Lord, Shepherd Me
“Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life” is the refrain from a liturgical song by Marty Haugen. Frequently heard at Masses as the refrain of the responsorial psalm, it reflects the theme of today’s readings. In fact, today is called: Good Shepherd Sunday.
Now, allow your imagination to move from today back to the “60s” (not the “1960s”) and travel to Rome. Many people were becoming Christians and their faith was being severely tested. Both Saints Peter and Paul had been martyred between 64 and 67 under the persecution of Emperor Nero. Christians were being thrown to the lions in the coliseum [to commemorate their sacrifice the Pope makes the way of the cross in the coliseum on Good Friday]. In a word, being a Christian demanded deep faith—even to the point of death.
One response of the Christians was to literally go “under-ground”; they met in the catacombs both to worship and bury their dead. What paintings did these early Christians place on the catacomb walls? The earliest and most frequent image was that of the Good Shepherd. Even in the most difficult of times, Christians felt Jesus’ closeness to them.
Quite naturally we can say (along with the early Christians): “The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack nothing…. He guides me…. I fear no harm” (Psalm 23). We hear Jesus’ words spoken to us: “I am the good shepherd; I lay down my life for my sheep; I know my own and my own know me” (John 10). Our faith is indeed a great source of consolation!
Frequently, when we think of shepherds in the Church, we naturally—and correctly—think of the guiding role of the bishops, religious, and priests. However, the task can also be very validly applied to the pivotal role that others play in the Christian community, e.g. parents in the family, workers in a NGO seeking to protect migrants’ rights, a marriage counselor assisting struggling couples. Friends, along with the help of Jesus, you are to be a true shepherd for needy persons. Shepherding (it takes many forms) is your pathway to holiness.
On this “Good Shepherd Sunday” I choose to end this reflection on a very practical note by offering two concrete suggestions. First, you may wish to consider having two images of Christ present in the home. Of course, the crucifix is essential. You may also wish to purchase a picture of Christ the Good Shepherd with the sheep on his shoulder; it will serve as a reminder to imitate the “chief shepherd” Christ in your ministry.
Finally, give yourself a special treat. Listen to the beautiful song “Shepherd me, O God” by Marty Haugan. It is available free; simply google: haugen shepherd. Indeed, it will lead you—and those you shepherd—beyond your wants and fears into a deep contemplation of the Good Shepherd.
James H. Kroeger, MM
Good Shepherd Sunday
O blessed Lamb of God and Shepherd
of the House of Israel, come to our aid
when we wander far from your truth
or stray from the path of righteousness.
Like you, may we sacrifice ourselves
for the good of your people and
with you , may we seek, find and lead back
all who have strayed from your flock.
Comfort those who mourn,
strengthen the weak and frail,
protect from all harm those
who are in danger for love of you.
Amid the noise and confusion
of the world around us
let us listen for and hear your voice
heeding your call to holiness and
wholeness in your presence.
Holy Shepherd, bless all who lead
others back to you, teachers, preachers,
doctors and nurses, parents and counselors
that we might truly become one flock and one shepherd
in Christ’s name we pray.
Prayer by Father Joe Veneroso, M.M.