Keeping Ourselves in the Flock of the Shepherd

7 May 2006. The Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10, 11-18: The Good Shepherd

Note: I wrote this for Sambuhay, Sunday missalettes published by the Society of St. Paul

The shepherd holds a central image in the history of Judea. First, the shepherd is committed to the flock. He is personally responsible for the sheep. If a sheep is lost, he seeks the lost sheep, tracking and following the straying sheep’s footprints across the hills. Moreover, he is committed to the community. He is committed to the little flock he has because he knows that the flock belongs not to individuals but to villages. Finally, the shepherd is an image of God. The good shepherd is the picture Jesus drew of God: that the Good Shepherd is what God is like. God rejoices when a lost sinner is found as a shepherd when a strayed sheep is brought home.

There is however a certain nuance in the image of the Good Shepherd. We affirm that there is only One Good Shepherd and we are all members of His flock. Church leaders --- and even ourselves with the ‘little flock’ we have such our families --- are symbols of the Good Shepherd. Symbols provide tangible experiences which we need. It does not replace Jesus: Jesus is always present, taking care of us, and we as symbols of the Good Shepherd make this truth more felt. In the Second Book of Samuel, Nathan tells the story of the poor man who took care of a ewe lamb, growing up with his children, eating and drinking with them, and even sleeping with him. The lamb was like a daughter to him. This is precisely what the Good Shepherd means to us: it suggests that our relationship with Christ is close and intimate. When we take care of our flocks lovingly, intimately and closely, Christ’s expresses His love with our love to the people we are entrusted to keep.

This image therefore evokes two things: First, the picture of the Good Shepherd is a depiction of pastoral care. Our misgivings, our fears, our unworthiness may lead us to doubt the care of the Good Shepherd. At Easter time, we are therefore invited into this kind of deep assurance, confidence and trust that Jesus will always be present, constantly taking care of us, as the poor man of his ewe lamb. Second, the picture of the sheep is a portrait of maintenance. We also have to maintain ourselves within the fold. We must remain in Christ. We must be faithful and loyal to Him because we can lose sight of God easily in a world full of distractions. We can also lose our perspectives and values when we are hurt, angry or pressured. There are many things that we can do, but let me suggest some simple things to keep ourselves in the flock.

We must take an honest prayer life. When we find ourselves too busy, the more we need to pray. But what type of prayer? I have some suggestions:

First, the snooze time: it is the time between waking up and getting out of the bed. At least two minutes in silence to center yourself in God no matter how late you get up or busy you are (although more time is generally good, this brief constant prayer period will ensure a faithfulness to being centered on God).

Second, the daily travel to work or school. This can be done while on the way to work or home, in the jeepney, train or bus. Reflect for a few seconds quietly on the presence of God in your life. We can be quiet in the crowd.

Third, read sacred scripture at least once a week for five or ten minutes so that God remains a real concrete presence in life rather than a vague entity. In fact, if you are early in church you may want to pick up one of those Sunday missalettes like Sambuhay.

Fourth, keep symbols of our faith with you. Carry a rosary or a cross in your pocket or a picture of Jesus or a favorite saint in your wallet. Be conscious of churches along your route and make the sign of a cross as a sign of reverence. You may want to enrich your life with one of the many devotions in our Catholic life.

Finally, speak about your faith informally with a friend. Our spiritual life is also a legitimate topic to talk about. When you talk about your hopes, your fears and what keeps you strong, you are already talking about your spiritual journey. Talk about it at any time, any casual place.

As we are assured of Christ’s care for us, we also assure Him that we too value being in his flock. As children of Easter, we too take personal care for our faith.


jaki said...

thank you. it just so happened i needed that last one;

conversations about the spiritual journey....

you're still here in cdo? hopefully. Ü

i saw you at loyola house the day you arrived. :D

God bless!

evelyn said...

I saw this article on the missalette last Sunday. But I prefer this one. I find it easier to follow.
What strikes me most among the many points you raise is the fact that I myself am an image of Jesus being a Good Shepherd to my family and to my students. I never thought of myself that way. Sure I always keep in mind that in serving them well, I am serving God. But, this is something new to me . . . something to ponder on. Something that will help increase my intimacy with Christ as I go about my daily activities. Thanks!
Do you know, you have actually influenced how I teach? I find your love and concern for the students infectious. I find myself more concerned about them, and more cheerful when I am in front of the class. I hope I will have the opportunity to share the faith with all its richness to some of them.