Under the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars
Today when we hear the word of God we are reminded that we are the sheep of God`s pasture and that we are nourished and cared for by Jesus the Good Shepherd .
The image of the Shepherd is undoubtedly one of the most popular of all in our Christian faith and practice. Most people will be happy to sing “The Lord’s my shepherd,” whether its a funeral, a wedding or even a baptism. Pastoral ministry and shepherding the flock are the most popular ways of indicating the Church’s task which she has received from Christ and the apostles. ‘Pastor’ is the Latin word for ‘shepherd’ and ‘pasture’ is what the farmer tries to provide for his flock or his stock. A pastoral scene is one which reminds us of a carefree picnic in the country watching the cattle and sheep browsing. And if we were sufficiently good with an artist’s brush we would want to paint the scene and create another Constable. Its amazing in fact how this word and image and idea is now used right across the board even in secular life , to describe the caring, teaching and ministering role of the church to its members.
Its in the 4th. gospel of John that we find this lovely image of Jesus, and it is felt to be most suitable and appropriate to dwell on it during this Sunday of Easter as we continue to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. `I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. There are numerous statements of Jesus beginning with ‘I AM’ in this gospel . In this connection too we have the words : `I am the gate of the sheepfold`. They clearly point to the claim Jesus makes to the name of God, Yahweh.: We also have ‘I AM the bread of life’, read during the week.
Jesus says that he is the ‘good’ shepherd because he ‘lays down his life’ for the sheep, in contrast to the unfaithful shepherds who have failed God’s people, thinking only of their own interests. He lays it down, he explains, ‘in order to take it up again’. In his Resurrection, he will be a source of life for them.
The other readings illustrate the blessings that belong to those who ‘know’ the Good Shepherd and ‘listen to his voice’. We recall the faith and courage of Peter, as he works the Christian Church’s first miracle in the power of the divine name – ‘in the name of Jesus’. And we are told that we can become ‘God’s children’, through ‘the love that the Father lavishes on us’, with a future which when it is fully revealed will give us a share in the intimate life of God.
It is important for our understanding of the figure of the good shepherd to realise how close a relationship the shepherd in Israel had with his sheep. He had to spend a lot of time with the flock so they got to know him and trust him, they would become familiar with his voice so that was why they would follow the shepherd rather than him having to drive them along in front of him.For instance nowadays you wouldn’t be able to have the same relationship with your sheep up in Queensland ! For one thing there are too many of them. Perhaps you could get your well trained sheepdog to do the work for you.
Jesus leaves us in no doubt of his care for each one of us who make up his flock and all of us together.He was ready to lay down his life for us and he did so.All of us in the Church need to learn this self-sacrificing love from him – whether its the bishop as pastor of the diocese or ( lesser pastors like us priests),
Our brief is then to protect other members of the flock and very importantly, to search and seek out those who stray.
So on this Vocations Sunday, I think that if we try to increase the level of dedicated Christian life in our families we would be doing the spade work for an increase in vocations.Such a Christian family knows that joy and meaning and fulfilment in life comes from a growing trust in God and a close relationship with Jesus our Saviour.
Today then in every parish in the country the priests challenge the people to consider the future needs of the church. We ask suitable people to come forward to serve as priests, brothers or sisters in order to serve the needs of the people of God.
We appeal to those who seem to have the right qualities to be open to a call to religious service of the community. And for all of us we need to continue to pray and ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest…