“I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me.” John 10-14.
On Good Shepherd Sunday, the Lord is calling out to us, in a clear voice, to all who might listen. His words contain a distinct promise, “I have come that you may have life and that you live it more abundantly.”
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is the yearly focus on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Over the years, I’ve collected any number of facts about shepherds and the practice of sheep husbandry or sheep farming.
For example, the New Testament alone has sixteen references to shepherds from those who attended Jesus at his birth, to the very last chapter of John’s gospel. Shepherds and their valuable sheep were a distinctive asset to the economy of ancient Israel. The sheep were pastured mostly for their precious wool; and less as a source for food. Each of these animals was of long-term and high value, so the need to keep the sheepfold safe from harm.
Here’s an idea that only recently I came across about the caring of sheep. Noted Scripture scholar, Sister Carolyn Osiek points out that shepherding in Mediterranean societies was often entrusted to youths, even boys and girls, as soon as they were able. Why? Head shepherds had multiple other tasks. The idea of “loosening of our mental images” about who can be the “good shepherd,” Sister Carolyn suggests, helps us loosen other images of shepherding in our time. (“Of Sheep and Shepherds,” Give Us This Day, May 2020)
All of us, young and old, have a capacity for looking out for one another, a form of shepherding, especially caring for those most vulnerable and those in need of our attention.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the gate and a way of saying that in Jesus’s time, the task of the shepherd extended to placing themselves in times of danger at the very entry of the pasture, even offering up their bodies for their flocks; as writer Debie Thomas concludes: “Jesus as a shepherd. Jesus as the gate. Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, slain for us.” (“I am the Gate,” Journey with Jesus, April 26, 2020)
Long ago, a friend of mine told me – that the closer we are to the Good Shepherd, and his distinctive life, and the more we listen to him in prayer and reflection, only then will his direction have bearing or impact on the course of our lives.
Because of COVID-19, our lives are on edge. We Americans are so unaccustomed to being listed among people on the “fragile sector” of a global society.
This past week Pope Francis reminded us that May is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Holy Father recommends that we pray the Rosary with the special devotion. And mindful of the intentions of the millions around the world who are touched by the COVID-19 virus.
At Santa Catalina, the Rosary Chapel is at the center of our campus and remains a place and constant reminder of Mary, our refuge, and our strength. In his prayer, Pope Francis asks the Blessed Mother, the “consolation of the afflicted,” to embrace all your children in distress. He adds: “We pray that God will stretch out his all-powerful hand and free us from this terrible pandemic, so life can serenely resume its ordinary course.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.