A few years ago I had the privilege of providing music for a four day mission at a local parish. For those of you who don't know, a parish mission is a several-day Lenten reflection, usually beginning Sunday evening. Priests, teachers, nuns or musicians offer an intense presentation on a specific aspect of faith to the parish, calling the faithful to deepen their faith.
I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Fr. Larry Richards, Pastor of St. Joseph Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie, PA, and Spiritual Director of the TEC (To Encounter Christ) Retreat Program for the Diocese of Erie, commanded the congregation with his passion for Christ and Christ’s Truth. (Check out his website here.)
In one segment, Fr. Larry recounts some time spent with a friend on a farm. He remembers going out with his friend to bring the cattle into the barn. A couple of cows, including one with a newborn, had wandered off up a hill. The calf would not have made it down the hill on his own. The farmer decided that he would round up the cows, and Larry would tend to the calf. Larry’s friend lifted the calf onto his neck and instructed him: “no matter what, don’t let go or he’ll fall and break his neck.”
The calf started out calm. But as they moved, it began to cry out. Larry tightened his grip on the calf’s legs, and the calf began to wriggle, then several times tried to jump away. Larry struggled to maintain a grip on the calf. It struggled violently against Larry's hold, kicking and bleating the whole way. Calves are much stronger than you’d imagine. It shook in fear and urinated down Larry’s back. They arrived at the barn, and he set the calf down, who ran to its mother and attached itself to her udder.
Larry suffered a few bruises, a strained shoulder and a very stiff neck. While soaking in a bath to remove the funk of calf pee, he heard his Lord. “Larry, now you understand, for this is what my flock does to me.”
A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the father Knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
As members of the faithful, it’s important to understand our failings, both individually and as a body (broken and scattered though it may be), so that we might grow in our relationships with God, and understand better the faith we all so deeply desire. I think of those Christians who expend hours and hours of effort repeatedly regurgitating all the past mistakes in others, for the sole purpose of tearing them down. They mean well, I’m sure, but they, too, are members of Christ's flock, and should remember that we all find ourselves crying, wriggling and trying to escape his hold out of our own fear, because we can't understand that He's just trying to carry us home.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.