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Some of the images that stay in my mind are of the many wonderful mountains and hillsides I have travelled close to at home and abroad. The landscape of these places are simply heavenly. Our hearts are brought to mystery, awe and wonder. John Muir, botanist, activist and geologist said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” I have a sense that Jesus felt the call of the mountains and to this we can add hillsides and rivers. He used images from these landscapes for his parables. Today is one of them. One of the most popular images of pastoral care is that of the shepherd who leads his large flock and protects them from harm. In the time of Jesus many herds consisted of thousands of sheep requiring highly skilled men to look after them and know how to cure their ailments. Shepherding was a hazardous occupation, outdoor living was rough. In the long dry seasons they had to move their flock in search of new pastures and watering places. They had to be vigilant as many predators waited for their opportunities. Often too, robbers stole the sheep. The shepherd had to be constantly on the watch.

The image of the wandering shepherd keeping watch over his sheep to the point where he is willing to lay down his life for their safety, is the image Jesus uses about himself in today’s gospel. That mixture of tenderness and strength, care and self-sacrifice, always giving, always on the watch out for others, is one that best expresses the leadership of Jesus. His is a leadership of self-sacrificial love for the good of others at all times. The authority of Jesus is an authority of love. In his life Jesus sought out the lost and the weary, the stray and the outcast, the least and the most wounded. When he wanted to speak about the tenderness of God’s love, he told a parable about a shepherd, who, when he loses one sheep, leaves the rest and searches until he finds the lost one. Jesus refuses to accept the loss of one sheep as just “one of those things”. All lives matter to Jesus and to the very end Jesus gave totally of himself in giving, loving and sacrificing. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.” (St. John: 10:11.)

It has been over a year since covid-19 led to the world’s sudden and prolonged lockdown. The past year has been a time of struggles, trials and difficulties, causing us to see anew the world around us as we have never seen it before. We have often felt isolated, fearful, alone and uncertain. Many are grieving because of the death of loved ones, many are still recovering from covid-19, some still very sick in hospitals. We have felt the loss of normal human touching, being close to others, enjoying life, hobbies, allowing our children and young people live their adventures. Loss and grief in many ways have been the fabric of our lives since March 2020. We hunger and desire to  ‘shepherded’ lovingly, caringly and kindly in ways that give encouragement, hope and affirmation that we are loved. We have each made our own journeys differently. Saint Benedict reminds us that we are not alone on our journeys. God is with us. “See how God’s love is with us in trials.”  I often use his prayer and I share it with you. “O God, from Whom we turn, we fall: to Whom to be turned, is to rise and in Whom we stand, is to abide forever with you. Grant us O God, in all our difficulties, your guidance, in all our dangers, your protection, and in all our sorrows, your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (From St. Benedict’s, O God be with us.)

In Jesus we experience the fullness of God’s love for us. In Jesus we see the true shepherding of God, a shepherding never taken away from us, no matter how much we fail, fall or sin. As we are told in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” Indeed, we belong to God in a beautiful way of deep love, mystery and wonderment. Our Shepherd-God, fully revealed in Jesus, assures us that we are constantly “shepherded”. May we be hope-filled on this Good Shepherd Sunday and may we too be good shepherds to one another. I wish all parishioners God’s blessings for this week. Fr. Tony.