GOD IN OUR MIDST
Finding Our Way Home
By Joyce Rupp

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep” (Matthew 15:6).

Recently I received a photo from friends visiting Ireland. It shows a sheep grazing on a green hillside in front of a serene cottage. The sheep has a large red splotch of paint on its wooly side, a mark of the farmer’s ownership so the sheep can be claimed if it wanders away.

We, too, are marked, not with red paint but by the compassionate care of the Good Shepherd. No matter where or how we traverse off the spiritual path, we, too, will be found and reclaimed. We can count on the Good Shepherd to care about us and never stop urging us homeward.

There are as many ways to stray as there are sheep in a flock. Sometimes sheep stray on purpose, lured by a false desire to find something tastier than the place they now have. At other times they stray by accident, so focused on their munching and chewing that they forget to look where they are going.

The same is true of us. Not every straying is sinful. We can lose our spiritual awareness when we are overcome with busyness, grief, depression or abusive situations. Difficult economic times can lead us into anxiety and away from our Peace Maker. We can get lost in wanting the ideal family or the perfect situation. We can wander off in the false hope of never having enough, always seeking more.

We can also lose our way on purpose, giving in to sinful choices and selfish endeavors that harm self or others, allowing our ego satisfactions to create havoc in our relationships. We can stray into the land of jealousy, anger, hatred, prejudice and many other pastures that steer us away from the Good Shepherd’s land.

Like a farmer with wandering sheep, the Good Shepherd looks for us when we have strayed. The Good Shepherd might come as a “voice” within us, reminding us of who we are meant to be and how far we’ve drifted from that reality. Maybe we are called home by a sense of how we need to change, to return to that part of us that has been swept away by disregard, laziness, ego antics or overt arrogance. Or the Shepherd might be an encouraging reminder of the beauty within us that we’ve totally forgotten about in the daily pursuit of fulfilling our duties and obligations.

Substitute Shepherds

Sometimes a helper is sent by the Shepherd to bring back the beloved creature. We can be sought and found through the aid of other people. We find our way home when another forgives us for our foolishness or our deliberate wrongdoing, embraces us in our grief or our desperation, urges us to begin again to live in a loving way or reminds us of our self-worth and purpose in life when we are lost.

Being found can bring a sigh of relief that we are back safely on the path that leads to greater oneness and harmony with the Good Shepherd. We can feel comfort and joy that someone would care enough about us to lead us out of our pain. Coming back home can stir hope that we do not have to go the road alone, that the Good Shepherd will always help us find the way.

But there are times when being found doesn’t feel so great. We feel irritated and challenged because we’d rather stay and chew the green grass of our isolation and selfishness than come home to the possibility of changing and growing. Like a sheep found straying in the wrong place, we can have an unsettling response, realizing that what we thought was a good source of nourishment for us has actually taken us away from the home of our truest self.

Homeward Bound

Lent is a time to be found, a time to come home. We need to take a look around the countryside of our heart and see what has wandered away from the Good Shepherd either on purpose or by accident. We might also reflect on how we can be instruments of the Good Shepherd, reaching out and helping others find the lost part of themselves.

Let us call on the compassionate and devotional love of the Good Shepherd to help bring what is lost in us, and in others, back home again.

Joyce Rupp, a Servite Sister, international speaker and retreat director, describes herself as a “spiritual midwife.” She is the author of numerous books and articles. Her latest book is Rest Your Dreams on a Little Twig (Sorin Books).

Next: The Parable of the Sower and the Seeds

Questions for Reflection:

•Was there ever a time when you wandered off and lost your spiritual awareness? Who or what brought you back?

•What can you do this Lent to bring yourself or others closer to the Good Shepherd?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from “God in Our Midst.”

FAMILY CORNER
The Shepherd's Viewpoint
By Judith Dunlap

Peter was four when we drove off and left him at the Dairy Queen. We had come in two cars and between us we had eight children (five of our own and three additional soccer players). My husband thought Peter was with me, and I thought he was with his father. It all turned out O.K. The coach—s wife took care of Peter until we came back. But from the time I realized he was lost, until he was in my arms again, I was worried about my son and angry with myself for my gross neglect.

That incident changed my perspective on the parable of the Lost Sheep. Until then, whenever I heard the story I found myself concerned about the 99 left behind. Poor things were stranded in the desert as the shepherd went out looking for one little straggler who should have known better. I even questioned the vigilance of the shepherd who had let that little one get away. But after my own little lamb wandered off, I had a change of heart.

I understood the shepherd better. When I left my other four children to go back for Peter I realized that the shepherd—s concern over the lost one took nothing away from the others. He trusted they would stay together and be safe. I certainly understood his jubilation and his need to keep that lamb close to him for a while. I could understand his wanting to shout to friends and neighbors, —Rejoice with me!—

The story of that good shepherd offered me much comfort: the realization that Jesus really loves us stragglers and the fact that maybe I wasn—t the worst mother in the world for leaving my son at the Dairy Queen. Jesus surely understands if he compares himself to a shepherd who lost track of one of his own.

For Family Response:

Talk about a time when you or someone in your family was lost. What did you do? How did you feel?

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
Antwone Fisher
By Frank Frost

The triumph of hope and healing is at the heart of the first film directed by actor Denzel Washington. Antwone Fisher is based on the true story of author and screenwriter Antwone Fisher, and knowing this helps a viewer counter the slight too-good-to-be-true factor in the movie.

We first meet Antwone (Derek Luke) as a young Navy enlisted man who has a history of uncontrolled anger which is about to earn him a court-martial and eviction from the Navy. His punishment for attacking a fellow sailor requires that he spend three sessions with Navy psychiatrist Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington). Davenport patiently outwaits the uncooperative Fisher until his client is ready to talk. The story that emerges is one of extreme child abuse at the hands of a foster mother and her daughter, exacerbating his feeling of abandonment by the parents he has never known.

Fisher slowly emerges from his protective shell with Davenport, progress mirrored in his cautious response to Cheryl (Joy Bryant), a sailor he is attracted to. Davenport coaches him through his first date and becomes a father figure.

The childless Davenport for his part invites Fisher to join his family for Thanksgiving dinner. The deepest longing of Antwone, as we see in the film—s opening dream sequence, is to be welcomed into the embrace of a large family with whom he shares a plentiful feast, including heaps of pancakes. But his Thanksgiving with the Davenports ends unhappily, and Fisher—s three allotted counseling sessions are up. He again feels abandoned, but at Davenport—s urging and with the support of his girlfriend he seeks out his real parents.

In a scene that movingly demonstrates that Fisher has faced his past, he confronts his abusive foster mother. —I am still standing. I am still strong,— he tells her. From her he at least learns the name of his father. Fisher and Cheryl become their own phone book detectives, calling endless telephone numbers with no result. A last-ditch effort turns up a sister of his deceased father, who, as Antwone already knew, was killed in a shooting. Through this aunt he meets his father—s family and visits his sadly unrehabilitated mother. In the end, his father—s extended family rallies round him with the family feast of his dreams—including pancakes.

Antwone Fisher offers no chase scenes or special effects, which underscores the primal appeal of the story: the tragedy of abandonment, the yearning to have someone believe in us and the importance of a family—s unconditional love. Antwone Fisher is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and human dignity.

While this is a family movie, it is not suitable for young children due to the depiction of child abuse.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in the film Antwone Fisher
?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Casimir of Poland (1458-1483)

He was a Polish prince who died at age 23 more than 500 years ago. But his life and values are amazingly relevant to 21st-century Catholics.

Casimir had all the advantages of the son of a king, including an outstanding education. But he also had to cope with the disadvantages, including the assumption that he would one day succeed his father on the throne. Little about such a life, however, appealed to the young prince.

That became more clear when King Casimir IV sent his son off to war in Hungary before he—d reached his 15th birthday. If all went well, the young man would take over the throne there. Casimir dutifully obliged his father and marched off, but shortly after his arrival at the front he had a change of heart. In part, he saw the futility of the situation. But Casimir also saw his mission as inherently unjust. He returned home and announced that he would never again take up arms.

Though punished by his father with a three-month confinement, Casimir held firm. He made it known that he had no interest in ascending to the throne. He spent his days engaged in prayer and good works. He declined an arranged marriage with the emperor—s daughter in favor of celibacy. He devoted himself to the poor and oppressed and challenged his father to rule justly. He spent more time in church than at court.

Casimir, who developed a deep love for the Mother of God, was especially drawn to the Marian Latin hymn we know as —Daily, Daily, Sing to Mary.— When he died at age 23—probably from tuberculosis—he was buried in the cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania, with a copy of the hymn. Casimir—s feast day is March 4.

Tony Wawrukiewicz

“I'm no Gandhi,” Tony Wawrukiewicz confesses, “but you have to start somewhere, even if it's in a small way.”

Where he has started is with an effort to counter the “culture of violence that permeates our society.” Dr. Wawrukiewicz is chairman of the Peace and Justice Committee at St. Clare Parish in Portland, Oregon. For the past dozen years members have distributed a list of age-related alternative toys at Christmas to give parents constructive options to readily available violent ones.

The effort is now year-round, and the list, containing more than 200 suggested nonviolent toys, is permanently available on the parish Web site (www.saintclarechurch.org).

The 59-year-old radiologist, a husband, father and grandparent, sees his involvement in the project as a simple way to help improve family life. Children are victims of violence in ever-new ways, and children themselves have become the perpetrators of violence, he told Every Day Catholic. Meanwhile he said, the media, marketing and entertainment businesses “trumpet this ugliness.”

Students and teachers at St. Clare's have offered their toy expertise to help create the recommended list. Suggestions for young children include toys that stimulate exploration, encourage creativity, teach cooperation and spark imagination. For young teens, recommended gifts include gym memberships, musical instruments and brainteasers.

Some say that violence is so much a part of the human makeup that it can never be eradicated. “Yes it is, but so is love,” Dr. Wawrukiewicz believes. “It’s important we emphasize the good. That’s all we're trying to do.”



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