Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18)
This weekend we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. Christ the Good Shepherd is one the most familiar and endearing images of Christ in the Gospels. In fact, one of the earliest known images of Jesus is the 3rd-century fresco of the Good Shepherd found in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. In this icon, Jesus is portrayed as a vigorous, youthful shepherd who carries a rescued sheep on his broad muscular shoulders. Here at St. Dominic’s we have a treasured woodcarving of the Christ the Good Shepherd adorning one confessional door. These images remind us that the shepherd’s tasks of guiding the flock; searching for strays and guarding against threats reveal the spiritual gifts that Christ bestows on His Church.
In these days after Easter, we continue to read from the Acts of the Apostles where we discover that the apostles themselves are enlivened and emboldened to imitate Christ as Good Shepherds. And this apostolic work continues. When Pope Francis announced that 2015 would be dedicated to the promotion of consecrated life, he highlighted the reality that Christ continues to call people to share in his pastoral ministry. In his address announcing this Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis urged the Church’s religious sisters, brothers and priests to hear Christ’s call to “wake up the world” with their testimony of faith, holiness and hope. For this reason, our St. Dominic’s communal prayer which concludes the Prayers of the Faithful has been focused on praying for the gift of vocations. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we give thanks for the vocations that have come forth from St. Dominic’s and we pray that our parish is a place where vocations are discerned and cultivated.
Reflecting on the gift of vocations reveals the challenge of the Good Shepherd. In graduate school, I had a classmate who was a professional veterinarian. Being a suburban boy, I was interested to hear his perspective on animal husbandry and farming especially as it related to the Scripture that we were studying. When discussing the image of the Good Shepherd, he said that he always understood that Jesus’ intention in identifying himself as a shepherd was not simply to comfort but to challenge his disciples to be sheep. For those of us who suppose that the outstanding virtue of sheep is that they are docile and perhaps a bit witless when compared with other animals, my veterinarian friend remarked that sheep have remarkably brilliant senses. From his days on the farm, he said that sheep have a keen ability to discern the voice of their shepherd and will only follow him. Moreover, they have excellent peripheral vision, and can see in a 320-degree radius without turning their heads. In other words, Jesus’ implication that we are like sheep is not derogatory, but actually an invitation to develop the same spiritual sense of awareness that sheep have by nature. In this age of constant noise, media and activity that bombard us on a daily basis, we do well to consider how we take the time to listen to the voice of Christ in our lives. If Christ is the Good Shepherd, then he calls to us. But if we cannot hear him, he is not our Shepherd. Let this celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday renew our efforts to listen for the voice of Christ and follow him as he leads us to green pastures.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.