Saturday, July 18, 2015

Knowing the Shepherd Closely

By Lisa Helene Donovan Bacalski

I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD. Jeremiah 23:4

The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. Psalm 23:1

Brothers and sisters: In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 34:6

Our Father, who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.

This week’s readings all contain images of God desiring nearness to his beloved people, and those people ultimately drawing closer to God. Jesus cared for the people around him like a shepherd cares for his sheep, teaching them, healing them, sometimes chastising them, and always loving them. The prayer he gave us is very much that of a trusting, faithful shepherd who knows God will provide and guide.

The image of a shepherd was deeply meaningful to the people of Palestine. Many knew shepherds or served as shepherds themselves and so understood that the work was often difficult, sometimes dangerous and yet totally essential to their way of life. Our culture has sanitized and simplified pastoral imagery to the point that lambs are sweet and goats are cute, but that’s not how it really is. Taking care of animals in a high pasture is actually smelly, hot, rainy, and cold, sometimes all in one day. Shepherding requires sacrifice and fortitude. Pope Francis has famously told priests to “be shepherds, with the ‘odor of the sheep.’”

As laity, we are called to do the same, to lead others to Christ. We do so by our closeness to those in pain or need, by our willingness to touch the untouchable and love the unlovable. Pope Francis recently reflected on the passage in Matthew 8 when Jesus touched the leper to heal him, closing the distance with an outcast and making himself unclean.  As L’Osservatore Romano reported:

“Closeness” is a “beautiful word, for each of us”, the Pope continued. We should ask ourselves: “Do I know how to draw near? Do I have the strength, do I have the courage to touch those who are marginalized?”. And “the Church, parishes, communities, consecrated men and women, bishops, priests, everyone” should also answer this question: “Do I have the courage to draw near or do I always keep my distance? Do I have the courage to close the distance, as Jesus did?”.
Pope Francis then emphasized that “now on the altar”, Jesus “will draw near to us: he will close the distance”. Therefore, “let us ask him for this grace: Lord, may I not be afraid to draw close to the needy, to the needy who are visible or to those who have hidden wounds”. This, the Pope concluded, is “the grace of drawing near”.

Take a concrete step closer to a distant relative, a neighbor or a stranger in need.

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