Jesus asks us all to be shepherds
There is just a year and a month between my brother David and myself. I was born on 14th January 1964, and he was born on 16 February 1965. As we grew up as children we were as close as brothers can be but at the same time we would fight, argue, tease, and annoy each other. It seems, one afternoon, while playing on the street in front of our house we got into a brawl. We were probably eight or nine at the time. This wasn’t unusual but on this occasion my mother heard a neighbor lady exclaim, while leaning out from her upstairs window: “isn’t that terrible, brothers fighting!” Now, her own sons were no saints, but hearing this really annoyed my mother. At that moment another neighbor, Mr. Flynn, happened to be passing, and my mother called out to him: “Pat, grab those two will you!” At which point Mr. Flynn grabbed both of us by the shirt collar, pulled us apart, and delivered us to our mother.
The truth is that on our street, a street of about 70 houses, 70 families, we were never like “sheep without a shepherd.” In fact, every parent, 140 people all considered themselves responsible, in some way, for every child. On that street every child knew the name of every other child and every adult. More importantly, every adult knew the name of every other adult and every child. Everyone was a shepherd, not only for their own flock, but for the entire flock.
Jesus looked at the crowd and He was “moved with pity, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He turns to his apostles and appoints them to be shepherds for the crowd. Not just shepherds but shepherds after His own heart, shepherds like Him. The apostles are then named, listed, identified, so all can know who the shepherds are. They are identifiable, Jesus points them out, they are assigned a task and the sheep know their names. Pope Francis would say that they know the smell of the shepherds, they are that close to them.
In my youth I would have known, and identified easily, who these shepherds were: they were the pope, the bishops, the parish priest. They were the successors of the apostles, and they led the flock of the Lord. To paraphrase St. Paul, now that I am an old man, I see things differently, I see things more from experience, more from the heart of a life lived. I still believe that the pope, bishops, and even priests (God help us), are shepherds, important shepherds, and while they have a God given mission to lead and care for the sheep, they are probably not the most important shepherds. Maybe it would be better to say they are not the most intimate shepherds.
Everyday of my life I have experiences the love, affection, care, sacrifice and even the discipline of shepherds. Certainly, my parents, who gave me life, who nurtured me, cared for me, loved me, healed me, supported me, and so much more. I also experienced this sort of shepherd in my brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, family, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, the community I was raised in and the people I knew. I see this sort of shepherd in my brothers and sisters now that they are parents, in my nieces and nephews. I also see it everyday here in our parishes, our families, our schools, on the playing fields, in the gym, in the care and compassion that expresses itself every day in so many ways, so many places, so many kindnesses, so much charity, love, generosity, and sacrifice. Everywhere, every day, I see shepherds caring for their own sheep, and for other people’s sheep, and lambs. I’m fortunate, because seeing this helps me realize that we are all called to be shepherds, and I see their wonderful work every day. I am fortunate because I can appreciate what God is doing – in you and through you.
Thank you for all you do to care for the Lord’s sheep, and lambs.