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May 25, 2018

The Shepherd and the Herdsman

Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe
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On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we acknowledge God as the universal shepherd of humanity, and ourselves as the sheep of his flock. Today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations! In the Old Testament, the Patriarchs of Israel were shepherds just like their early kings, and there are countless descriptions of Israel as the flock of God. For example, Psalm 23 recounts what the Good Shepherd does for his sheep, that: “Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose. Near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit” (Ps. 23:2-3a). Now, among all the religions in the world, the image of shepherd is unique to Judaism and Christianity, and this is because both religions recognize the special bond between God and man – man being made in the image and likeness of God. A Good Shepherd God is one who walks with his people, feels what they feel, and cares about their every joy and sorrow. A good shepherd puts his life on the line for his sheep, as we see in Scripture that Christ himself “bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24).


A shepherd is different from a herdsman! It takes a group of herdsmen to drive a herd of cattle because they have to be pushed from behind, sometimes struck with sticks, to get them moving. And then you need other herdsmen on the sides to keep the cattle all together. On a bizarre note, however, some of today’s herdsmen prefer Automatic Kalashnikov (AK 47) rifles to sticks! On the contrary, a shepherd walks in front of his flock, whistling or speaking or singing. The sheep follow along behind, and so long as they can hear the shepherd’s voice, they keep following. They need to stay close enough to hear his voice, and as long as the shepherd is close by, the wolves will not attack the sheep. It is only when a sheep falls behind, beyond the reach of the shepherd’s voice, is there a danger of getting lost and being attacked. That’s exactly what happens when we wander away from the way of Christ – we fall into sin.


Dear friends, Jesus wants us to stay close to him, so we can always hear his voice. That way we can travel safe to the rich pastures and refreshing streams of a meaningful, joyful life. The Good Shepherd guides his flock through the dark and dangerous valleys of this world by walking right beside us, by staying always within hearing – in prayer, the Word of God, and the sacraments.  Jesus is not a herdsman driving us on from behind and keeping his distance, or even threatening to shoot us; he is our shepherd, and he wants us to hear his voice. He wants us to know him as the One who protects and cares for his people just as a shepherd cares for his sheep. A good shepherd always wants his sheep to be healthy and happy, to have the best grass, fresh water, and safety, so that they can grow and multiply as much as possible. Sheep have no greater friend than a good shepherd, and we have no greater friend than Jesus.


On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us pray for more labourers in the Lord’s vineyard as there is an urgent need to expand the pastures of the flock, and the best way is to deploy more shepherds. We need an increase in vocations to the priesthood, religious and consecrated life, and full-time missionary life. Without these the Church struggles to fulfil its mandate. The need for more holy priests and religious men and women cannot be overemphasized. Pope Paul VI in his message for the first Day of Prayer for Vocations in 1964 said: “The problem of having a sufficient number of priests has an immediate impact on all of the faithful: not simply because they depend on it for the religious future of Christian society, but also because this problem is the precise and inescapable indicator of the vitality of faith and love of individual parish and diocesan communities, and the evidence of the moral health of Christian families. Wherever numerous vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are to be found, that is where people are living the Gospel with generosity”


Nevertheless, not all are called to be priests and religious, but everyone is called to encourage these vocations. We can do that in four ways. First, we need to pray fervently for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This is in response to Jesus’ command that we “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Second, by praying for those whom God is calling, for the courage to step forward. Third, by encouraging young people to consider making such a generous offer of their lives to God. Where there is no generosity, true love is in short supply; and where there is no true love, there is no faith and no hope.  It doesn’t hurt to ask someone if he/she has ever considered a vocation. We can suggest they consider spending some time at a retreat centre or religious house to give God a chance to speak to them. Fourthly, we need to pray for the stability of marriage and family life because, as the domestic church, the family is the nursery for vocations.


Finally, as we ponder afresh the Christian meaning of “shepherd” and “flock”, we pray for our shepherds (priests, religious, and other leaders) to always speak the truth to power and lead by example according to the Gospel. We also pray for all the sheep who have drifted away from the sheepfold, either through their own apathy or through some injury caused by others, that they may find their way back into the fold. And may we all learn to listen to the voice of Christ our Good Shepherd who is always looking out for us. Amen!



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