The Holy Father is the shepherd of the universal Church. Every bishop is the shepherd of his diocese. Every parish priest is the shepherd of his parish. Parents are the shepherds of their children.
Being a shepherd is not easy; being a good shepherd is even more difficult. There are those pastures, which have to be sought out; pastures where the grass is rich and nourishing. There are those sheep, so difficult to keep together, so difficult to keep on the right track. And then there are those wolves, so cunning, so persistent, and so pitiless.
A shepherd is rightly judged according to how much he will give of himself to lead the sheep to good pastures and to keep the sheep safe from dangers. A good shepherd is ready to give his life for his sheep.
Let’s say those words again: A good shepherd is ready to give his life …
It appears to me that in today’s gospel account Jesus isn’t talking about sheep. He isn’t suggesting that we are a bunch of totally dependent dumb sheep who don’t know where they are going or how to get there. He isn’t demeaning us or disrespecting us even though in some aspects we do need God’s tender loving mercy and care. I know I do!
No, I think rather He is calling us to care for those who in the great scheme of things are placed in our charge. He is calling us to have attitudes like those found in Him, the Good Shepherd of our souls.
Anyone who is in charge of others is called by God to care for those placed in their charge. Who are they? They are parents and grandparents; they are teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, priests, ministers, and mentors. Are you responsible in any way for the well-being of others? If you are, Jesus is calling you to shepherd them as He shepherds us.
Care? What kind of care? What do we mean by caring?
Things are good or bad, right or wrong in the nature. What is good is not what makes people feel good, what is bad is not what makes people feel bad. We’re not in charge of others’ feelings. Those who are in positions of caring need to help those in their charge to seek what is truly good, not simply pleasurable, to see what in its nature is truly good. There are values that are valuable regardless of what is merely opinion.
Opinions are just that, merely opinions. Values transcend opinions.
Elders and shepherds are called to guide and teach, not to over-protect and exercise total control over those placed in their charge. Are we raising our kids inside of big bubbles that are sterile, free of loss and pain? Or are we teaching kids to face challenges and persevere, their values being ridiculed by pornographic and hostile world by realizing what this world’s bogus values really do to people? How they really demean and devalue them?
We cannot and we should not keep others from making mistakes. We grow by our mistakes. We are strengthened and mature through our mistakes.
In the medical profession there are doctors who tell us that kids strengthen their immune systems when they are exposed to hostile viruses. It is in fighting off certain viruses that our bodies become immunized to them. It seems to me that the same principle holds true when it comes to strengthening our morals and our systems of dealing with what is evil in our world. Being over-protective does not strengthen our children or allow them to develop their own inner guidance systems. When we are good shepherds we teach others to develop their own morals, their own values in our diseased world.
Voices in this world tell us: “If it feels good, do it.” But the truth is that what is good is not simply what feels good. What is good is that which allows us to see what is good and then to acknowledge our own goodness. Am I aware of my own goodness regardless of what others say about me or how others feel about me? Self-esteem comes from within us; esteem is not what others bestow upon us. If I crave being liked by others and do anything to have others like me then I am living in a state of dependency. I’m not a free person anymore.
A world without standards, a world that denies absolutes and only allows for opinions is a world in which anything goes. It is a world filled only with chaos, a world in which each individual person is his or her own universe, a world in which values cannot be shared, in which truth cannot be shared, and in which we are doomed to be isolated and alone even when we are surrounded by others. In such a world if I assert that two plus two equals four I would be told that this is only my opinion and that two plus two equals five is to be acknowledged to be of equal value. Crazy you say? Yes it is crazy. But in a world that is crazy what is true appears to be insane. Sometimes I fear we are now living in such a world.
Being a good shepherd, being a good parent in today’s culture isn’t easy. Many voices in today’s world are at work against them when it comes to raising children. Today’s moms and dads need to listen to what their kids are talking about. They need to know what is attracting their kids. Do you know that the advertising industry is targeting seven-year-old kids to look like teenagers? Children are being sexualized at earlier and earlier ages so that the time a child can be a carefree is becoming shorter and shorter. If you knew what kids are exposed to on their I-phones you would be shocked. Learning the skills to listen to and talk with your kids is imperative if you are good to shepherd them well in today’s world.
In today’s A to Z world if you hold to the value and the truth of A, B. and C that does not mean that you are hatefully intolerant of X, Y, and Z. You will be told that. But the truth is that if you have standards based on what you know to be true and good you will be told that you are a bad person because you discriminate.
Nevertheless you need to realize that an indiscriminate world is a world in which things of value will not be valued. As a matter of fact nothing will be valued.
Good shepherds teach values. Good shepherds pass on those values to those placed in their charge. Good shepherds realize that God has placed others in your charge because God wants you to value them as much as He does.
It’s all about love, isn’t it? Jesus in His love is known as the Good Shepherd. He loves you enough to call you to love as He does. This isn’t just another job. Jesus doesn’t call you to be a functionary, to care just because it is a task that has been assigned to you. Jesus believes in you enough and He hopes in you enough to place others in your care so that you can shepherd them as He does. That’s a high compliment He has given you; that’s a high calling He has given you.
We are members of the flock of Christ and he is our shepherd, indeed, our good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. But, as we have already seen, we, too, are shepherds. We are responsible for one another and especially for one another’s eternal destiny. If the Master calls us to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ then, surely, we are called also to shepherd one another as he has shepherded us.
Bishops must shepherd their diocese, priests must shepherd their parishes, parents must shepherd their children – and all of us must be prepared to lay down our life for our sheep.