During a trip to Ireland, I had an opportunity to visit friends of mine who lived outside of a city. Late into the evening, my friend’s husband offered to drive me back to my hotel. It was a dark night, lit up only by the car’s headlights. All of a sudden, as we rounded a curve in a very hilly section of the countryside, we came upon a herd of sheep sleeping on the asphalt of the road leading back into the city, making the way impassable. After much honking and flashing of lights, which was utterly unsuccessful, my driver left the car to shoo enough of the sheep off the road so we could continue on our way. I concluded that sheep are either very stubborn or intellectually challenged!
I can relate with those sheep on both scores. For this reason, my favorite image of Jesus is as the Good Shepherd, an image that appears in the liturgy twice this week and often at other times during the year.
In various forms of art, we see Jesus depicted as the Good Shepherd, surrounded by rams, ewes, and lambs. Usually, Jesus seems so attentive to them as if these creatures were his very favorites. And, maybe they are. It comforts me to think that the least among God’s creatures also might be very special to him. Like the sheep, I can be very stubborn or spiritually challenged and wonder if the Lord could ever consider me special.
Sometimes we can feel so spiritually challenged that we find it difficult to respond even to the greatest outreach from our Savior. At other times, we have no sense of direction in the way we need to go in order to grow spiritually. Perhaps we are just numb to the promptings of the Spirit. This is not unusual. Many people go through this. We have heard of the “dark night of the soul” that was experienced by St. John of the Cross, Mother Theresa, Catherine de Hueck Doherty and others.
It is reassuring to me to know that Jesus stands next to me, or even holds me at times, not expecting anything from me – just there with me – patient, loving , caring, and even protective when necessary. But he is always there, whether I am numb to him or not, whether I am stubborn in my own ways or not. If I go bounding off too far in the wrong direction, he goes out after me and uses his staff to pull me in to keep me close. Our Lord is an all-knowing and ever-faithful shepherd. The Lord is truly my Shepherd.
Recently a psalm I prayed at Lauds, or Morning Prayer, had this verse: “The Lord protects his people. He protects and saves his chosen. Save your people, Lord, and bless those who are yours. Be their Shepherd and take care of them forever” (Ps 28:9).
By Sister Veronica Ryan, OSB