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May 11, 2003

The Good Shepherd

(John 10: 11-18)

On behalf of everyone, I congratulate and thank all our Mothers on this Mother's day, and we bless you in your vocation with your children and families.

I don't know if you know this but Mother's Day was first called for in 1870 after the Civil War, by Julia Ward Howe, the woman who wrote the famous song the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," who called for an annual Mother's Day which would be a day when all the mothers of the world would stand for peace and refuse to send their husbands and sons to war. This is part of what she wrote:

"Arise all women who have hearts. Say firmly: 'We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, seeking caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of our country will be tender to those of another country and not allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel, to bewail and commemorate the dead, so the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.'"

About forty years later, when women were struggling for the right to vote, on the eve of World War I, Mother's Day was instituted as a day for peace. The original vision is great because, among other things, women are calling all mothers to be, like Jesus, good shepherds, who take care of their husbands and sons, by protecting them from the forces of death and helping us all live in peace. I hope the mothers of the world will take up this vision and refuse to let the men in their succumb to the forces of war.

What is a good shepherd? If we are sheep, a good shepherd leads us out to the green pasture to graze and live and brings us home, and goes after any lost sheep, but what does he do all day? He sits there and watches over us, but also he's on alert to protect us from the foxes and wolves who want to come in and eat us.

A bad shepherd doesn't care about us. If the wolves and foxes get in and kill a couple of us, they immediately run away. The Gospel calls the bad shepherd a hired man who runs away at the first sign of danger. Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd who not only protects us but intervenes to prevent us from getting hurt and gives his life protecting us for the wolves of the world, from violence and death. He is truly a good shepherd.

We are so use to the image, but actually it's very serious, pointed, and political. The Gospel is trying to tell us that the world is full of wolves and foxes who would like to devour us. They look at us and see dinner. Bring on the hot sauce! In other words, evil exists in the world.

The only time in the Gospel that Jesus ever speaks about the King, he calls Herod "that fox," who sneaks in and eats the sheep. According to the Gospel, if we are sheep, our rulers are the foxes and wolves who kill us, who send us off to kill and be killed, so the Good Shepherd is here to protect us from all that, from death and the forces of death in the world that devour sheep, the children, the poor and vulnerable. I would you to reflect, who are the wolves and foxes, the forces of death, the systems and structures of death, who threaten us with death, who scatter us, who kill us? We need not go far to see the wolves and foxes in our midst (and the wolves in sheep's clothing).

Finally, we can think too about being the sheep of his flock. I don't know anything about sheep but apparently as you know, they are not the brightest creatures on earth, so it's kind of a backhanded compliment. All they do is "baa," and eat grass, and get lost and wander around, but they are pure and helpless and vulnerable and harmless and completely dependent on the shepherd, and Jesus says we are like that. He wants us to be as innocent as lambs.

When I lived in Northern Ireland, a shepherd once told me that sheep do not listen to the voice of the shepherd. But Jesus gives us the benefit of the doubt, and says we listen to his voice. So let's reflect: do we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd?

There are many voices that we listen to, on TV and radio and the president and the voices of gossip and despair and negativity and cynicism and hate and war.

Where do you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd? When do you hear his voice? I hope you hear his voice at Mass, as you read the Gospels, in your prayer, in one another, that voice of the Good Shepherd that says, "God loves you, God is with you, God wants to be with you and wants you to follow him."

Today the Gospel invites us to heed the voice of the Good Shepherd, to let him take care of us, to become like him, Good Shepherds of one another, who protect and care for one another, and follow him into the green pastures of God's kingdom of life and love and peace and nonviolence.

Last week, we had a beautiful Confirmation Mass with the Chancellor, and for those of you who were there, you will remember that during his homily he led us in a brief meditation of the Good Shepherd, and I thought we could try to do the same thing.

I invite you to close your eyes and relax, and imagine being in the presence of Jesus the Good Shepherd. What does he look like? What does his voice sound like? What does he say to you? Perhaps he says, "I am with you, I love you, You are mine, Follow me, Hear my voice, Live in my love, Peace be with you."

How do you feel in the presence of the Good Shepherd? What do you say in response to the Good Shepherd?

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