Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherds
The Ainsley family of Iowa received exciting news. They knew that they had distant relatives in Scotland, and once went over to visit them, but they didn’t realize what an impact this visit had on one of these people. While they were in Scotland, they met an elderly relative, Uncle MacAllistair. They spent quite a bit of time with him talking about their active Catholic Parish in Iowa. Uncle MacAllistar had mentioned that his part of the family had remained Catholic despite the persecutions of the sixteens and seventeenth centuries, He also said that it would be wonderful if they could move back to Scotland to strengthen the faith there. The Ainsleys went back home to Iowa. About five years later, the Ainsley’s received notice that Uncle MacAllistair had passed away. Three months after this, the Ainsleys learned that he had left them all his property. Among his other holdings, Uncle MacAllistar had a wool business that turned a little profit every year. The Ainsleys decided to go to Scotland to investigate whether they should continue the business. Upon arriving they found a farm with a flock of 400 sheep grazing on the hills. This all seemed wonderful until they began going over the business ledgers. They learned that five years earlier, there had been a thousand sheep. So they asked the business manager about this, and he said that a lot of people had moved and it's hard to find good help.
"But why have the number of sheep gone down?” the Ainsleys asked.
"Well,” the manager said, “there was a flood one year, another year we had trouble with thieves, but basically speaking, there aren't a whole lot of people willing to go into the hills and risk health and life for the animals."
Good shepherds are hard to find. A good shepherd has to recognize the value of the sheep. A good shepherd has to be willing to take risks to protect the sheep. A good shepherd has to care.
A long time ago I used to teach in a high school. I taught math and science and, of course, religion. I also coached cross country and track. It was fun. I had a lot of good experiences in the classroom and at the meets. But I also had the horrible experience of coming upon teachers who did little to nothing for their students. I remember one history teacher who would have a Teen read from the textbook every day. On test day he would circulate a test prepared by the textbook manufacturer. During his classes the kids would fool around, their noise often drowned the reader. The teacher would just sit there. He knew many would fail the test. Big deal. He didn't care.
My guess is that some of you have come upon parents who behave in a similar way regarding their children. They let their high school kids stay out late, even on school nights. They claim that they don’t have the energy to be bothered with a fight. If their Teen gets in trouble, that's his or her problem. As parents, they just don't care. I remember a Teen from one of these families crying out, “Why don’t my parents love me?” I think all of us have come upon similar sad situations.
And we probably have also come upon people in our work or careers who behave the same way. It is one thing when a person is learning how to do a task, or if a person is overwhelmed with work. We can understand that. But all of us have a difficult time understanding people who don’t do their jobs simply because they don’t care. I am embarrassed to tell you, that I have even come upon priests who behave in this way.
Along with shirking their responsibility, the uncaring teacher, parent and priest also communicate a terrible negativity to those entrusted to their care. They tell them that they have little value. They are not worth being concerned over.
That is not how the Lord treats us. Jesus cares. He is the Good Shepherd. He values each of us. He goes whatever extra distance each of us needs to bring us back into his flock. He died for all of us. He died for each of us. His care for us gives us value: we are important to the Eternal Son of God.
The Lord calls us to give value to his people by caring for them. St. Damien of Molokai wrote about a leper who was given a blanket someone had sent in answer to one of Damien’s appeals for help. The man held the blanket close to himself and cried. He asked Fr. Damien if he could be buried with it. You see, to this man, this wasn’t just a blanket. It was proof that there were people in the world who cared for him. I was thinking about the congregation of sisters that St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa, founded. The poorest of the poor whom the Missionaries of Charity care for die with the dignity which is the right of every human being. They received this dignity because the good sisters care.
We have got to continue the mission of the Good Shepherd. We have got to care for others. We can't close our eyes to someone who needs help. We have to empower them to stand on their own two feet, but no matter what their situation, no matter what hard words or feelings may have been expressed, we can never cut them off from our care. This particularly applies to the members of our family. It is so sad to hear about people who exclude members of their family from their love. “But he did this, she did that, Father,” they may protest. Yes, and that was horrible. But he or she has a right to dignity. He or she needs us to care about them and for them.
God formed us into his children. Now we must bring the love of our Father to all, just as Jesus did. We have to care. Then we can be good shepherds.