By Fr. Mike, O.P.
I always find it interesting how, despite a desire to try to be new and innovative in my faith life, I tend to fall into certain patterns. At times it seems to me that this is not necessarily a good thing. However, this Sunday’s Gospel, the Good Shepherd, eventually gets me to the point where I can see a great example of how this can work,and work out very well. Here is what I mean by “eventually.”
Have you even read and reflected upon today’s Gospel and asked yourself, “Did Jesus just call me a sheep?” A sheep … really? Whenever I try to come up with a good simile for my faith life, being like a sheep does not jump out as what I would pick as my first choice. Sheep have never struck me as the smartest, bravest, or most creative creatures on the planet. Wouldn’t it be better if Jesus wanted followers like eagles and lions, or maybe even wise and cunning creatures like owls? But then I remember it is important — as we explore the message — that Jesus, our God and true teacher, was trying to get across to us to think of the big picture. It is no accident that he began this teaching with himself as the “shepherd” and introduces the “gate keeper,” who has always stood out to me as the Holy Spirit.
Thinking of ourselves solely as independent creatures in the spiritual sense just doesn’t make sense or even work. We need guidance. We need direction. We need an example to follow. We need to know that when life gets difficult, there is someone who cares enough for us as individuals and is willing to go out of His way to help us, to come and find us when we stray, and to be there to nurture and love us when it is needed. To put it another way, we need help! And let’s face it, brothers and sisters, without Jesus to show us a better way to live and relate with those around us, life would be far too difficult. Hence, the reason we need a good shepherd.
Another thing that helps me to embrace my personal, internal, and spiritual sheepishness is built into the notion of the gate in this parable. At times it can seem like following our good shepherd might be a bit too constrictive. Why shouldn’t we be able to take a few shortcuts and do things the “easy way?” Every time I start thinking about how narrow that gate may seem, I recall something one of my favorite spiritual and apologetics writers, G. K. Chesterton, mentioned.
On his own spiritual journey, which started from the quintessential, self-proclaimed stance of a modern atheist, he talks about one of the most interesting discoveries he made during his conversion to Catholicism. And in a way, he was speaking about the gate in today’s reading. On his journey to the faith, he mentioned that he found the Catholic Church was much “larger on the inside” than he ever imagined when was viewing it from afar. In other words, that while that gate may “seem” to be very narrow, it opens up to a bigger and happier reality than we might think.
As we continue on this current part of our spiritual journey, my sisters and brothers, let’s remember to look into the vastness of the possibilities our faith tradition opens up for us. Given all the challenges we are facing because of the coronavirus, I think today’s Gospel is a good reminder that are many ways in which we can explore our faith and grow in our relationship with God and His Church.
I hope if you are ever asked if you mind being called a sheep in the spiritual sense, you will join me in saying a resounding: “Naa-aaa-aaa-aaa. Look who my Shepherd is!”