My Dear Friends,
Marriage and consecrated life are essentially vocations to shepherd others. Anyone who has experienced the loving and generous care of a true mother, father, priest, deacon, or religious will know what a true shepherd really is.
In the olden days in the Holy Land, the life of a shepherd was very difficult. A flock of sheep never grazed without his presence and therefore, the shepherd was on duty every day of the week. Since the sheep always had to travel in order to find grass to eat, they were never left alone. Sheep could get lost, or they could be attacked by wolves or stolen by robbers.
Sheep were seldom used for regular food by the people of the Holy Land; rather, sheep were cultivated for the use of their wool. Thus the shepherd was with his sheep for a very long time. He gave each one of them a name, and they all knew his voice. In fact, it is said that each shepherd had a peculiar way of speaking to the sheep that allowed them to know that he was their shepherd.
During the warm weather, it was common for the sheep to spend the night away from the village farm. The shepherd watched over them throughout the night. In these circumstances, the sheep stayed in open areas surrounded by a low rock wall. In these areas, the sheep entered and left through an open space which had no door or gate of any kind. During the night, the shepherd would sleep stretched out within the empty space so that no sheep could get out except by crossing over his body. At the same time, a wolf or a robber could not get in, except by crossing over his body as well. Here we can see a prime example of how the shepherd would give his life for his sheep.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7: 17).
Applied to our practical lives, the message is clear. Whatever our state in life may be, we are all called to shepherd the sheep that have been entrusted to our care. Dedication, commitment, sacrifice, and vigilance are needed every day. Just like Jesus the Good Shepherd, shepherds are called to love unconditionally. True shepherding is a life of total self-giving.
The true shepherd needs time for renewal in order to shepherd the flock. The true shepherd needs to spend time daily with Jesus, the chief shepherd. He will give us the strength, the inspiration, and the sustenance to shepherd the flock. Periodic moments of solitude and silence are essential for the continued ability to give unconditionally.
If we are going to be true disciples of the Good Shepherd, we must forget ourselves completely and be totally dedicated to those in our care.
Excerpted from writings by Father James Farfaglia for www.catholiconline.com
Father Patrick V. Kirsch, KHS