Gospel Reflection – Good Shepherd Sunday

Vocation of all Christians (John 10:11-18)

Today’s Gospel is about Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is willing to lay down his life for his flock.  This Sunday we are encouraged to pray that all who are baptised will respond to their vocation to be active members of his flock.

A new way of being Church

The Church of tomorrow will not be the same as the Church of the past.  Whether we like it or not there will have to be a new way of being Church.   Change can be very hard to face but refusal to face reality is to die.   Clerical power will be greatly reduced by the serious reduction in the number of priests, at least here in Europe.

We continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life but very few new faces arrive.  It seems clear that God is calling the Church to recognise the vocation of all baptised Christians to be missionary.  More than thirty years ago, St. John Paul II issued a document on the vocation and mission of the laity.  His stated purpose was a deeper awareness among all the baptised of the gift and responsibility they share in the communion of the Church and its mission.

Issues to be faced

There are many serious issues to be discussed.  Must it be obligatory for a priest to be celibate?  Is it possible to have part time priests available for Mass at weekends?  And the really hot potato … might there be women priests?  These are a few of the potentially divisive issues which might easily fester into a deep split or schism in the Church.  Today’s Gospel tells us that the Good Shepherd desires one flock and one shepherd.  These particular issues are important but the overriding questions ask what do we mean by Church and how do we utilize the charisms of the Sacraments of Initiation, namely Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.

A Synod means walking together.

The method favoured by Pope Francis is to gather people in a synod, a method going back to the days of the apostles and strongly recommended by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).   A synod literally means walking together.  A synod is not so much to forge agreement as to recognise, honour and reconcile differences on a higher plane where the best of each can be retained.  The key is in mutual, respectful listening.  When the Synod reconvenes next October, each session will commence with a period of silence and prayer.  There will be a time limit on every speaker.  The most important leader will be the Holy Spirit.  I would like to suggest two ideas from today’s Mass readings to guide us.

The rejected stone became the keystone.

The first idea is inspired by the Responsorial Psalm.  The stone that is rejected by the builders is later recognised as the perfect fit as the keystone to hold all of life together.  For many people today the Church is irrelevant so they have walked away in another direction.  It reminds me of the two disillusioned disciples on Easter Sunday who turned away from Jerusalem, heading for Emmaus, noted for its mineral springs.  While they were walking in the wrong direction, the Risen Lord joined them, unrecognised.  He formed a little synod with them, walking, listening, and sharing the light of scripture with them.   He did not change the fact that Jesus was crucified on Calvary.  What he did change was their way of understanding his death.  My hope is that a renewed Church, closer to the ideals of the Gospel, will attract people to see in Jesus the keystone of life.  There is an emptiness in the jigsaw of the heart that only God can fill.  GK Chesterton wrote that there were five times when the Church went to the dogs … but it was the dogs who died!

Trust in the Holy Spirit

Today’s Second Reading is an inspiration to trust in the love of God poured into our hearts through the sacrament of Baptism. “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children.  We are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:1).  Trust in the Holy Spirit who transformed the confused apostles into zealous missionaries.  I repeat this little prayer many times every day: “Come, Holy Spirit, renew the heart of the Church, renew the face of the earth.  Enkindle within us the fire of your love.”

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd, leading us, feeding us, and protecting us. At the restful waters of prayer, you revive our drooping spirits.  You guide us along the right path.  At the banquet of the Eucharist, you restore our energy.  When we walk through the valley of darkness you are there beside us.  Our vocation is to hear you and follow you. Then surely, goodness and kindness will follow us all the days of our life. In the Lord’s own house shall we dwell forever and ever.

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