Summary: Pray especially for holy priests, brothers and sisters. Pray for those who are preparing for or struggling in marriage. And pray for those who have chosen to remain unmarried in a celibate state, and for those who are trying to run from the divine call.
For many decades this day has rightly been called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” because both of our New Testament readings speak of Jesus as Shepherd of our souls, Shepherd of the One Flock, the Church. Both of these precious proclamations have Old Testament roots. Let’s start with the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham and Sarah, in their old age, had a son, Isaac, called the Son of the Promise. Through Isaac God had promised them a posterity greater than the stars of heaven or the sands of the sea. Abraham heard the call of God several times in his life, and each time he followed God’s will. By following God, Abraham had seen his loftiest dreams fulfilled.
But when the lad was of age, Abraham heard God’s call again. This time it was a summons to the mountains of Moriah, and this time it was a call to sacrifice his only son, the son he loved more than life, as a holocaust. Yet even though it was a call to destroy his greatest dream, he went off without a question, without a complaint, with his son bearing the wood for the sacrifice on his back. “Father,” Isaac asked, “where is the sheep for the sacrifice.” “God will provide,” his father answered, certainly choking back tears.
When they arrived at the place of sacrifice, Isaac saw what was going to happen, but the two labored together to build an altar. Isaac was bound and prepared for the tragedy that was to follow, but God stayed Abraham’s hand, and provided a ram for sacrifice to serve in Isaac’s place. Abraham had proved his willingness to follow God’s will, and the Lord made a one-sided promise to him and his posterity, to save them from their enemies.
The Father fulfilled that promise by sending HIS only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to suffer and die as THE lamb of sacrifice that takes away the sins of the whole world. God spared Abraham’s son, but He did not spare His own. He indeed acted as a shepherd of the whole flock, saving us through Christ’s excruciating suffering and death. But that was not the end of the story. Christ rose from the dead and now gives us through the sacraments the means to become members of His flock, the Church, and to be, like Abraham and Isaac, custodians of the divine will. That’s why in every liturgical service, and throughout the day in personal prayer, we say the Lord’s prayer. We pray the words that Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane: Father, Thy will be done.
Now let’s reflect together on what it means to be a sheep in God’s flock, and especially what it means to be a shepherd of that flock.
I have never tended sheep, but anecdotal evidence indicates that they are not very bright. Now one researcher I found claims that in some respects, particularly finding food, they are as smart as monkeys and humans. So that is just another way of saying “they’re not very bright.” The frontal lobe of the human brain is the physical site of decision making. Brain studies have shown that this critical faculty is not completely functional until the mid twenties of life. But high school teachers like me have known that for a very long time. Like sheep, humans prefer not to delay gratification, plan for the long term, or develop a high sensitivity toward danger. So we all need wise shepherds to teach us to think and act like Jesus Christ and His Mother. Christ has left us a Church that provides us with pastors, spiritual directors, and teachers in His own image. It is part of the awesome divine mercy that we sing about in today’s Introit.
But shepherds do not appear magically when they are needed. They must be nurtured and encouraged. I recall during my formative years the priests and sisters and brothers encouraging me and my classmates to ask God for guidance into our life vocation. There was particular focus on the priesthood and religious life, a life of dedicated service to the people of God and to personal sanctity. We don’t hear that often enough. Every one of us is called by God to one of three life directions, three paths to holiness: a religious vocation, which can be priest, religious sister or brother, a married vocation, or a single life of celibacy without being in a consecrated state or religious order. There’s no fourth way–a way of doing whatever we feel like.
So in your families, make that a frequent topic of discussion with children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters. Pray especially for holy priests, brothers and sisters. Pray for those who are preparing for or struggling in marriage. And pray for those who have chosen to remain unmarried in a celibate state, and for those who are trying to run from the divine call. Only as humans can sheep become shepherds, and lead thousands to holiness. Find your path, and pray for those who are seeking it.