Called to be ‘Good shepherds’ - Vocations Sunday
Posted: Thu, 22 Apr 2021 14:03
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB offers a Salesian take on the Gospel for 4th Sunday of Easter (John 10: 11-18), Vocations Sunday. Photo: The Salesian Missionary Cross (Fr Gerry)
For us Salesians, the notion of the 'Good Shepherd' is so important as it reflects the real care that members of the Salesian family should have for young people. The Good Shepherd is not like the simple steward, who at the slightest sign of danger, runs away and leaves the flock abandoned. Likewise, within the Church, all the baptised faithful are called to follow the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Through baptism, we are no longer employees, wage earners seeking a fair pay in the exercise of our mission. To 'know' is an important character that defines the Good Shepherd—in our pastoral care of the young, we are invited to really know the people we work and for. In carrying out our mission, in exercising our responsibility, do we really know those we are in charge of? Does the teacher know his students? Do the leaders of the local Christian communities really know their parishioners? It is the duty of the Good Shepherd to 'know' their flock.
According to the Salesian charism, the cross is lived in unlimited pastoral self-giving. The Good Shepherd reveals a Salesian way of looking at Christ: pastoral charity must lie at the heart of the Salesian spirit: 'the attitude that wins hearts by gentleness and self-giving' (Salesian Constitutions 10). Our founder, Don Bosco, had a zeal for offering that care, especially to young people, so easily overlooked in our world. He has inspired millions of people across the globe to keep that charism alive today. In his early dream, Don Bosco saw the wild animals turned into lambs not by magic, but by using 'bonta'—this patient 'loving kindness' can transform young lives, as the Salesian mission proves. Walking with young people will not always be easy; teenagers might not always listen to you; they may even slam doors and offer the silent treatment. Don Bosco shows us a way forward: standing with them through the tantrums, difficulties and 'wobbles'. More than ever during pandemic times, when their young lives have been turned upside down by circumstances beyond their control, they need that 'bonta' more than ever.
The notion of the Good Shepherd, of a Shepherd who cares for his flock, or even of God—'The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want', conjures up for us images of peace, rest, safety, security, even nostalgia; images that are a far cry from the hustle and bustle, the struggles and uncertainties of a global pandemic in the twenty-first century. We appeal to the Good Shepherd when times are tough, when we are in crisis, when we want to be enfolded in the arms of a loving parent who will keep us safe from all harm.
Today's gospel, although it includes images of the Good Shepherd, is full of other imagery and themes, and indeed Jesus' statement 'I am the Good Shepherd' could divert our attention from the deeper meaning of the text. For one thing, there is the follow-up statement, 'The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.' To be a TRUE pastor, a TRUE teacher or a TRUE parent, we have to make sacrifices. This may seem obvious to us, hearing these words on the other side of the cross and resurrection, and on the other side of two thousand years of reflection on the meaning of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. What shepherd would sacrifice his own life for the life of his sheep? Certainly, the response of the hired hand mentioned by Jesus is more logical. What's the value of a few sheep compared to a human life? We can imagine a shepherd trying to protect his flock, but even the most devoted would have to count the cost, to weigh the risks of protecting the sheep at the cost of his own life. Yet that is what is being asked of us: as we have seen, glory can only be achieved through pain and suffering. Easter Day can only be achieved through enduring Holy Week—there are no easy shortcuts.
I think one reason for the appeal of the image of the Good Shepherd across the centuries is the image of a relationship, a vulnerable lamb embraced in the arms of a loving shepherd. We are invited to share that relationship with Jesus Christ and others, perhaps the young people of our parish in a special way today. Is it so hard for us to imagine that others might experience that same quality of relationship in completely different ways than we do? In these pandemic times, when death is reported daily in news briefings, the Good Shepherd points us towards life.
If we experience the 'life in abundance' spoken of so often in the Gospel of John; if we share in that abundant life through our knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ, we want others to share it too. Today, we can invite others to explore and participate in what we already share; we want that personal experience of abundant life lived in Christ to be something that can help others. Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ ought to be a natural part of our own life of faith. These times of Resurrection present us with people like Mary and Peter who share their experiences of the risen Lord with others.
The Good Shepherd, rather than allowing us to focus on our personal, exclusive relationship with Jesus Christ, invites us to extend the loving embrace of Jesus Christ to the whole world, to those outside the fold, as well as those who are closest to us. That is our mission, that is our task as followers of Jesus in the world today. Pope Francis celebrates the gift of a positive and helpful shepherding ministry:
A shepherd after the heart of God has a heart sufficiently free to set aside his own concerns. He does not live by calculating his gains or how long he has worked: he is not an accountant of the Spirit, but a Good Samaritan who seeks out those in need...For the flock he is a shepherd, not an inspector, and he devotes himself to the mission not fifty or sixty percent, but with all he has. In seeking, he finds, and he finds because he takes risks. He does not stop when disappointed and he does not yield to weariness. Indeed, he is stubborn in doing good, anointed with the divine obstinacy that loses sight of no one. Not only does he keep his doors open, but he also goes to seek out those who no longer wish to enter them.
Pope Francis, Angelus, 3 June 2016
Please watch and reflect on the dream of Don Bosco:
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
If you are inspired by the charism of the Salesians and feel you may be called to become a Salesian of Don Bosco, visit our Vocations website for more information.