Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 11, 2004
A shepherd finds lost sheep
A priest realizes we are all, in our own way shepherds
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
One of the most endearing Gospel images is the classic good shepherd guiding his flock to green pastures and restful waters, watching over it with care, guiding it safely home, protecting it from ravenous wolves and lurking enemies.
The Holy Scriptures contain at least 10 references on this theme in the Old as well as in the New Testament. We've probably all sang a version or two of Psalm 22: "My shepherd is the Lord, nothing indeed shall I want. In meadows of green grass he lets me lie. To the waters of repose he leads me, there to revive my soul.
"Though I pass through a gloomy valley, I fear no harm; beside me your rod and your staff are there to hearten me. You prepare a table before me, my cup brims over. My home, the house of the Lord as long as I live."
The lost, the lonelyGod cares for us his flock, God's chosen people. God especially demonstrates great solicitude for the struggling ones, for the weak, the poor, the destitute, the hungry, the sinner.
The compassion demonstrated in the story of the prodigal son is another expression of the same theme. The Flemish artist Rembrandt powerfully immortalized Jesus' story of the prodigal son with his painting of the young man returning home after having squandered his father's fortune in dissolute living, being movingly embraced by his elderly compassionate father whose only concern is the well-being of his son.
His loving hands rest on his son's shoulder as his eyes are raised in thanksgiving to heaven. The son's robe is in tatters, his sandals worn out, but the important thing is he had the good sense to come home. And he was able to walk home because he knew that his father loved him. It is that father's love that drew the son away from a dissolute life and complete breakdown, all the way home, to a place of love and of new life.
It is no coincidence the title given to the priest in charge of a parish is pastor and father. These are blessed titles, but more so they are a pastoral program in themselves. The flock of the Lord needs a pastor to care for it. The apostles trained by Jesus with Peter at their head are the prime model of the good shepherds caring for the Lord's flock - that is, all of us.
Who is the good shepherd? He/she is the one who cares about the lost one, who reaches out with compassion, one who is all about caring for the flock. The obvious protagonist of the good shepherd has got to be primarily your pastor and your bishop. But also in a real way, the good shepherds are also the teachers and most importantly, the parents whose flock are their own children.
The true shepherd is the one who cares about the lost one and who reaches out with compassion, caring profoundly for the flock in his or her care. The shepherd prays for the flock, worries about them and takes the first step, reaching out concretely. One needs to care for the lost one as one cares for his/her own child. We all need to live out the call to be the good shepherd, going out of our way with dedication and love.
As a pastor for eight of my 40 years of priestly ministry, I had the most enriching and fascinating experiences. I was named to care for three small indigenous communities in the Grouard-McLennan Archdiocese in northern Alberta. The first two nights I was there "they" emptied my gas tank. It was a strong signal that I had to go and find out who were the people of my community.
It was great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting people and furthermore the people seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. Visiting became like a need I felt. As a result, I had a long list of children that parents had neglected to have baptized. We eventually looked into formalizing relationships of couples who had put off having their marriage blessed.
Eventually we invited the bishop to come and confirm a good list of people, young and not so young. We also invited people to gather on Fridays for an evening of singing and sharing stories as well as sharing cookies and coffee. People of all ages were there for two or three hours. As a result, we built a sense of belonging, of being family. Yes, and being Church as well!
In visiting homes, some subtle realities were imparted: that people were important and that we cared for them, that we even worried about them. At the end of every visit, we took time to pray about all the concerns that surfaced during the visit. We gave thanks for all the good things happening in the family - for dad's job, for mom's health, for the children's various needs or concerns mentioned during the visit.
Bless this houseWe blessed the home, a powerful symbol of the blessing of the inner self. We also prayed for the elderly and the sick and offered them the sacraments including Reconciliation, the Sacrament of the Sick and Holy Communion.
The first Sunday I was there, perhaps 12 people showed up at Mass. After a few months a congregation of less than 60 people was a small crowd. Eventually we approached a congregation of 100. In a community of 250 people that was not bad.
Eventually I left Grouard. I admit I found myself shedding a few tears at the thought of leaving my flock. But then God had another flock in mind for me. I had no fear to take on this new responsibility for I knew from experience that the Good Shepherd would be doing most of the work in any event.
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