The Good Shepherd

Seven years ago at the time when I was about to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, I was leaving the little chapel which is inside the huge parish church. There, I had been adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. As I was departing the Adoration Chapel a tiny elderly woman approached me and bid me come with her into one of the back rooms of this large church and so I obediently followed her. She scurried toward a closet and opened the door and stepped inside and came out holding a holy card in her hand which she presented to me.  On the holy card was an  image of Jesus,  the Good Shepherd, and as she handed it to me she said something like this: “Jesus is your Good Shepherd who will carry you in His arm as His little lamb and lead you through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ of this world into His Eternal life. Follow Him.”

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.

In green pastures You let me graze; to safe waters You lead me;

You restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of Your name.

Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for You are at my side; Your rod and staff give me courage.

 You set a table before me as my enemies watch;

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life;

 I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come

(Psalm23).

I did not know this elderly pious lady at that time and thus, what she said and did took me by surprise. At the moment she handed me the holy card and exhorted me to follow Jesus, the Good  Shepherd, I was aware that I did not yet know Jesus in this way.  As my Savior and Redeemer, as the Lover of my soul, as my good and great God, yes, in these ways I had come to know and love Him since my conversion just four years before; but not as a Good Shepherd. What does this truly mean, I wondered? At that precise moment I did not realize that the aged holy lady’s words to me were prophetic. It was not long afterwards that I began to encounter Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

But whoever enters through the gate is the Shepherd of the sheep.

The gatekeeper opens it for Him, and the sheep hear His Voice, as He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.

When He has driven out all His own, He walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow Him, because they recognize His voice.

I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…

I am the Good Shepherd, and I know Mine and Mine know Me…

and they will hear My voice, and there will be one flock, one Shepherd..

My sheep hear My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of My hand.

(John 10)

I entered into a period of hard trials one of which was being diagnosed with breast cancer.  This diagnosis followed a series of mysterious events. Earlier that year, I was praying in my garden outside my home when the Holy Spirit brought to my mind that scene from the gospels where Our Lord multiplied the fishes and the loaves as the thousands were gathered before Him on the slope of the hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. I saw “in spirit” the Lord break and bless the five loaves and the two fish and give them to His apostles in wicker baskets who then distributed them to the multitude who were heartily fed.

…Jesus …. withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by Himself. The crowds heard of this and followed Him on foot from their towns. When He disembarked and saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them, and He cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached Him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves”.  Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to Him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then He said, “Bring them here to Me,” and He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children. (Matthew 14: 13-21).

During my prayer the Holy Spirit gave me to understand that my Lord was asking me to do the same in this present age as His disciples did 2000 years ago – to receive Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, and bring Him to the hungry, sick, hurting, despairing, suffering, lonely peopleof the world and to feed them with Christ, who is the Living Bread that comes down from heaven. He was inviting me to take these souls into my heart and carry them in my “bosom baskets”.  As Christ is living in me, as I receive Jesus, the Living Breadin the Holy Eucharist – in Holy Communion – thus, we, being One, it would be Jesus Himself who would carry these, His little lambs,in His strong arms upon His own bosom and lead these souls into eternal life with Him.

Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings;

Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!

Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!

Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by His strong arm;

Here is His reward with Him,His recompense before Him.

Like a Shepherd He feeds His flock; in His arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care. (Isaiah 40: 8-11)

From that “light”of the Holy Spirit I began to place souls into the “bosom baskets” of my heart, gathering in family, friends and strangers to the Lord and praying for them daily.  Months passed and the “baskets” became filled to over- flowing.

On the 13th of October I went to the a Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in New Jersey to join with thousands who had gathered there for the celebration of the “Miracle of the Sun”of Fatima of 1917. After the beautiful events of that day: the Holy Mass, the Rosary Procession, Confessions, I went to the Adoration Chapel and kneeling before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, moved deeply by the Holy Spirit, I touched my hands to my breast and stretched them outwards offering to Him all the souls that had been gathered into the“bosom baskets”of my heart. As I lifted them up to Him, the Holy Spirit moved me to offer myself to share in Jesus’ Passion for these souls.

“The Shepherd has gone before us into the valley of death and returned to lead His flock home”.

(From the Magnificat evening prayer for 8/31/11)

I recall the final words of my solemn prayer of that day:

Lord, if You accept this offering, I will not be afraid as I know You will be with me.

Jesus, Guardian of Your flock,

Be Yourself our constant Rock,

Make us strong by Your powerful Hand,

Strong as Zion’s mountain stand.

 (from a  Hymn) 

I left the chapel and returned home with my soul filled with a deep joy and my heart was strengthened.

A month later I received a card in the mail from the local imaging center which reminded me that I should schedule my annual mammogram. I called and made an appointment on the first available date which happened to be December 8th. That day came and I realized that December 8th was a great feast day of the Church –  the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I attended Holy Mass. Afterwards I went to the imaging center for my scheduled mammogram.  A few days later I received a call that I needed to have an ultrasound as something suspicious was seen on the images. Something abnormal was appearing on the image of the left breast over my heart.  Was it a cyst? After a futile attempt to remove liquid from the “lump”, it was determined to be a hard mass. Was it cancer?  A biopsy was ordered and remarkably the date for the procedure wasscheduled for my birthday on January  4. The nurse who was assisting the doctor noticed on the chart that on that particular it was my birthday and she said to me, “What a birthday present!” It was then, that the Holy Spirit gave me “light” to see that indeed, this was a precious gift from Jesus, the gift to share in His Passion for the salvation of souls. My offering prayer at the Shrine on October 13thwhich had been inspired by the Holy Spirit, to unite myself to the sufferings of Our Lord for the salvation of the souls which had been collected and carried in those “bosom baskets” of my heart – in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus –was being effected.  I was flooded with a wondrous joy as I pondered this.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body…( Colossians 1: 24)

And again,

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Romans 8: 16-18).

The biopsy confirmed that I had invasive cancer, and this new journey of uniting my own physical and mental sufferings with our Lord Passion had begun. Less than three weeks later I had surgery. Afterwards, I met with my oncologist recommended that I have only radiation therapy as the pathology  of the tumor lump and lymph nodesperformed  during the surgery did not reveal any metastasis. Thus,  he felt there would be no need for chemotherapy. In the oncology waiting roomwhich was filled with cancer patients of all ages and races I noticed a younger woman seated across from me. I felt drawn to her and so I asked her if she too had breast cancer. She told me that she did.  I asked her name, and she told me “Donna” and to my astonishment she shared that her cancer unlike mine which had been detected very early in stage one, that her cancer was discovered very late. It had already spread and was classified as Stage 4  cancer,  the most grave condition.My heart was overwhelmed with sadness as I considered how young she was, being only in her mid –thirties. She had shared with me that she was the mother of a very young son. Before Donna and I could converse any further a nurse called me to the doctor’s examining room. There, while waiting for the doctor to enter, I prayed fervently for Donna, begging our Lord to have mercy on her and heal her so that she could raise her son with faith in the merciful God who heals and saves us. Donna’s deepest agony concerning her illness was the thought of her young son being left without his mother should she die soon, which the doctors told her was probable due to the late stage of her cancer. They consider stage four cancer incurable and terminal. I had time to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for her as the doctor was delayed. In a deep impulse prompted by the Holy Spirit, I offered Jesus right there in that room to do anything that He willed concerning Donna  – to unite any and all of the sufferings that I might experience during my upcoming cancer treatments with the Passion of Our Lord for Donna’s healing. I also vowed to help her in whatever way I could.

To You, O Lord, I call, my Rock, hear me.

If You do not heed I shall become like those in the grave.

Hear the voice of my pleading as I call for help,

as I lift up my hands in prayer to Your holy place….

Blessed be the Lord for He has heard my cry and appeal.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts.

I was helped, my heart rejoices and I praise Him with my song.

The Lord is the strength of His people, a fortress where His anointed find salvation.

Save your people; bless Israel Your heritage.

 Be their Shepherd and carry them forever.

(Psalm 28)

I didn’t know if I would see Donna again so I said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is Your will, you will bring us together.” When my time with the doctor was over, I went looking for Donna in the waiting room but could not find her. I was at the door ready to leave the oncology office when  a nurse called out to me and told me that I should come back inside to have my insurance information processed by the secretary. I entered the inner office and approached the desk.  Just then, Donna turned around. When I saw her, in my joy, believing that Jesus had just revealed His will to me in this situation, I blurted out to Donna my empathetic feelings for her and offered to help her in whatever way she might need. I gave her a holy card ( I believe it was Jesus, the Good Shepherd!). I wrote my name and telephone number on it and encouraged Donna to call me for anything as I wanted to help her to fulfill my promise to Jesus. After we parted I went immediately to the nearest Catholic Church in the vicinity of the hospital and prayed with many tears and pleadings to our Lord hidden in the Tabernacle that in His great kindness and mercy He would heal Donna and grant her heart’s desire to raise her son to adulthood. The doctors’ had told Donna and her husband that her life expectancy according to medical statistics was 6 months to 2 years for someone with stage four breast cancer.  During this time of prayer the Holy Spirit however, showed me two sequential scenes from the Gospel of Mark.

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him, and He  stayed close to the sea. 

One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing Him he fell at His feet

and pleaded earnestly with Him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay Your hands on her  that she may get well and live.”

He went off with him, and a large crowd followed Him and pressed upon Him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.

She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.

She had heard about Jesus and came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak.

She said, “If I but touch His clothes, I shall be cured.”

Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.

Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from Him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched My clothes?”

But His disciples said to Him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon You, and yet You ask, ‘Who touched Me?'”

And He looked around to see who had done it.

The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told Him the whole truth.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher any longer?”

Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

He did not allow anyone to accompany Him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, He caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

So He went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.”

And they ridiculed Him. Then He put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with Him and entered the room where the child was.

He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.

The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded.

(Mark 5: 21-42)

This prayer experience is still a mystery to me. I do not yet fully understand all that the Holy Spirit was revealing to me. I believe it is a message of hope for Donnathat in putting her faith in Jesus she too can be healed just as the woman with the issue of blood was healed as she clung to Jesus in faith.  In the raising of Jairus’ daughter, while naturally it is impossible for the dead to come to life, with God all things are possible!  Thus, we must continue to pray for Donna’s healing and for all those who are physically ill and also for those who are spiritually sick – dead in their sins and unbelief that they be healed and raised to new life in Christ!

I waited anxiously for six days, but Donna did not call me. On the seventh day, I had a follow up appointment with my oncologist as he had called me during the week to ask me to come back to his office to discuss beginning immediately a program of chemotherapy. Further test results on my tumor specimen had shown a high probability for my cancer to return and thus, the doctors were now recommending adjuvant treatment to prevent such a recurrence. This would mean that I would begin a twelve week period of chemotherapy after all.  On that Friday, I went to the oncology office and to my great surprise the time of my appointment was the exact time of Donna’s weekly treatment. She was sitting in a chemo chair having her infusion as I walked by. We greeted each other and I told her that I was there for a chemotherapy consultation as I would be starting treatment immediately. She said, in reply, “I didn’t think you needed chemotherapy, just radiation?”  I responded to her by pointing my finger towards the ceiling, and said something like this:  “The Lord has a different plan. He seems to will that I share your experience.” A few days later Donna finally phoned me. She confided to me that she had said to God before seeing me again on that Friday in the doctor’s s office, “If I don’t see her again, I won’t call her!”  The Lord had arranged that we see each other again and thus, Donna’s and my journey of faith together as “bosom buddies” carried in the arms of Jesus our Good Shepherd had begun.

As Donna and I got to know each other I learned from her that her last chemotherapy  (which  differs from her present weekly infusions)  took place on October 13, 2006 – the same day of my offering prayer at the Shrine!  A year later on October 2007, after I had completed all my chemotherapy and radiation, offering it to the Lord for Donna and all the other souls of the “bosom baskets”, we learned to our amazement that the Breast Cancer Resource Center had declared October 13 Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day! Even more amazing was that I received an invitation from the American Cancer Society inviting me to their “Celebration of Life” on October 13, 2007!

Coincidences? With God there are no coincidences. Donna and I view these as marvelous signs from our Lord of His love and care for us.

As the months and years passed many people joined with me in praying for a miracle of healing for Donna just like those the Holy Spirit showed me from the Gospel of Mark during my prayer for Donna.  Whether the Lord will cleanse Donna from all cancer remains a mystery of God’s will. What is known is that Donna has long outlived the doctors’ pessimistic prognosis and through the grace of our Lord is still raising her son with faith and courage. She is entering her sixth year as a survivor as of this writing and I am entering my fifth.

You saw how the Lord your God carried you, as man carries his child, all along your journey until you arrived at this place (Deuteronomy 1:31).

And yet even more Jesus did to reveal His Presence with us and to encourage us to keep trusting in His endless love and healing power. One day in 2008 during a daily mass after having received Christ, the Living Bread, in Holy Communion, Jesus appeared to me in spirit as the Good Shepherd holding two lambs, one in each arm. This precious and tender vision of Jesus as my Good Shepherd caused my heart to fill with immense joy. Immediately afterwards, a man read out from the back of the chapel the communion antiphon of that day which I had not read in advance. My heart rejoiced as I heard him proclaim: “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”

Sometime after that I was in another church and praying alone before Jesus in the Tabernacle. Normally, I entered through the big front doors. But because at that time in the later afternoon after Holy Mass had long ended, the front doors were locked, I went through the back doors where the nuns office was located. Sister let me in and told me that when I exited I should go out the front doors as they would lock automatically behind me.  I went into the sanctuary of the very large church and knelt before Jesus in the Tabernacle. I was alone with Jesus there. When I was ready to leave, I bid Jesus farewell and not wanting to turn my back on Him in the Tabernacle as I walked towards the front doors, I walked backwards while facing the Tabernacle and kept telling Him of my love for Him. At the end of the aisle I said to Him while still facing the Tabernacle “Lord, I know you are here! Even though I can’t see you I love you and trust in you!”

Although you have not seen Him you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet you believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8)

And when I turned around toward the big front doors to go out of the church, I was astounded. There before me was a huge image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, holding two little lambs, one in each arm on His bosom. This painting must have been recently hung there since my last visit to the church!  I went out into the street “rejoicing with an indescribable and glorious joy.”

I have shared these mysterious and mystical experiences of Jesus my Good Shepherd with Donna, while she has shared her own with me, and together we reassure each other that  Jesus, the Good Shepherd is always with us leading us to eternal life, carrying us, His little lambs in His arms on His bosom within His Most Sacred Heart.

 

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Posted on September 8, 2011, in My Walk with Jesus. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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