Saturday, July 21, 2012

Shepherds Among Us

A short Italian man, Enrico, worked as a janitor in one of the office buildings in the city of Rome, Italy. To pass the time as he washed windows, painted walls or cleaned out office rooms, he would hum the most beautiful melodies. One of the office workers approached him out of curiosity to ask where he learned to sing such melodious songs. He explained that as a boy he lived in one of the small towns in the hills surrounding Rome. His father owned some sheep and he would help bring them out to pasture. To let the sheep know that someone was close by keeping an eye on them, he and his father would hum the songs. If they ever got distracted and stopped humming, the sheep would get excited, stop eating and begin to panic. Once they began humming the songs again, the sheep would settle down and feel secure. They needed to hear the humming to know that their shepherd was nearby and that they were safe.

The author of the twenty-third psalm which we prayed together after the first reading loved to think of God as a shepherd. God was always close to him providing him with all he needed and comforting him. Because God was always by his side, he felt that nothing could make him afraid. As he writes: "Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side." Just as the sheep could graze in peace knowing their shepherd was nearby, so the sacred author of this psalm felt that God was so close to him and so protective of him that he could live in peace, confident that all would be well.

So much in life can make us panic. There are so many bills to be paid, but only so much money. There is so much work to be done, but only so much time and energy. The obligations and demands of being a parent, a student or a priest can seem overwhelming and impossible. But within the roar of our daily activities a gently humming can be heard if we slow down long enough to notice it. Our God is always at our side giving us what we need to make it through the day. The Lord is our shepherd; there is nothing we shall want.

Do we face the difficulties of life with the confidence that God is close by? No matter how busy our schedules may be, do we take time aside to pray as Jesus and the apostles tried to do in today's gospel and listen for the voice of our shepherd? Do we trust God to lead us in paths that are right and to provide for our needs and the needs of our family?

Jesus is still among us as our shepherd. Though we can no longer see and touch him, he is very much in control of our lives leading us and protecting us. His Holy Spirit, which we received at our baptism, speaks to our hearts and assures us that he is close by. The Holy Spirit is the voice of God humming within us giving us joy and confidence as we face the challenges of life in the 21st century. We simply need to make the time each day to step out of our routine and listen for that gentle voice in the silence.

Not only does Jesus shepherd us individually through the Holy Spirit, he also leads us as a community of faith through the gift of the priesthood. When the priest baptizes, it is the Good Shepherd, Jesus, bringing another sheep into his flock. Through the ministry of priests, Jesus leads us to a rich pasture by feeding us his very body and blood in the Eucharist. Jesus seeks us out when we are lost and heals our wounds when we approach the priest in the sacrament of Penance. Through the gift of the priesthood, Jesus is really present among us meeting our deepest need for friendship with God.

We should make a special effort throughout this year to remember priests in our prayers. Like each of us, they face many difficulties. They often see people at the very worst day of their lives, when they are sick or dying or have suffered a tragedy. They are willing to rush out in the middle of the night to be with a family whose house has caught on fire. They are expected to have words of wisdom and consolation whenever we are confused or anxious. We expect much of our priests, and it can often leave them discouraged and exhausted. It is not only important for us to pray for them at all times but to let them know that we love and appreciate them by saying a kind word to them after Mass or even dropping a thank you note in the mail from time to time. When we do so, we are also honoring the Good Shepherd, Jesus, whose life and ministry is still active among us because of the dedication of these special men.

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