[There will be no blog postings for the next two weeks.]
Love consists in sharing what one has and what one is with those one loves. Love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words. (Ignatius of Loyola)
Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey was featured in news reports about 2 weeks ago for going into a burning house to rescue someone who was trapped in the building. I do not remember the details of how he knew someone might be in the building — but the fact that he chose to go into the building himself — rather than sending an aide or waiting until firefighters arrived — was quite inspirational. He went in himself!
We would like for our elected officials to have the heart of a shepherd, but it is not something we often discuss or list high on our priority list. The ability to fix the economy, positions on taxes, foreign policies —- these tend to be at the top of the list. This year there is some discussion of which candidate is really more in touch with the people. Maybe this is something like who has a shepherd’s heart?
But, it is clear, that when Jesus wanted to choose an image to describe the relationship that he/God wants to have with us — the image of a shepherd was chosen — and more specifically, A GOOD Shepherd. Not just a shepherd, but a GOOD SHEPHERD.
REMEMBER THE OLD STORY of the professional actor who recited the 23rd psalm with clear diction, perfect pitch, the right pauses — and the simple soul who had less than perfect pronunciation and presence ……but the people recognized that the actor knew his lines and the simple soul knew the shepherd.
Let’s focus on what a shepherd does, and how that might relate to us. A shepherd finds, a shepherd feeds, and a shepherd forsakes.
(1) A shepherd finds — the scripture talks about a good shepherd finding the lost sheep, even leaving the 99 to go after the one. OK: God does not just like people en masse, but he loves each of us intimately, he knows each of us by name, he knows my needs even though there are billions of others in the world — he knows me so well, he can leave the others to be present to me. When I go astray, he reaches out to me and gently leads me back.
PARENTS: Do your children feel like you are with them? Are you with them? How are your listening skills?
FOR THOSE IN MINISTRY: How well do we know our folks these days? How much time is given to reaching out, going out, to those in need? Do we spend much time thinking about those who might not be with us? Do we gently lead back or do we try to guilt, coerce, beat people over the head? Are our members those who think like us or do we include those who think differently than we think? God is forgiving, is our Church forgiving?
(2) A shepherd feeds – a shepherd makes sure the flock has good feed to eat — our God has given us his WORD as nourishment — do we “eat” regularly on the life-giving word of God? Does the weekly scripture go home with us for reflection? As Catholics, the Eucharist is rich nourishment for the soul. Is the bread of life an important part of our weekly diet? Are we looking over the fence for the “greener grass” or do we eat what the Shepherd provides for us?
PARENTS: Are you feeding your children well, literally? As we see more and more unhealthy children — are there nutritious, home cooked meals at home? Are your children receiving religious education at home? Is the tv monitored and the computer in a public place to assure quality watching of “brain food”?
YOUNG FOLKS: Are you challenging your friends honestly? Are you watching as a good friend is doing something that could harm them? Are you going along to get along?
FOR THOSE IN MINISTRY: Are we giving our people real food or some cheap substitute? Do we preach God’s word with vigor or do we preach a mere human “slanted” version of the WORD? Worse yet, do we preach a mere human word? Are we giving our people a word they need — or the word we think they need?
(3) A shepherd forsakes – A good shepherd must do what is needed when it is needed, not when it is convenient. The good shepherd must at times put aside personal needs or wants because the sheep or a sheep has an urgent need that cannot wait until later. A good shepherd forsakes his/her comfort to be with the sheep in inclement weather and uncomfortable situations. A good shepherd thinks of the sheep first.
For parents: are children, especially young kids, the focus of your life? Are you willing to put aside your own needs and plans for the present time because of the formative period your children are in?
FOR YOUNG FOLKS: Are you giving back to the family from whom you want things? Are home duties a concern to you? Are you aware your parents and grandparents have feelings and needs too?
FOR THOSE IN MINISTRY: During seminary years, we all thought of ourselves as being a good shepherd of people. Does your ministry reflect that of a shepherd or a boss? Is ministry something we do when we have time to do it? How strong is the bond between us and the people? Do we LOVE them? Do they love us?
We choose our leaders — God gives us a shepherd. God who is good and knows what we need gives us Jesus to follow. If we “are not where we want to be in life”, then we can ask ourselves, are we following the good shepherd or some other voice. The good news: the shepherd is still calling out to us — and we have time to follow the voice and get back on the right path. The shepherd will welcome us back, clean us up, nurse us to good health, and provide the diet we need to get healthy again.
Special thoughts for friends in ministry: these are tough and challenging days to lead. At times some of us wonder if the voice of Jesus is saying one thing and the voice of the church is saying something else. One of the readers of this blog submitted a comment that was quite challenging — he said at times “blind obedience” can be deadly; there are times when “critical thinking” must take place.
Unlike the sheep of the animal world, the people of the Church have the ability to think. People of faith also use reason. They/we will step out in faith when something seems reasonable — the old days of “pray, pay, and obey” are over. People listen to the voice of a shepherd who speaks not only an appealing word, but a reasonable word.
Too often we can dismiss people who are rejecting organized religion as being selfish, pleasure-seeking, disobedient people. Maybe this is true. Could it also be at times, that the folks who walk away and stay away are realizing that what they are hearing is not of God? In other words, the food being dished out just does not “smell” right to them and they are wisely not going to eat spoiled/sour food.
For us: let’s make sure we all listen to the shepherd and that we pass on the word of the shepherd. Let’s make sure that our words are matched by deeds. Let’s convince the people that we know THE shepherd and not mere human words. People ARE separating Jesus and the Church. We must convince them that as Church-people, our words are the words that the Shepherd would speak to them TODAY.