I don’t know about you, but “shepherd” was not an option in my high school career aptitude test. That makes sense as, come to think of it, there really aren’t any job openings in metro Detroit for sheep herders. With so little experience I have a misguided view of what a shepherd really is and does. My mind’s eye view is a biblical man in robes with his trusty staff- or perhaps even Little Bo Peep, with her happy entourage of wooly white lambs frolicking contentedly around her hoopskirt.
In his morning mass homily recently, our pastor, Monsignor Mike talked briefly on the job of shepherds. It’s really a thankless, grueling career. The shepherd must remain constantly vigilant against predators and the simpleminded wanderings of his livestock. The sheep don’t stay neatly in a group. They are forever straying- the shepherd is forever drawing them back into the protection of his fold. Day and night. Summer through winter he battles the elements, harsh terrain, and wolves.
Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd. I’ve seen images through the years, paintings of this Good Shepherd in an idyllic pastoral scene, a gentle smile as He holds the lambs in His arms; the sheep are practically smiling as well (if sheep could smile). All gathered round. One harmonious bunch. Everybody smiling. While that’s a topnotch visual, it’s not really accurate if we are completely honest. I know it’s true for me anyway; because this sheep doesn’t always stay “rounded up” like an obedient mutton should. I would bet I’m not the only one. Jesus certainly has a 24-7 job using His hooked staff and hauling me back.
I continued to contemplate the real role of shepherds as I walked home once again from morning mass. I happen to live a stone’s throw from my parish, St. Andrews. My route takes me through Mrs. Plante’s backyard, a beautiful slice of nature linking her half-acre lot with the adjoining neighbor’s acre. It’s a graceful little valley, a few trees dotting the field, and when the sun is coming up in that eastern sky it slices through the branches and washes over the ground, and this time of year, the snow, and it all shimmers. Add to that the dawn music of the birds as they welcome another beautiful day and it is a slight to behold.
So often I stop in my comings and goings to breathe it all in. I have walked this path often over the years. Through summer rains, and when the winter snows are deep, my husband (Mr. Awesome) snow blows a path, so back and forth I can go. So I can go and sit with Jesus.
Literally hundreds of times a day this sheep veers off course. I feel like I have the 2.4 second attention span of a goldfish sometimes as so easily I get distracted and drawn away into nothingness. But for whatever reason, at around three o’clock the Good Shepherd calls to me, and I hear His voice. (John 10:27) He knows me. And sometimes I hear, and respond. He calls me to right paths, and I get up off my lazy lug nut and walk. I cut once again through Mrs. Plante’s field and into the silent church to be with my God. My all.
It’s an interesting perspective on which to focus, the shepherd, the Good Shepherd and His constant vigilance to keep us safe and on right paths. I am so profoundly grateful each day as through the wonderful mantle of Mary, I am led on right paths and so often participate in morning mass, and get to spend such overwhelmingly valuable time at the feet of this Good Shepherd through Eucharistic adoration. It is priceless; absolutely priceless.
At the beginning of a new year, and one specially dedicated to the mercy of God, I walk over to Jesus, and pray for all His church, His flock, that we will hear His voice and respond. I pray for the special grace, dispensed through the hand of His mother, of a new perspective to see the Great Shepherd and His incredible love, most especially in the Blessed Sacrament. I pray for a new awareness in each heart, a renewed love for our Good Shepherd Who sacrifices all to keep us on right paths.