Planting the Seed: be firm but calm
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, where we pray especially for more religious Vocations.
However, Vocations to religious life come from family life. And, in theology, the Sacraments of Holy Orders (priesthood) and Marriage are often studied together.
Parents are the first Good Shepherds that every person is given (although we must acknowledge that some are abusive shepherds: sometimes by choice but often because it’s their own experience). The struggle of parents to raise their children is a great analogy for the challenge God faces when trying to shepherd us, the people of God.
At different times in a child’s life, there is stubbornness that parents have to confront: do they overcome by power, persuasion and/or patience. Let’s see the example of Paul and Barnabas:
In the First Reading they try to be good shepherds for the people in a particular place. But some people liked the Good News and others did not: afraid to change their beliefs?
The majority of people who believed quickly were those who had Pagan religions. And this is a key point for us to understand ourselves, today.
I’m sure that the Pagans became believers because they heard about God in a completely new way: a way that was at once friendly and God’s desire to be familiar with each of us.
The contrast with the Pagan religions was significant, because the Pagan Gods – in general – ruled by fear, punishment and making sure everyone knew they were more important.
Christianity is completely different: being the only religion that believes God became flesh and suffered for us. It is us, in general, who puts God in an exulted place, while God frequently “lowers” down to be part of our daily struggles. You see this in the birth of Jesus, the death of Jesus, and the perseverance of Jesus teaching while being rejected.
Paul and Barnabas have done their “work”: they shared the Good News and now it will be the action of the Holy Spirit to nurture those seeds into new life. Although they felt insulted at the rejection by the Jewish leaders, they should not have been.
It’s normal to reject ideas, initially, that we’re not familiar with. What’s important is that we “chew them over” and, with time and the Holy Spirit, we’ll determine if they should be adopted or continue rejecting them.
Just as parents – after a bit of experience! – come to know that children will often be quick to reject and later accept, so God also understands us: God is patient with us!
Although, at times it might seem like God is punishing us for disobedience, think of it this way: in the old days it is said that when a shepherd had a lamb that runs away a lot, he might decide to break one leg and carry the lamb on his shoulders until it mends.
In this way, they become bonded to each other and stay close to each other. It may sound harsh, but when the lamb runs away it’s in serious danger of being killed by wild animals.
So, which is wiser: to break a leg and save a life, or keep talking and lose a life? Now, please, I’m not saying God breaks our legs, I think we do that to ourselves!!
Good Shepherds, like good parents, do as Jesus says in our Gospel: “I give them eternal life;” parents and religious have a serious duty to maintain the truth even when everybody is doing the opposite, so that the children and people can always come back to the Truth… as the Prodigal Son said: let me come to my senses and return to my father.
As most parents know, children don’t always listen but they always watch what parents do. In the same way, to keep the Truth alive, religious must preach first of all by their way of life.
And in that way, what Jesus says next will be true: “they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.”
The message today has two parts:
1. To the young people: God understands the struggle to believe the Good News.
Keep trying to do good and never think God has given up on you, even if you reject God.
2. To the parents and teachers in our world: don’t worry too much when your children reject your teachings: keep living the teachings and they will eventually see the Wisdom of God.
Sometimes, to discover the importance of something, we need to lose it. Don’t be harsh when family or friends drift away from the Church for a time.
Let us recognise today, that our simple perseverance and faithfulness in going to Church is an important voice in our world: and it gets even stronger when we act like Jesus outside.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI