Monday, April 30, 2012

The call of the Good Shepherd

One of the struggles that we have to go through as Christians in life is to handle the imperative given by Jesus to go out to the whole world to proclaim the Good News and to baptize in the name of the Trinity.  In many Christians’ minds, this is something that is better left to the ministers who are specially appointed, chosen and ordained.  So, that imperative, becomes a rather selective imperative, and is somewhat conveniently by-passed or skipped over in life.

True, discipleship is far more than just preaching and baptizing.  We only need look at the 25th chapter of Matthew to see that discipleship entails either a knowing or unknowing feeding of the hungry, clothing of the naked, giving drink to the parched and the visiting of the incarcerated.  So, the issue of active Christian living is thus an all-round awareness of our very being, which should permeate all levels of our human existence.  It should be like bringing in a scented rose in full bloom into a room, and everyone in the room becoming aware of the presence of the flower either by detecting its perfume, or being attracted by its physical beauty. 

It is something that becomes challenging though, when we become aware of the kinds of forces that we are up against in our proclamation, especially when it is an active and intelligible proclamation.  We come up against resistances on so many levels.  There are of course the hard-core atheists who will say that we are wasting their time and that they have so much proof that there is no God.  There are also those parties who are staunchly anti-religious, who will say almost with vitriolic that the only thing religion has done is to cause wars and strife.  The fact that almost every country is multi-religious makes us have to tread with great caution when we preach and share that Jesus is the only way towards eternal salvation.  Some Christian sects do this with far less ‘Politically Correctness’ than others, and will even say that it is because they have Christ behind their imperative, that they almost have a right to be direct, offensive and even conceited in their approach and stance. 

Personally, I find that in my role as a possible future teacher of doctrine, this is something that I have to have at the forefront in my approach towards my teaching.  As I look around me in the classroom situation that I am in currently, I can almost sense the kind of teachers we will turn out to be.  Some are fiery in their approach towards Catholicism.  Perhaps it was the kind of situation that they were brought up in that caused some priests to carry with them an air of certitude that can be (mis)interpreted as arrogance and moralistic.  Maybe I have been tempered by a decade of parish encounters, that I can see where high-handedness and unrestrained ‘in-your-face’ preaching are sure-fire ways to prevent one’s listeners to receive a truth in their hearts.  If there is one thing that has been somewhat seared into my mind from the exposure to the Dominicans here, is that if our words and works are not filled with the grace of charity, it often becomes ineffective and could end up as negative witnessing.

Why am I ruminating on this topic?  Principally because it is Good Shepherd Sunday.  It has been the Church’s traditional day to speak of and promote vocations to the priesthood (and often with the call to the religious life thrown in for good measure).  Our call to the priesthood is, as one homilist put it, a call and an invitation to be in the privileged moments of the lives of those who we are called to serve.  He cited how, as ministers of the sacraments of the Church, we have been given the grace to enter into the sacred and often very privileged moments of our people.  We carry them as infants to the waters of new life at baptism, become conduits to their reception of God’s forgiving words and action in the sacrament of reconciliation, help them to be ministers to each other in the sacrament of holy matrimony, and very significantly, to be greatly privileged to be called to the bedside of one who is in his or her dying moments to receive Christ for the last time in Holy Communion before meeting him in person in eternity.  These are all moments of grace and great privilege. 

Each shepherd has a duty, as the gospel of today reminds us, of bringing others into the fold as well.  But this is where the analogy has its limits.  No shepherd expects his sheep to go out to bring in other sheep into the safe pen.  But this shepherd does.

There are many who do need to know, that though they may be grazing on some good pastures elsewhere, there is a greater, greener and more nourishing pasture that can only be given through the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  No priest can do this alone.  It takes a whole community who works and prays together to get this news to those who need to hear it, and with words and actions soaked and laced with huge amounts of love and charity.  It is thus, a call to all. 

The Good Shepherd calls.  Can you hear his voice?


  1. Once, in one of our Teaching Seminars, I remember vividly, the visiting Professor from the States gleefully telling us that as public speakers, teachers teaching in the classroom, must heed the 3-Ups – “stand-up to be seen, speak up to be heard and shut-up when you have nothing more to say!” But what is more important for teachers to have, are the 4 Cs – Care for those in your charge rather than the success of your teaching ; Compassion-for, your students are not things or statistics but individuals, so listen to them; Communication – that’s what the teaching-learning process is about and Competence – if you are not competent in the subject matter you are going to impart, you should not be there in the first place! That summarizes (according to him) a good teacher.

    This came back to me when I read your blog and asked myself why we call Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Unlike secular world leaders who issue out orders to be obeyed, driving their underlings from behind, this shepherd cares for his sheep for he knows each individually, guiding them safely to good pastures. In fact, he cares too much to the extent of laying down his life for all – saints and sinners alike. Compassion caused him not to condemn - even those who failed him, betrayed him or could not love him as they wished they could or should. This quality of his gentleness and compassion shines through the many episodes where he wept or prayed for..... Jerusalem, Lazarus, those who plotted evil against him. And he the crowds but especially to his oft befuddled disciples.......patiently explaining in detail and correcting their mis-conceptions. We also see how frequently he slips away to be by himself - to communicate with his heavenly Father in prayer. As to competence - just run through the New Testament – probably, it was because his competence showed up the lack of it in the scribes and Pharisees that caused them to have a jaundiced view of him and gave them additional cause to ruthlessly seek his death.

    So yes, our Lord is definitely the Good Shepherd and he is always calling to us but sometimes we choose not to hear his call because we are afraid ......for discipleship is a journey that involves failure, the way of the cross. However, what this Easter has made me remember is that – discipleship also involves forgiveness, repentance and the message from the empty tomb is that He will go before us if we, but trust and answer his call.

    God bless you, Fr.

  2. Dear Father

    My alma mater was (and still is) run by the Good Shepherd sisters, and at assembly and school masses we often sang the hymn 'The Lord is My Shepherd, and I want to follow, wherever he leads me, wherever he goes.... '. The image of Jesus being there with his crook and his staff to lead the way if we ever walked in the valley of darkness was always comforting through the often dark and dangerous paths that I tread.

    Like you said, there are challenges and there are dark forces. While Jesus is the Good shepherd, I feel that we all are often called to be shepherds, especially when children come along. I know I try but I also know many hindsights later that the choices I make may not be the right ones even though they appear to have been the best ones I could have made in the circumstances. I guess that it is not only the Good Shepherd who calls, and often, I hear more than one voice.