“It was winter.” This simple yet highly complex sentence is from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. St. John uses this sentence, in verse twenty-two, as a transition within his tenth chapter – The Good Shepherd discourse.
Prior to verse twenty-two we are treated to the tender description of shepherds. Post twenty-two is the revolt of those being shepherded. Apparently, the allegorical tone of Jesus was too vague. The “sheep” wanted clarity – “tell us plainly.” Baa, yes; humbug, maybe!
It was winter. Jesus was offering an early Spring, but the sheep were comfortable in their hibernating ways. They failed to recognize the signs that Jesus was doing. They failed to understand his teachings. They failed to accept him. They failed to see the Messiah in their midst for in their heart – it was winter.
It was winter. Yes, Marshmallow, in Frozen it was winter in Arendelle until an act of true love melted the frozen tundra. It was winter when Scrooge faced the unlikelihood of the warm rays of a promising spring. It was winter when the patriarch of the Smith family decided that meeting snowmen in St. Louis probably wouldn’t look the same transplanted to New York. It was winter when, in the appropriately titled “The Winter’s Tale,” King Leontes cast away his newborn daughter to be raised by shepherds.
It was winter. Until this week we have not had much winter here. The lack of frost, ice, snow, and chill are at an end. Yes, meteorologically speaking it is winter. Yet for many, winters are a spiritual phenomenon as well. Jesus’ audience was trapped in this spiritual winter for whom the promise of resurrection will never be realized.
It was winter. On 29 January we will celebrate the Sacrament of Penance for our Notre Dame de Lourdes students and for our PREP students. The Sacrament of Penance, like the tender invitation that Jesus offered in John’s tenth chapter, is an offer of forgiveness, mercy, love, and the hope of resurrection. Yes, it is the Sacrament that prepares our soul for the reception of Holy Communion, but it is also the Sacrament that removes the chill from our hearts that hinder us from saying yes to Jesus. Blessings for our young disciples as they approach this Sacrament of mercy and spiritual healing for the first time. Blessings for their teachers, catechists and parents who have prepared them so well.
Is it winter? Perhaps during these cold winter days, we can take some time to examine our conscience. Am I experiencing a spiritual winter? With what level of frequency am I receiving the Sacrament of Penance? Do I recognize the Image of Jesus in each person? If Jesus were to approach me, would I follow or hibernate? Is it winter?
Jesus reacted to this chilly reception by going back across the Jordan to recall the early days of his ministry. In Frozen, Anna kept searching and believing in the power of love – yes, some people are worth melting for. Ebenezer woke up on Christmas morning in more ways than one. Mr. Smith need not go to Manhattan, let alone Washington. And the reunion of King Leontes with his daughter brought joy, hope, and the power of love back to his kingdom. Indeed, it was winter.
Be safe as you travel about and enjoy the refreshment and the cold of this winter. Be mindful of the moments of spiritual winter. Pray, seek the spiritual spring of reconciliation, and trust in the love of the Good Shepherd. Oh, and have some cocoa, Marshmallow would be proud.