Participating regularly in our faith communities … creates the unity necessary to care for each other
Today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” – a time when we encourage young men and women to consider a religious vocation. However, it’s a good time to reflect on our common religious vocation, as Christians baptised into the priestly ministry of Christ: to care for one another.
Now, how do we understand what we mean by saying God is a Good Shepherd?
Perhaps this story will open our minds to the amazing act that God has done for us.
“The Drawbridge Keeper” (1997): There was once a moveable bridge that spanned a river. During most of the day, the bridge was turned sideways to allow ships to pass through freely. But at certain times each day, a train would come along and the bridge would be turned back across the river, allowing the train to cross over safely. A switchman on one side of the river operated the controls to turn the bridge and lock it into place as each train crossed.
One evening the switchman was waiting for the last train of the day to come… At the right time, he stepped into the control room and turned the bridge into position; but, to his horror, he saw the locking control didn’t work. If the bridge was not secured it would cause the train to derail and crash into the river. This was a passenger train with many people aboard.
So he hurried across the bridge to the other side, where he could operate the lock manually (if he let go the bridge would move). Then, coming across the bridge from the control room, his four-year-old son was crossing the bridge calling out: “Daddy, where are you?” The train was now very close: he could not leave the lever to grab his son and get back before the train came.
He stayed at the lever and the train sped safely and swiftly on its way, and no one on-board was aware of the tiny broken body knocked into the river. Nor did they see the father crying. Nor did they see him walking home to tell his wife that their son had died.
There are three painful parts to this story: a child died, the parents suffered (our shepherds), and the fact that no-one even noticed the sacrifice that was made for them. They classify this story as an inspirational parable: making the sacrifice of Jesus more understandable for us. How many people truly appreciate what God allowed to happen for our benefit?
Thankfully, most of us are not called on to make such radical decisions.
When we reflect on this story it’s helpful to ask another question: What if it was a group of brothers and sisters – all from the same family – on the train?
Most people would say it makes sense to save the most children in your family.
But now, the Good Shepherd shows how God died to save all people: not only the Israelites. It challenges us to view each other as brothers and sisters of one family.
Which would be a great blessing for world as we pass through the pandemic.
We see the richer countries trying to help their people, and many encouraging signs that they are willing to help the less wealthy countries. Of course, we can scratch out heads when one country buy vaccines greater than the population of their country!
A friend was recently sick and said, he has noticed how the number of his friends has reduced! I guess we can all be guilty of favouring people when we need them and forgetting them later.
So what is the secret of creating a society where we want to care for each other? I believe it’s coming together in good and bad times: when we feel like it, and when we don’t feel like it.
Although people think of Church as primarily the place of encountering God, or keeping God happy, Church is really the place we come together to encourage and help each other. When we gather, we put flesh on the person of Jesus Christ and transforming our communities.
As a farm boy growing up, our Church community was always concerned about its members in difficulty, and groups would be organised to visit and help those in need.
We built up our sense of being one family by coming together every week.
Most people with depression are not connected with a faith community. See the following: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychiatry-the-people/201804/spiritual-not-religious-is-associated-depression
In country areas, people are usually better at “hanging around” after Mass and chatting to each other: learning who needs help and working out who and when to help them out.
So it becomes natural and “easy” to help each other when in need. But when we stay away from the community, people are less ready to help us: we lose their safety and protection. We have even experienced it in our youth group. So, finally, today we are given a two-fold focus to achieve a blessed life: 1) protecting others; & 2) participation to strengthen our unity.
In this way out lives – although not always easy – will always have meaning, a sense of belonging, and a certainty that someone is looking out for “me”.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI