which the Father, in His graciousness, 
raised from the dead.”

St Justin Martyr says the same thing a little later on - around 150 AD:

“We do not consume
 the eucharistic bread and wine 
as if it were ordinary food and drink, 
for we have been taught 
that as Jesus Christ our Saviour became a man
of flesh and blood 
by the power of the Word of God, 
so also the food 
that our flesh and blood assimilates 
for its nourishment 
becomes the Flesh and Blood 
of the incarnate Jesus 
by the power of His own words 
contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.”

Holy Communion is the amazing and wonderful miracle in which our union with the Lord Jesus is supernaturally deepened. And the greatness of this mystery of Divine Love is the reason for incense and bells, vestments, candles, wonderful music, fervent prayer, passionate hymn singing and all the other apparent excesses for which we are sometimes noted here at All Saints’. The Blessed Sacrament is Jesus. Did you hear what I just said? THE BLESSED SACRAMENT IS JESUS . . . Jesus our Good Shepherd feeding us with himself - Jesus, God and man, gloriously risen from the dead and truly present on this altar.

We need to feed on Jesus in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving. We need the blessings he gives us in Holy Communion. We can’t get through all that we face in our day to day lives in our own strength. We need the spiritual resources, the grace, the love and the power that Jesus gives in the precious Sacrament of his Body and Blood. In our own strength we end up just trudging from one crisis to another. Let’s make sure that we never stay away from Mass. Let’s trust in him; let’s keep on receiving from him the free gift of his life and love; let’s feed on him and be strong.


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