Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Today’s readings express resurrection hope and invite us to participate with God in co-creating courageous and generous communities. We are called to accept the joyful and messy work of belonging to communities and connect, according to the heart of Jesus, imaginatively and relationally with tenderness, forgiveness, strength and protection rather than with patriarchal such as aggression, domination, control, and condemnation. Psalm 23 offers words of comfort and courage in times of uncertainty, sorrow and loss. The Psalm and Gospel remind us that we never walk alone amid the uncertainties of our future and the changes in our lives and our world. There is a way forward when feeling helpless, concerned, powerless and fearful.

The Gospel says: ‘The sheep hear His voice: He calls His sheep, each one by name’ (John 10:3). It is the voice of love. There are other voices, the Gospel suggests, of people who do harm or cause us to do harm, be lacking in compassion and care for others and creation. Though different voices resound within and around us, God’s voice speaks gently to the heart.  God’s voice does not oblige or impose. It proposes whereas other voices constrain, accuses and devalues. Such voices can deem people as worthless rather than encourage, console and nourish hope. As we are bombarded with so-called threats by China, such voices try to distract us from the present and the call for solidarity, peace, understanding and compassion and concentrate on our fears and reawaken experiences of bitterness, memories of wrong done. God’s voice speaks to the present by calling us to be agents of transformation and change, to do good by exercising the creativity of love. God’s voices encourages, leads us forward but speaks to the present moment.


John describes what shepherding involves: calling to the sheep and giving life abundantly. In the Acts (not today) we have a portrait of care where there is a community of shepherds - care that involves economic generosity, a culture of hospitality, the gathering around worship, and rejoicing in togetherness. Shepherding is not just a one-on-one relationship, though such relationships of care have served people needing care and mentoring. We see in Acts how community (family, parish, religious congregation) functions as a shepherd. HeartFELT is one such community that has been formed in recent years to respond to grief and offer grief care and offer support where there has been loss of loved one and offering rootedness and connection. Here community cares or shepherds.


Pope Francis has called attention to the voices that touch our heart. We can recognise distinguish this because it calls us out of ourselves, from what encloses us in selfishness and leads to freedom and life.


Many people, especially the most marginalised people, know about gates, doors, barriers and blockades in religious and secular institutions. The good news today is that only Jesus can say who is in – not religious leaders, politicians, radio and television personalities who shun the work of co-creating healthy and just communities and attack asylum seekers, Indigenous people, Muslim people,  gay and lesbian people as well as those excluded from the sacraments. 


Jesus contrasted God’s loving and kind approach to people to that of the religious leaders. His concern, as that of Pope Francis, was less about keeping burdensome rules and regulations but to facilitate encounters and develop relationships to enable people to come together and live life to the full. 


Each of us is called to be present, to be caring, serving and protecting of God’s ‘little ones’ or vulnerable ones to an abundant life. The biblical view of ‘shepherd’ is both spiritual and political. It is not sentimental but about relationships and about justice-making. It is serious, dangerous, and challenging. Jesus shows us that it is about commitment to the welfare of the other and rejecting the images from business and industry that even the Church can buy into where people, like sheep, can be just commodities. 


As the world is more and more globalised, the gospel calls us to work towards globalising compassion and care where individualism is coming to the fore. If our fragile earth is suffering today, it might be because the captains of industry with their vested interests want to keep us from knowing or being aware that we are not monads or just individuals but part of one humanity. Our value does not depend on our ability to purchase or consume. This planet is the ‘good shepherd’s’ field of work and ministry, and we are meant to be tenders of creation and of one another. We are intimately bound to earth and all its passengers – including the animals. A question arises from the readings as to whether those who called to minister to and with know the people. Pope Francis tells clergy that they should have the smell of the sheep. This can only happen from being with, listening and knowing the needs of people. It does not allow one to dictate the needs of the community. The synodal journey means reaching out, being challenged to reach out to those on the peripheries and margins of the church and society.

Does that reaching out remind everyone is a child of God whoever they are, whether we agree with them, are of the same social group, or live nearby or far off? The challenge is to bring the love of Jesus to all.


Living as Jesus has shown us means we do not walk away from danger. Jesus can, as we saw in the gospel last week [Emmaus] come alongside us and ‘reroute’ our journey. He takes us back into reality …….. not Emmaus but to Jerusalem. Jesus identified with the weak and vulnerable. There is no substitute for personal involvement with people on the receiving end of injustice. It means seeking ways to ‘be alongside’ and available in some lively way. It means being open to being ‘taught’ by victims and the people who are disadvantaged because they have experiences we will never know. It means receiving from them, not just finding way we can fix their lives.  Our understanding and compassion can be nurtured by our involvement, walking with, listening to, and taking sides with.


Pope Francis said: Solidarity is a term that many wish to erase from the dictionary…….. It is a free response born from the heart of each and everyone….. When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being? In order to do good, we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity………Yes, love does require a creative, concrete and ingenious attitude. Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The ‘you’ is always a real presence, a person to take care of.’


The movie, Of Gods and Men touches on the life and witness of Dom Christian De Cherge, OCSO, prior of a Trappist Abbey in Algeria. Whilst prior, Islamic insurgents sought to purge the country of all foreign influences. This threat forced Christian and his fellow monks to discern whether they should leave or stay and continue to be with their Muslim neighbours. All except one were kidnapped and murdered. With the decision to remain and inevitability of death, Christian wrote a Testament to be read after his death where he anticipated possible responses to his death and to shape the way others would view the decision to remain in Algeria:


My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these must know that my insistent curiosity will then be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: Immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with Him His children of Islam as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, playing with the differences.


The more we learn about sheep, the more powerful Jesus’ metaphor becomes. Despite the perceptions and descriptions of sheep, they are still incredibly valuable to their owners – as we are to God


The truth about the shepherd is not about the quality of sheep. Protection and love and concern is not based on how the sheep look, feel or behave. These are not the basis for belonging in God’s world. They were created by systems of control and domination. The voice of the one who lays down his life for us is always saying: ‘you matter’; ‘you belong to me’; ‘you belong.’ This is also the voice of Pope Francis.  Let’s remember Christ’s combined compassion and challenge. He understands. After all, He was born among sheep, was the Lamb of God, and is resurrected, is here in our midst then as now, both as shepherd and gateway.


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