This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak the folks at St. Patrick’s Church in Mississauga. They are a warm and welcoming community. We are hopeful that a Friends of Dismas Ministry will take root in the parish under the leadership of Deacon Silverio. Here is the homily from this past weekend. The theme of walking beside Christ as he goes looking for the lost sheep is in many ways what the Friends of Dismas is all about.
Thanks to Fr. John and all the folks at St. Patrick’s for inviting the Friends of Dismas into your community.
Homily- “I know mine and mine know me…”
The line from this week’s gospel passage that grabbed my attention is when Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd and he talks about his followers by saying: “I know mine and mine know me…”
Here are a few quotes from members of our Lord’s flock that seem to doubt they are under the protection of this Good Shepherd:
“Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”
“Such deep longing for God and … repulsed empty no faith no love no zeal. … Heaven means nothing, pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.”
It is easy to imagine these words coming from a cell in a maximum-security prison somewhere in Canada.
The surprising thing about these despairing quotes is that they are from the same person; Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
How do we know we are truly members of Christ’s flock?
There are many paths to discipleship. Some may choose the serenity of the pasture where prayer is the connection to the shepherd. Others will venture into doing good works. And a few will walk beside Jesus as he goes looking for the members of his flock who are lost.
This final path will be filled with jutting rocks and steep hills and to travel this route it will be harder, not better, just harder. If you decide to be this type of disciple, like Mother Teresa, you will be prone to getting banged up, bruised and even bloody.
You need to be prepared to have your faith tested by what you see and encounter.
Here is a quick story from my own life that helped me to understand what it means to be a follower of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, particularly if you choose to join him in looking for the lost sheep.
Just before my ordination to the diaconate, I was encouraged by the Director of Deacons, my friend and mentor the late Bert Cambre, to visit Rev. Harry Nigh.
Harry is a Mennonite minister who works as the Community Chaplain for Corrections Canada. His ministry is to ex-prisoners, their families and others touched by crime. In recent years, it has taken on the name the Friends of Dismas. Dismas is the name given by the church to the Good Thief.
This was a path I had never considered following.
It was the spring of 2004, and I found myself sitting in a small Mennonite Church in downtown Toronto for the annual Celebration Day for the Circles of Support and Accountability.
This was to be the only time I was to meet an ex-con named Charlie.
Charlie’s friend Les Horne wrote that when Charlie was a child, the system labelled him with the word retarded. Charlie was placed in an institution as a young boy. Those charged with his care abused and victimized him in ways it would be too difficult to speak about in this church.
When Charlie became an adult, the victim became the victimizer. His crimes would have him labeled again, perhaps justifiably, as a monster. He was the outcast, the unclean one, equivalent to the man with leprosy from the New Testament.
Harry and a few others befriended Charlie after a stint he did in a federal penitentiary. He was not an easy person to be around in many ways. On one Christmas Eve night, Harry got a call he had been dreading. Charlie had been arrested- there was another victim.
Charlie was sentenced to another long stretch in jail. Harry was burnt out from this experience and took up pastor duties for a small community in Hamilton.
Seven or so years later, another phone call Harry had been dreading came. It was the prison psychologist. Charlie was getting out, and he wanted to know if Harry could find him a Mennonite farm to live on.
When Harry had no success with this, he went to the community, to the small flock of Christ’s he was shepherding, and he asked them to help in ministering to this outcast.
You can imagine that these were difficult discussions, and emotions ran deep. Finally, a small group of followers stepped forward and agreed to become part of a group that would become known as Charlie’s Angels.
The scene I was witnessing, in that Mennonite Church in Toronto in 2004, was Charlie’s 10th anniversary as a person living in the community offense free; which meant there had been no more victims. As you might expect Charlie was overwhelmed and the tears were streaming down his face.
What surprised me the most, however, were the folks in the audience who were standing and crying as well. These were the remaining members of Charlie’s angels.
By the time I witnessed this, I was almost 50 years old, a Catholic all my life, a few weeks away from my ordination, and it was not until that moment that I fully understood what it meant to be a Christian.
Charlie’s life was changed that is for sure, but these volunteer’s lives were transformed.
Let me leave you with another quote from Mother Teresa:
“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”
We would like to invite you to think about joining us and become a Friends of Dismas member.
Dismas is a small group looking for others to join us as we travel across some of the more difficult paths of discipleship. There are three ways to get involved and to use the graces, the gifts you have been given:
Some of you have the grace, the gift of intercessory prayer. We need you to keep the lost sheep and their families in your daily intentions;
Some of you, as individuals and/or as part of groups, have the gift of doing works of charity. Cooking, sharing your treasure with others- we need your help to building a community of hope;
And a few will find, over time, that they want to explore giving the gift of friendship to a person society may have judged as unworthy of such a gift.
Walking with Christ along the difficult paths of discipleship is not easy as the feelings of Mother Teresa in the above quotes illustrate.
However, doing this humble work is one way we show the world that the words of the Good Shepherd are true when he says; “I know mine and mine know me…”