4th Sunday Easter; Good Shepherd and Vocations Sunday

This Sunday is traditionally called "Good Shepherd Sunday", because of the Gospel references to Jesus as the Good Shepherd and this day is always set aside for special prayer for Vocations, particularly to the priesthood. 

It's striking when I think that I cannot remember ever hearing a homily or a visiting speaker on this singularly important  day, which gave equal time to the vocational life of women called to ministry. 

Scripture readings for Sunday's Mass are here

On this Sunday we hear one of the great ‘I am’ statements of Jesus from Saint John’s Gospel today "I am the gate of the sheepfold". 

Through Christ we are invited to follow and enter into full life and safety, and we go through the gate initially by baptism. 
Sheep must have a very special place in God’s heart.  Jesus was called, “The lamb of God.”

My post from last year on today's gospel is here

"I know my sheep and my sheep know me.
I am the Good Shepherd."

Sometimes knowing I can't do things on my own is exactly where God wants me.

But sheep will only respond if they can trust their shepherd. 

As I get older I now realise the truth of Meister Eckhart's words and God's sense of humour too ! -

"We think we are fleeing from God, but in fact we are running into his arms."

People look to shepherds, ordained or not, for trust, compassion, stability and hope. 

I am grateful for the experiences in my life where I have met many good shepherds, priests, nuns, deacons and laity who have given me in abundance these fruits.

Sadly at the height of the sexual abuse scandal many voiced the question 
“Where were the shepherds in protecting the sheep?” 

This crisis along with the lack of dialogue on a number of important issues in the Church, has shaken the confidence of many faithful Catholics like nothing else, and has cut deeply into the credibility of the institutional shepherds as leaders. 

Many people, clergy and the laity included feel fleeced of their baptismal voice on important matters and feel left out and wandering as sheep trying to find pasture.  
There is a longing for leadership to honestly look into the darkness and difficulties of our times and of our church community.  
 There are many who have failed the shepherd's test and there are many priests who seem to be just as lost as any of us sheep they have purported to shepherd.

It's a lifelong task, learning to recognise an authentic shepherd’s voice, and then even harder responding to the teaching.

But the deeply held and daily acted upon trust that God is the ultimate source of all that is wise, true, loving and good, and that what God promises is reliable is the force that drives me on.

Jesus compared true shepherding with the false shepherding and fleecing of many religious leaders of his day, who were more concerned with themselves than for the well being of their flocks. 

Jesus offers a stark contrast between himself and the Pharisees.

Jesus knows each one of us by our name and spends time getting to know us. He talks to us authentically so we know His voice.

The church has to do a lot more to renew the trust of its' sheep and even more to instil the sense of confidence and belonging that people seek.

The loving care of Christ as a true shepherd also challenges the institutional church's  methods of shepherding when they deny the fullness of life that Christ promised us. 

The Franciscan speaker and author Richard Rohr said it well: “To be a leader is to author life in others.” 

 Above painting by Ronald Rae from here

I know I need shepherding in my life and am grateful if often reluctant (!)  to be led by God when things go wrong. I am grateful to be with others who share the same goal.

But who are the thieves and robbers ? 

Those in the church who take away the possibility of responding to the call of a vocation for women because they lack the vision and insight to experiment with new reformed and abundant forms of life in different types of ministry.

Those who steal the essence of a person's true nature because they refuse to allow homosexuals the same rights as others to express their sexuality in their church alongside others, and those who are robbed of their dignity and are no longer prepared to put up with being described as "intrinsically disordered" sadly walk away are the lost sheep that Jesus would have reclaimed without a thought.

Those who take away peoples’ sense of self-worth and dignity in the way in which they are treated and instructed in their faith.

Those in the heirarchy who often resemble more the CEOs of large companies, caring more for the money they bring in  than the care of real people and their souls. 
The Catholic church offers nothing of the qualities of the shepherd, when it parades its self-importance and increased legalism. 
When it spends its time defending and guarding its history and traditions, and calling that "keeping the faith" instead of what it really is, keeping the status quo,  many people just lose interest. 
I and many others hope that together as a church and seeking unity in the Holy Spirit  we might discern the call of the true shepherds as distinguished from the thieves and the robbers who take away the possibility of living a full faith filled life in action with others.  

I love what the Catholic church is based on - the scriptural depth and passion that gave rise to its beginnings and faith to its people. I love the church when it blazes the way in social justice and preferential options for the poor, when it refines ethical scrutiny of life choices and enhances our humanity by considering the sacredness of all life. 

I love the sense of belonging to an apostolic church but I cannot agree with the stasis of some of its teachings.

I hope and pray that we all can find and renew our faith in the true shepherds that would not want to lose even one of us and that we can  be guided on the right path for the future. 

Can the church hear the distant bleating of it's lost sheep ?

Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times and each time he replied "Yes", Jesus said feed my sheep !!

Peter’s commission to feed Jesus’ sheep depended on a love that would require him to be willing to lay down his life.

A Little Aside on the Characteristics of Sheep. Can you relate to any of these ?!

It's not usually a compliment to be compared to a sheep but  it’s interesting Jesus chose sheep to illustrate what his followers were like.

The domesticated animals of Jesus’ day included cattle, sheep, goats, camels, donkeys, horses, oxen, dogs, and chickens. All are mentioned in the Scriptures and Jesus used them to illustrate different lessons. 

A professor at the University of Wyoming wrote an article about his experiences with sheep and noted various characteristics:

You cannot make sheep do something contrary to their nature.
Sheep are not sheepish .They either look you straight in the eye, or they turn around and run the other way. But they never act bashfully.
The sheeps’ most manifest instinct is to flock.
Except for just a few breeds such as those that live on the highest mountain tops, sheep like to be together. Most animals, if left free to roam, will scatter. But if sheep are left to themselves, they’ll stay together. They’re gregarious. This is helpful because they lack many of the natural defenses other animals have, such as speed or the personal protection a porcupine has. 

The protection of the flock comes from staying close together. To flock means to be in company together, to be a group. It means togetherness as comrades, brethren, and associates. With the Christian, it means to assemble, congregate, meet, gather.

The propensity of sheep is to follow other sheep.
A lot of the bad rap that sheep get for not being thought particularly clever has to do with the fact that their herding instincts are stronger than a lot of other herd animals.

When sheep are in a herd, they tend to copy what everyone else is doing. However, the same can be said about teenagers, and that doesn’t make them stupid — just impressionable.

If a sheep is raised under conditions where her or she has constant intellectual stimuli, constant opportunities to make decisions and solve problems for herself, she’s going to end up being a pretty smart sheep- not so different from us humans really!

Sheep are instinctively fearful. 
So am I when I am in the company of people who I think might harm me.

Interesting article on sheep behaviour in flocks compared with individual behaviour here where it seems sheep have not, up until now, been given due credit for their level of intelligence.

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