IN OUR MIDST
Finding Our Way Home
Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep
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 farmers 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
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 Shepherds 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
weve 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 weve totally forgotten
about in the daily pursuit of fulfilling our duties and obligations.
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 doesnt feel so great. We feel irritated
and challenged because wed 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.
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
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?
this month's Questions for Reflection
from God in Our Midst.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
The effort is now year-round, and the list, containing more than 200 suggested
nonviolent toys, is permanently available on the parish Web
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. Its important we emphasize
the good. Thats all we're trying to do.