Probing Belief: Facing our Doubts

2nd Sunday of Easter (A, B, C)

I admire Thomas. I can relate to him. Thomas, also known as Didymus, the twin, was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, but his designation as “the doubter” that has followed him throughout history is a trait that many of us share. At least, it is one that I share.

Most everything we know about Thomas comes from the gospel of John, He seems to be one of the more introverted apostles, he is a fact-gatherer and a deep thinker, and his coming to belief is an intentional process, one which he discovers happens best in community.

“Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” [John 20:24-25]

Doesn’t it make sense Thomas would want to see Jesus with his own eyes? After all, (more…)

Life goes on: The wisdom of Howard Thurman

This morning, my dear friend and mentor, who knows my heart too well, forwarded Howard Thurman’s uplifting meditation, aptly titled “Life Goes On.” For those readers who are less familiar with the man, Howard Washington Thurman (1889-1991) was an African American theologian, mystic, prolific writer, and mentor to civil rights activists including Martin Luther King, Jr. His influence is as crucial to dealing with the circumstances our contemporary expression of hopelessness as it was during his lifetime and it is worth taking the time to learn about the man and study his words. Tomes of information on Thurman exists, and his timeless books are still in print and readily available. I’m no shill for Amazon, but click here to learn about the many titles penned by this great man, and give yourself a gift today.

I suggest you read “Life Goes On” multiple times, like a lectio divina, noticing the arrangement of Thurman’s thoughts and the feelings that arise in you as his words fill you. Notice the way he gradually lifts the shade of darkness to expose what the great deception of despair prevents us from seeing. Indeed, hopelessness is a form of blindness.

I find it striking that Thurman identifies the human spirit as the target of evil. How true this is. Isn’t it the lack of hope that brings on both despair and violence, and the countless variations of each? In terms of self-preservation there seem to be two base responses to hopelessness: we either internalize it—increasing our personal boundaries so much we block even the tiniest bit of light, or we externalize it, expressing fabrications of personal power, selfishness and greed to prevent the re-entry of light entirely.

Surely we can think of people who live their whole lives in one or the other states of hopelessness. That’s not living. Please read, comment, share. Lift the shade.

“Life Goes On”

By Howard Thurman

During these turbulent times we must remind ourselves repeatedly that life goes on.

This we are apt to forget.

The wisdom of life transcends our wisdoms; the purpose of life outlasts our purposes; the process of life cushions our processes.

The mass attack of disillusion and despair, distilled out of the collapse of hope, has so invaded our thoughts that what we know to be true and valid seems unreal and ephemeral. There seems to be little energy left for aught but futility.

This is the great deception.

By it whole peoples have gone down to oblivion without the will to affirm the great and permanent strength of the clean and the commonplace.

Let us not be deceived.

It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained.

Birds still sing; the stars continue to cast their gentle gleam over the desolation of the battlefields, and the heart is still inspired by the kind word and the gracious deed.

There is no need to fear evil.

There is every need to understand what it does, how it operates in the world, what it draws upon to sustain itself.

We must not shrink from the knowledge of the evilness of evil.

Over and over we must know that the real target of evil is not destruction of the body, the reduction to rubble of cities; the real target of evil is to corrupt the human spirit and to give the soul the contagion of inner disintegration.

When this happens, there is nothing left, the very citadel of the human being is captured and laid waste.

Therefore, the evil in the world around us must not be allowed to move from without to within.

This would be to be overcome by evil.

To drink in the beauty that is within reach, to clothe one’s life with simple deeds of kindness, to keep alive a sensitiveness to the movement of the spirit of God in the quietness of the human heart and in the workings of the human mind— this is as always the ultimate answer to the great deception.

[Excerpted from Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press, 1981), 110-11 with modest adaption]

“Let it be done unto me”

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (A)

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, we hear a story of profound faith—the Annunciation—which sets in motion the divine purpose of her birth, her Immaculate Conception.

As much as we want to soften the Christmas story and disguise it as a children’s pageant, it is important to reflect on the courage it took for this teen-aged peasant girl to give her fiat—to give up normalcy and risk her and her fiance’s and their families’ reputations, and agree to participate in the impossible event for which she was born.

She was free to choose. And she chose to say, “Let it be done unto me.”

So often it seems we have no control over the events of our lives, but in truth the historical world has never been driven by fate or by accident, but by the free-will of fully-conscious, spiritually attuned human beings whose faith in God’s faithfulness leads them to live in accord with God’s purposes [Eph 1:11], for which they were born and which they, with hearts opened to God’s reign of justice and peace, participate.

…Human beings who give of themselves freely and without fear in service of the greater good, who are good stewards of earthly matters, who marvel and ponder those things that cannot be explained, who are motivated by not by fear or self-preservation, but by trust, and who who accept they may never see the fruit of their life’s work

…Human beings like Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose Immaculate Conception and fiat to participate in God’s divine plan continues to send ripples of hope throughout the universe.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Then the angel departed from her.

Video courtesy of Danielle Rose via YouTube. [Uploaded on Sep 24, 2014. Provided to YouTube by The Orchard Enterprises]

Today’s full readings can be accessed by clicking this link.

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Art: Women Singing Earth, by Mary Southard, CSJ

God is Faithful

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Every Wednesday, without fail, a thought-provoking reflection on the coming Sunday’s readings arrives in my inbox from the faculty of Catholic Theological Union (CTU). In September I shared the wisdom of CTU president, Fr. Mark Francis, CSV on what it means to remain despite “the impossibility of faith.” It is my privilege once again to share another timely piece, written by Fr. Stephen Bevans, SVD for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time whose words refresh and invigorate like the sweet and sonorous bell of mindfulness.  “What we know in faith is that God is the God of the living”.

By Fr. Stephen Bevans, SVD

Tucked into the middle of the second reading today is a phrase that might be the key to understanding what our readings today are pointing to: “the Lord is faithful.” This is the conviction that sustains the brothers in our rather grisly first reading from Second Maccabees. This is the conviction that prompts the psalmist to pray, “Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shelter of your wings.” This is the point that Jesus makes in the gospel. God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Through the years there has been a lot of speculation about what life after death and our resurrected bodies might be like. The Greeks, who basically didn’t like human bodies, saw death as an escape from what weighed us down in life. The medieval theologians sometimes thought that the resurrected body would be a return to the bodies we had at about the age of thirty. Resurrection would mean eternal youth. Homilies at funerals often try to console the deceased’s loved ones with images of parents, friends, and relatives happily receiving him or her on the other side. Indeed, several accounts of people who have had near death experiences talk about that experience in this same way — a grand reunion with friends and loved ones. Contemporary theologians sometimes speak of resurrected life as a new consciousness and unfettered unity with all peoples and all things. In this way, God is all in all.

The truth is, though, that we don’t really know. Our speculations about life beyond death may be just as primitive as the scene proposed to Jesus by the skeptical Sadducees. What we know in faith, however, is that God is faithful.  What we know in faith is that God is the God of the living, not of the dead. What we know in faith is that when we pass beyond this life, we pass into the arms of a loving God.

This is the kind of faith that gives people like the young men in our First Reading the courage to endure death rather than compromise on their principles. This is the kind of faith that offers us “everlasting encouragement and good hope,” so that we can live our lives in joy and contentment. This is the kind of faith that gave Oscar Romero the faith that, if he would be killed, he would rise in the Salvadoran people. This is the kind of faith that allowed a dying John XXIII to say simply: “My bags are packed and I’m ready to go.” This is the kind of faith that, in the words of poet Julia Esquivel, sees persecution as being “threatened with resurrection.”

November is the month when Catholics remember and pray for their loved ones who have “fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection,” and for all who have died in God’s mercy, as Eucharistic Prayer II expresses it. Parishes offer books where parishioners can write the names of those for whom the community will pray. Latino/as have the beautiful custom of constructing “altarcitos” with pictures and mementos of relatives and friends who have died — a custom that is being increasingly adopted by other cultures as well. On November 1, Filipinos clean the graves of relatives, leave food offerings on the graves and have them blessed. We might visit the cemetery and bring flowers as signs of love and respect. We do not know what happens after death, but we do believe that God is faithful. We do believe that God is not the God of the dead but of the living, and that all who have been born are alive to God.

Our readings today give us a chance to renew that faith. God is faithful.

Stephen Bevans, SVD
Professor Emeritus

Readings:
First Reading: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Responsorial Psalm: 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
Second Reading:  2 Thessalonians 2:16-35
Gospel: Luke 20:27-38

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© Copyright 2016 Catholic Theological Union. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with the author’s permission.

“Catholic Theological Union is a Roman Catholic graduate school of theology and ministry serving both vowed religious and lay women and men. The mission of Catholic Theological Union is to prepare effective leaders for the Church, ready to witness to Christ’s good news of justice, love, and peace.” —Catholic Theological Union Mission Statement

My relationship with Catholic Theological Union continues to be a source of intellectual, theological and spiritual inspiration, and for that I am grateful. To learn more about degree programs offered at CTU, visit www.ctu.edu.

Doubt: Faith’s Dependable (but not victorious) Companion

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Every week an abundantly rich reflection on the coming Sunday’s readings arrives in my inbox from the faculty of Catholic Theological Union (CTU).

As an alumnus of CTU I appreciate the opportunity to read the words of my professors with whom I spent many years studying and whose wisdom continues to pervade my theology. As I read, I hear their voices and recall their scholarly encouragement (and the readings, and papers, and lectures, of course). Just as often the reflection comes from a professor or faculty member with whom I never studied. This week was one of those times.

This writer’s words touched me so deeply I requested his permission to post it here for the readers of The Good Disciple. The author is Fr. Mark Francis, CSV, the president CTU. His writing hit home with me, I explained, because even while I am one who studies and writes about the meaning of discipleship, and who strives to embrace the body of Christ in all I do, I find the more deeply I wade into the waters of faith the louder my doubts become, clamoring for my attention. Clearly, crises of faith are to be expected, for why would doubts arise if our faith was not challenging us to rise above them?

Fr. Mark opens his reflection with remarks about Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who will be canonized today, and delves into what it means to remain despite “the impossibility of faith.” She and all of the saintly doubters who came before her should give us reason to reach higher, to continue to move beyond the messy feelings that our doubts stir in us.

By Fr. Mark Francis, CSV

This Sunday Mother Teresa will be canonized and very few doubt her holiness. But in light of this canonization I think it is important to note that for many years this saint experienced a real crisis of faith. In a collection of her letters Mother Teresa: Be My Light, compiled by her spiritual director, we read that after founding the Missionaries of Charity, she had doubts about the existence of God, about the soul and therefore the promises of Jesus – and heaven. This revelation has been received in a variety of ways. In an extensive article in Newsweek published by the late journalist and atheist Christopher Hitchens, he criticized her as being an over-promoted religious celebrity. He also contended that Mother Teresa’s doubts made complete sense because the Catholic faith is based on asking people to believe “impossible things.”

While I was never a great fan of Mr. Hitchens – who seems to have become somewhat of an over promoted anti-religious celebrity himself – (his book God is not Great was a scathing screed against any kind of religious faith), I think he may be on to something. The Catholic faith does ask us to believe impossible things – or at least things that are impossible from a certain point of view. The fact that Mother Teresa doubted God’s existence may rattle some people, but anyone who has a mature faith has experienced similar moments of doubt and despair – when God’s presence just seems absent. St. John of the Cross described it as the “dark night of the soul,” Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict, XVI, in his book Introduction to Christianity speaks of all of us being constantly inhabited by both faith and doubt. Flannery O’Connor, the great American Catholic writer, criticized glib ideas regarding what the faith is all about. She wrote, “most people believe that faith is a big electric blanket, when it is of course the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”

Our readings today seem to underscore the “impossibility” of faith. Jesus speaks about discipleship – following him. This involves three very hard, if not impossible, things to do: prefer Jesus to one’s family, carry your cross, and renounce your possessions. How unreasonable. How impossible. Once again the Gospel turns the world-common sense – on its head.  This is not normal behavior especially in the Middle East of Jesus’ day when one’s family was the only real support one had. To prefer Jesus to them (to hate family is the Semitism used) would leave you completely exposed and vulnerable – and you would be forced to depend not on them – but on God. The same is true of renouncing possessions…security and comfort all go out the window.

And then there is the case presented in our second reading. Paul’s letter to Philemon over the slave Onesimus also reveals this same “turn the world on its head” attitude. To appreciate what’s going here is that Onesimus is with Paul not because he is a runaway slave, but availing himself of a stipulation in Roman law called amicus magistri (friend of the master).  He has felt himself mistreated by Philemon, and has gone to Paul who is in prison in order to intercede for him. While with Paul, Onesimus becomes a Christian. And now Paul is asking Philemon to do the impossible – accept Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother in the Lord. How unrealistic, how impossible.

So, Mr. Hitchens appears to have been correct. We are called upon to believe and to act on the impossible things we believe. That God will somehow provide for us. That we are all equally loved and cherished by God as brothers and sisters in Christ. That a little nun, who after starting a work in the slums of Calcutta, and after struggling with faith all her life, is being canonized and that her work with the poor has grown to almost 5,000 sisters in 14 countries. How impossible all of this sounds. But that’s the point. Mother Teresa, despite her tests of faith, took up the cross and was faithful – and was able to accomplish the impossible.

We are called to do these same impossible things in our own way, in our own time, despite doubt and despite a lack of clarity: to take up our cross out of love…in order to bring the presence of Jesus into our world.

Mark Francis, CSV
President, CTU

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Published September 4, 2016. © Copyright 2016 Catholic Theological Union. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with the author’s permission.

“Catholic Theological Union is a Roman Catholic graduate school of theology and ministry serving both vowed religious and lay women and men. The mission of Catholic Theological Union is to prepare effective leaders for the Church, ready to witness to Christ’s good news of justice, love, and peace.” —Catholic Theological Union Mission Statement

My relationship with Catholic Theological Union continues to be a source of intellectual, theological and spiritual inspiration, and for that I am grateful. To learn more about degree programs offered at CTU, visit www.ctu.edu.

Image: Mother Teresa at age 77, 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner praying during dedication ceremonies at her 400th world wide mission to care for the poor.

Rock Steady? 

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

I once asked a friend whose existence exudes God’s mercy if he ever doubted—if he just once thought, even for a second, “this is just crazy.” He looked me in the eye, shrugged his shoulders and stunned me with the words, “never.” I believe him. His life attests to his confidence that it is God who guides our steps and who raises us to the fullness of life, to the highest and sweetest note. His life, while not always easy, exudes joy and love, and the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” [Heb 12:11].

Unlike my friend, many people struggle with faith. More foundational than the myriad issues with institutional religion, the idea of a God, a greater power, a single, intelligent, ineffable, infinite and benevolent being who desires to be in relationship with the world is hard to grasp. And for Christians, the belief that God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ, to gather the nations as a shepherd gathers his flock, just simply defies logic.

Doubters claim they don’t have faith. Christians are told that faith is a gift of the Spirit [1 Cor 12:9, Hebrews 11:1-40]; some receive it, and others do not. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? We bandy around the language of “the gift of faith” and “giftedness” if was like mathematical skill or Olympic athleticism or artistry. No doubt, those are gifts and abilities some are born with. Likewise, some people just seem to have faith. Were they born with it?

And what about suffering? The question regularly wends its way through the forest of doubt. What kind of benevolent creator allows what it has created to destroy itself? Volumes have been written on the topic of Theodicy, which is the “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence given the existence of evil,” but that is a subject for another day.

Is my faith rock steady? Mostly, but its makeup is more characteristic of the sedimentary variety of rock than igneous; it is sandstone, not granite. My faith is an aggregate of minerals and sediments, fossils and particulates layered and compacted by gravity and the movement of my lifetime. I think I’m in good company because if trust, belief, and reliance in the intangible were anything other than this we’d have one slim book in the Bible and there’d be a lot of tremendously bored theologians.

There are times when I find myself drifting from my faith, times when I might even say “this is just crazy” before my life experience tells me, “no, it is not.” These times of doubt come when I grow distant from my prayer life—times when I slide into the dualistic mind that is the core of much of Richard Rohr’s writing.

Many years ago, when I participated in a three-year diocesan ecclesial ministry program one of my classmates told me she prayed continuously throughout the day, and in fact was in the midst of prayer at that very moment. Her focus, she said, was like a gravel path leading to “the narrow gate.”  I was incredulous. How did this gainfully employed mother of three get anything done if she was praying all the time?  And what did she mean by gravel? In the dozen or so years since then, I have sought, with limited success, the kind of prayer-filled mindfulness of which my friend spoke. Like anything else, it’s a practice, and I am easily distracted, my path is now strewn with gravel.

It’s like when I began my Master’s degree. I wanted to study theology to deepen my understanding of the God of history and the God of today and to make sense of what God means to me in my life in my family and in my faith community, and the world. But there were times when the study became the ends not the means. My striving to master the material did not always lead me to pray, “Am I doing your will?” or “Are WE doing your will?”

At different times in my studies, I become cynical and discouraged, not about the existence of God, but about how inconsistently we interpret our experience of God, and how poorly we follow God’s will. All the scriptures (read Isaiah from the start to finish, with a good commentary, of course, and see the similarities to our contemporary global crisis), and all the church history (change in the church is like trying to use plastic spoons to push an aircraft carrier out to sea), and all the theology—it seems like the more we study it the less we agree. Sometimes it seems that we take three steps forward and four steps back.

We often take a sledgehammer to faith. It is hard to “endure our trials” [Hebrews 12:7]. “This is just crazy” becomes “This is just stupid.” People think they know more, believe they have the power and think their strength comes from their own abilities.

One of the most inspiring highlights of the 2016 Olympic Games was the example given by so many Christian athletes who openly shared that it was their faith in God that helped them prevail. Footage of athletes praying before and after events, on their own or in groups, proliferated. Through these visual and verbal expressions of prayer, each athlete was like a sign of God’s glory being proclaimed among the nations.

These athletes know better than most what it takes to reach a goal; they know that success is not easy, even for the strong and the gifted, but their faith is the evidence of their striving. Believers and doubters alike can learn a lot about faith and striving from their example.

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” [Luke 13:24].

Why do some hear while others do not?

4th Sunday of Easter (C)

While preparing to write today’s reflection, I was struck for the seventh time this week (and the three-hundred-and sixty-fifth time in as many days) by the similarities between today’s church and the early church of the Acts of the Apostles. I am reminded of the theory of “God’s time”, which, for example, might say two-thousand and sixteen years is a nanosecond in God’s time.

Let’s try an experiment with today’s first reading from Acts 13. Enter the story with Paul and Barnabas as they go about their missionary activity. There they are, all fired up and filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking and urging and exciting the crowds with the story of Jesus. So compelling were they that the following week nearly everyone in the city came out to hear them preach. Naturally, not everyone was thrilled with Paul and Barnabas, their message about Jesus, or the throngs of people who came out to hear them, especially since they saw some of their neighbors in the crowd. They objected violently to the whole business and enlisted the help of their wealthy and powerful cohorts to force Paul and Barnabas out of the city. Undaunted, Paul and Barnabas seemed to shrug off the rejection and moved on to the next city to continue their mission.

Now, imagine that a Catholic man went to some small city near Rome and preached on a pivotal yet sparingly administered teaching of Jesus’. He excited and urged huge crowds of Catholics and people of goodwill into a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teaching. So popular and charismatic was this person that the city was filled with people from every corner of the world who hungered to hear his refreshing and restorative words. Almost immediately, some residents became alarmed and objected not only to what they were hearing but to the type of people who it attracted. These opponents contradicted the man, disrespected his wisdom and encouraged their friends from all over the world to do the same. Still, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the man spoke boldly and continued to guide his opponents to a deeper understanding, but their hostility continued to grow. Undaunted, Pope Francis returned his attention to applying Jesus’ mercy wherever he went.

Which leads to today’s very brief gospel from John 10:27-30. Why do some people hear and others do not? If Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” [John 10:14] that would mean that there are sheep who don’t know his voice and therefore do not follow him.

Returning to the story of our fledgling church from the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that in every flock there are some who hear and some who do not.

Organized religion has to take the blame, on occasion, for drowning out the sound of Jesus’ voice. Even if someone desires to hear, human and religious constructs have the capacity to thwart even the most sincere seeker from reaching the level of consciousness that allows him or her to hear Jesus’ voice.

On the other hand, organized religion can take the credit for the deposit of faith from Scripture and Tradition, and the copious writings of the great Theologians which have created a vast bank of spiritual experience to help attune us to the sound of Jesus’ voice.

What religion and theology provide is an opening through which we can learn about God through the wisdom, experience and insights of others. But it is only an opening; our ability to hear is not limited by it. The many names for Jesus (the Word, Savior, Lamb of God, Morning Star, Bread of Life, Good Shepherd, True Vine, and so on) provide an example of the various ways we can hear. If only we will listen.

I recently read that to ‘hear” Jesus’ voice—not only the universal truths of which he speaks, but Jesus’ voice—one must discern Jesus’ being, his BE-ing, grasp the nature of Jesus’ connection to God, and be able to name him, Son of God, for example.

This “hearing” is what defines the Christian profession of faith. To affirm Jesus as the I AM is to acknowledge that Jesus, the man, is one with God, not just an exceptionally enlightened Prophet with a profoundly rich prayer life and awesome leadership skills.

But there are many, many followers who love Jesus and want to emulate him, but who struggle with Jesus’ identity as the I AM. For many Christians, this is a cake walk. For others, it is difficult, mind-boggling, and perhaps will require a lifetime of following the Good Shepherd to grasp.

Can we avoid the gate and just climb over the fence to enter the fold?  Nope. But, would Jesus, who self-identified as the gate, stand in the way of a would-be follower? Does the gate close to one who lacks absolute certitude but desires to know Jesus? Does Jesus only know the sheep with perfect hearing?

Some would say yes, that this is what Jesus meant when he said “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” [John 10:14]. But the gospels also tell us that Jesus preferred to hang out with the sinners, probably because they were the ones with the better hearing.

Jesus talked a lot about ears and what people should do with them, but only Mark’s gospel includes a story about Jesus restoring a person’s hearing. [Mark 7:31-37].  My sense is that there were many sheep following the Good Shepherd who hung on his every word but who would not have passed the above three-prong spiritual hearing test, at least until after Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus also said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [John 10:16].

To put this verse in context, by “other sheep” Jesus was likely referring to the Gentiles, but, returning to our experiment at the start of this reflection we can see that the Gentiles were the ones to whom Paul and Barnabas redirected their missionary action, and that the one flock Pope Francis envisions will be identified by their emulation of Jesus’ mercy.

As for my defense of Pope Francis (who has perfect hearing, by the way), I don’t judge the sincerity of Christians who object to new understandings or expanded interpretations of church teachings and what it means to their practice of the faith, but when that objection seems to be the result of a failure to hear the voice of Jesus and it devolves into disrespect for our Pope, condemnation of others, and division within the church, I feel as if we have gone back to the days of Jesus, or even a few hundred years before since the Prophets also received the same fate.

Perhaps in the next nanosecond of God’s time, we will be able to hear.

Today’s readings can be found here.