(John 10:1-10) I’m never sure whether I should feel insulted when Jesus refers to His followers as “sheep.” I like to think of myself as being fairly intelligent and a leader, yet sheep aren’t well known for possessing either of these qualities. But if we think about it for a moment, we will see why the comparison works.
Like sheep, we do stray and lose our way in life. And like our wooly counterparts, we have a shepherd who cares for us and protects us from harm. Sheep know their shepherd’s voice and follow him. They recognize that he is the one to keep them safe and lead them to green pastures. “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers” (Jn 10:5). In light of Jesus’ words, perhaps we should strive to become even more like sheep! When we inevitably wander and become lost, the Lord will gently call us back, if only we listen for His voice. How often do we see where God is leading us, yet choose to go our own way?
Last year, Pope Francis made a comment that was very interesting. He said that priests should be shepherds who “smell like their sheep.”1 In other words, they should be amongst the people, working closely and ministering to them. It’s important to realize that we aren’t on this journey alone. God has chosen our pope, bishops, and priests to be our earthly shepherds, to support us through prayer and sacrifice, and to give us the sacraments.
But it seems we have a part to play as well. Do our shepherds recognize us as part of the flock? To continue with Pope Francis’ analogy, do we smell like sheep? Are we striving to do God’s will and sincerely trying to live out our Catholic faith? Speaking to lay people, Pope Francis said, “Be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.”2 The truth is, we need each another. We need shepherds, and they need us, the lay faithful.
How appropriate then that today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, a special day set aside to pray for our priests and religious. As a Church, we have been blessed with many wonderful vocations – holy men and women who inspire and lead us with lives of faithful service and sacrifice. But God is calling many more! Let us pray that they will respond to this call and that a culture of vocations will take root in our world. Our Heavenly Father has called each of us into existence and wants us to use our lives to enrich the world with His love. Today and every day, may we come to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling us to follow Him, so that ultimately He will lead us home.
– Kelley Holy
“For you were going away like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:25