16. The Call of the Good Shepherd

Friends,

Another episode of the podcast is up! Check it out below.

A rough transcription is below. Enjoy, and God Bless!

The fourth Sunday of Easter is typically referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. The reason for that is that the Gospel reading each year comes to us from the Gospel of John, where Jesus speaks about His being a shepherd for his people. This year, we hear the section of this where He speaks of the sheep knowing and hearing his voice, and they follow him.

I have probably said this at another point on the podcast, but I really love the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It’s probably one of my favorites. But the reason for that is probably a little atypical. Most people hear the title of Good Shepherd, and the images of cute little lambs being carried by a kindly Jesus are evoked. They see the care and gentleness, and they appreciate that. That’s fine and good, but it’s not really my style.

When the images of the good shepherd come to my mind, I picture a ruddy, dirty Jesus. Shepherding is a rough business. Sheep are notoriously unintelligent animals, and sometimes shepherding means chasing them down, yanking them back, calling out to them. Especially for Jews of Jesus’ time, who were so concerned about cleanliness and purity, shepherding could be a muddy, dirty task. During the night, a watch would often need to be kept to keep predators away, and when the flock was attacked, the shepherd would need to defend them.

This is the image of the Good Shepherd that has always appealed to me-Christ coming out to me, plunging into the muck, pulling me back even though I’m trying to go astray to things that seem good in the moment, and cleaning me of all the muck that I so stupidly choose to roll around in. It’s this image that is a source of inspiration and hope for me-I know that I can be as dumb and stubborn as a sheep, but it gives me confidence that Jesus does not abandon me, and will go out and bring me back. As the Gospel passage also says, He gives his sheep eternal life, and they shall never parish.

It is this love that impels Paul and Barnabas in the first reading. Paul, who committed such persecution against the early church, quite literally hears the voice of the Good Shepherd. He is knocked from his horse and blinded for 3 days, while hearing Christ say to him that Paul is persecuting His self. Paul murdered and imprisoned the sheep, and the Shepherd responded by calling Saul to become Paul-probably the greatest evangelizer in history. By following the call of the Shepherd, Paul and Barnabas are expelled from the synagogue, which they both knew and loved so well. Eventually, they would both be martyred for the faith. They quite literally gave up everything at the call of the Shepherd.

I am reminded here of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman-the great Saint of 19th Century England. He was an Anglican Priest that had grown to immense recognition for his gifts, his preaching, and his study. He was an Anglican, but as he studied (particularly the early church fathers), he realized that it was actually the Catholic Church that Christ had founded-Anglicanism was a next-door neighbor to Catholicism, but Christ had founded the Catholic Church and had transmitted this through the Apostles, all the way to the present day. His conversion sparked huge backlash, as there was a deep-seated anti-Catholic bias in England and the United States at this point. He lost his job, his position in the Anglican church, and many friends had completely disowned him. But he went on to study, to write, and to preach, and became one of the great saints of the Catholic Church. Although he wasn’t martyred, he heard the call of the Good Shepherd calling him from the one holy, Catholic, and apostolic church, and he gladly gave up fame, status, and friends to respond.

Today is also Mother’s Day in the United States. Here, too, we celebrate mothers, who also gladly give up their lives in response to the Master’s call. They shelter and nourish precious new lives in their wombs, sustain them with food, teach, care, and love their children. In the sacrament of matrimony, the husband and wife pledge their whole lives to one another and to God at the prompting of the shepherd. No matter our particular vocation-be it married, priesthood, or religious-the Good Shepherd calls to us and asks us to follow. We trust, because it is the Shepherd Himself who gives us life-giving water. He gives us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. He offers us His self, and calls us to give the same. It is in this that we come to follow a Good Shepherd who loves us, protects us, and does not abandon us. No matter our vocation, we are called to spend our lives doing the same-giving ourselves away so that we may participate in this divine life as far as we are able in this life, and to be happy with God forever in the next (and to take as many people with us as possible in the process).

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