Every soul matters to God. He loves each one of us beyond our comprehension. Some people understand this from early on in life, like Olivia, who was the focus of our case study today. Olivia knew that when God brought her little sister into her family through adoption, she had seen His grace in her life in this unique way. She was inspired to share that love with others, reaching out to those who made that possible through their own sacrifice; those who some may consider to be outside the “flock”. Much like the the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who in this upcoming Sunday’s gospel reminds us “I will lay down my life for the sheep…and there will be one flock, one shepherd”, we too are called to reach out to those who have yet to come into the “flock” and share the love of Christ.
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
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.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”
I have other sheep which do not belong to this fold…
Jesus is the good shepherd and has his fold who know him, but then there are those who are outside the flock (who don’t know him yet perhaps) who are also his. Like Philip in the readings for today, who is sent by the Holy Spirit to teach a Eunich about Christ (Acts 8:26-40) God calls us to share with those we may least expect to be searching for Him.
We are apostolic in our church; that means we are to act in light of the gospel teachings, by sharing the message of Christ with others, not always in words but by our love for one another.
St Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that we are not just to show up at Heaven’s gate thinking we did our duty by obeying the commandments; but we are to show up with a crowd of people that we helped lead toward Christ.
The hired man….who runs away…
We don’t want to be like the hired man in this gospel, who is just looking out for himself. We are entrusted to help take care of each other, even when there is a cost for us.
It is easy to be afraid of what’s “out there” and the way some people are treated because of their faith, and so we tend to want to keep our “fold” or family, protected and drawn in, away from dangers and bad influence; however, by definition, our families should serve others, gathering them in. We must remember our “fold” includes everyone that God puts before us; we are called to share the love of Christ especially through the loving examples of our families. We can reach out to others and gently invite them in to be a part of the love that we share. We should have the attitude that we are at the service of Christ and his church in our family life.
One family had adult sons who wrote letters to their dad on his birthday thanking him for his example of faith and love, and making their home a safe and loving place, understanding that many in the world do not have the gift of a loving family. Some people may have never been exposed to a loving family or an example of a home where faith exists. It’s our responsibility to be open to sharing the love of Christ.
Sometimes it can feel threatening to share our faith with others if they are not open or ready to receive it. Forcing an opinion on someone can be off-putting or ineffective, especially when a trusting relationship doesn’t already exist. We must begin by working on our own holiness and living a life of honor and integrity, which it turn shows others the light of Christ, which can then be shared in sincerity. We can make ourselves ready instruments for Christ in the world by sticking to our prayer and sacramental life, filling up on graces that can then be poured out to those around us. We get this grace and energy only from Christ.
We can also make sure our families are exposed to the faith so that we are all prepared to be inviting to others who seek something more meaningful in their lives.
A Dream Brought to Life
Opening up the local Catholic newspaper, one of our members noticed a picture of an eighth-grade girl who she knew from her previous church in another state. The story of this bright young lady (back cover) had made news across the country because she acted on a prompt from the Holy Spirit which came to her in the form of a dream.
Young Olivia’s family had in recent years adopted a little girl who quickly became a natural and adored part of the family. Olivia had a series of dreams in which she saw herself looking over letters at school that the students had written to mothers who had given up their babies for adoption. She shared these dreams with her mother, who asked Olivia to decide if she felt God was calling her to do something and how she might respond to that call. After Olivia discerned a call to action, her mother remembered seeing a social media outlet that supports women who have given up babies for adoption called BraveLove. With the help of her mother, teacher and the school principal, Olivia gathered her fellow classmates to write thank-you notes to these women who had sacrificed and made the brave decision toward adoption, so their babies might have a better life. The response from the women who received these notes was tremendous. These women had given up so much, and many of them live under a shadow of doubt and discouragement, not to mention lack of understanding and support from many others. Receiving a note of recognition of those sacrifices gave them encouragement and consolation.
Reflections from our group:
Olivia’s mother chose to guide her but not direct her specifically in how to carry out her vision. She instead helped her in discerning if she should act, but ultimately left the decision up to her daughter. How well are we listening to our children? How can we also encourage them to discern and act?
Reaching out to an effort already established in serving this particular population and combining efforts with their mission was inspired and efficient. Also commendable in this case was the participation of everyone involved: not only were the classmates engaged in some kind of outreach, but the teacher and principal’s support of Olivia’s project is also exemplary.
If we look to Jesus’ examples in the bible, (especially the reading for this coming Sunday), we can see that Olivia reached out to those outside of the parameters of her family and school (her “flock”) to share the love of Christ with those in need; like the example of The Good Shepherd.
One of our elements of spirituality as a group, is the effective means of ministering “person to person“. Building relationships with people by reaching out and spending time listening and sharing with them; this is one of the most effective ways of showing true charity and doing the work of Christ in the world. Responses from these 260 women across the nation who received a hand-written note were deeply touching. These young people took the time to reach out to recognize the sacrifice that had been made by these women.
JUSTICE (Constant firm will to give what is due to God and our neighbor); with a focus on the examples of kindness, gratitude, respect, and compassion.
The Joy Of Love
For our study circle, we are currently reading “Amoris Laetitia“, the exhortation by Pope Francis (“The Joy of Love”), about marriage and family life. As we study the church’s guidance of living family and marital love in this world today (we use a study guide for help) we decided to use part of chapter four as a prayer for this coming week.
In Chapter Four, Pope Francis focuses on the first letter to the Corinthians by the apostle Paul, to study the elements of what love really looks like in human life. Often read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is St. Paul’s description of what love contains and omits in a Christian person and Pope Francis further illustrates these qualities.
- Spend time in prayer over 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and these characteristics of Christian love, especially with those elements that most elude us individually.
- Ask God for help with the element of this definition that is most difficult for me personally.
Once we have spent time meditating on “what is difficult for me spiritually in this definition of love?“, we felt it was important to thank God for that difficulty, because it is through that difficult relationship or element of my spirit that He will sanctify me. If I am asking Him to purify my heart and help me to be holy and more like Him every day, and I am trying follow His greatest commandment–to love God above all, and my neighbor as myself–then I need to know where I can improve with His grace and help. Once I have thanked Him for showing me the places I need some work, I will take the next step.
- Make an act of charity or love toward the situation that needs correction. Perhaps that means I apologize to someone, and pray for them; it may mean that I do not respond to criticism or sarcasm. Whatever it may be, the opportunity will be made clear by the Holy Spirit and my efforts to love more like the Good Shepherd.