I know a lot of us are marking this American holiday today. It is Mother’s Day! Happy Mother’s Day!
It also is Easter Season and the 4th Sunday of it always gives us a Good Shepherd theme in the Word.
According to someone who knows more than I on the matter, there are two kinds of shepherds in Israel. There are northern shepherds and southern shepherds. They lead sheep differently. The northern shepherds lead their sheep by ranging out in front of their flock. They are always ahead of the flock, pulling the sheep onward, and sometimes so far out ahead – searching for fresh water and new territory – that the flock cannot see them. On the other hand, the southern type of shepherd stays with their flock. The southern shepherd even stays at the back of the flock and pushes them forward – tending and caring and cajoling.”
Which type of shepherds have you had, as priests or parents or teachers/coaches/ employers? Which did you like, and when, and how did they help you? What type of shepherd person are you, when you have to lead someone in something?
As for moms… Some moms are like the northern style, leading by ranging far out in front of the flock. One mom was a trailblazer kind of a lady, and her daughter, who is a friend of mine, took mostly the leadership and career model example of her mom—or, as it may, the shepherding style. Her mom was out front in the work force, in the corporate world, and successful in it, leading her daughter’s path to follow in the same. Like the northern shepherd style. The daughter saw her mom quite busy and happy in the working world of Washington, now the daughter has started in the same. She saw while being young at 2/ home that it was her mom’s balancing duties there, that was the method used, via the help of a home-cook and an au pair arrangement with the family. Someone cooked on Mon-Thursday and Sunday nights; and the au pair worked Mon through Saturday, with some college school classes fit in for the cultural exchange young adult. The daughter saw that home and work model all of her growing up, and she is following a similar path, like her mother showed.
Another few persons I know as friends had a stay-at-home mom, working part-time or in a work-from-home job. They say that their mom model was more of the southern shepherd style, with more being alongside company, in the moms serving time with the family children, at home, school, and activities. The home mom also often included other siblings in the picture, and mom seemed to be the walk along and push forward kind of person or shepherd, as it may, to the kids. The youth, then, under this model, tended to have more home skills of house repair, cooking, clothes care like sewing, making things, being crafty, having mom as soccer coach, too, and things like that.
As I go over these moms models, you can see that the northern or southern style, leading as ahead, or going along with or behind—these ways of doing things also work in schools, parishes, workplaces, organizations. Both ways work, and both have their challenges.
I’ve not been a mom, but have known and watched many from my three decades plus in parishes and schools and ministries. I have watched them operate, and they are like shepherds. As for me, priest ministry often feels like shepherding work, or, as I call it sometimes, sheep dog work, rounding up the sheep into the right place to feed and be safe.
Well, I’ve actually tried both ways of northern and southern-style shepherding in my own ministry. I’ve succeeded at both, and I’ve failed at both. But I’ve also learned that the northern style works in certain cases, and the southern style in others, better. Sometimes I just set an 3/ example as being the leader as out ahead, like a forerunner, but in parish activity I don’t micromanage them, but let ministries and people start things on their own, seeing that they can be done, and succeed, and that I’ll bless it, but also let it go on its own, without much interference or control from me. The ministries are northern style to my northern style.
In other times, and probably more the case with me, I have been right there doing the ministry with the parish people, as one of them, walking alongside of them, urging them on to live the gospel. I’ve shown the how to’s on the spot, saying this is the way to serve Christianity or of how to practice it. I’m an up close and personal pastor, in that way, as in the southern style.
Shepherds come in just as many styles as sheep do. Sometimes our church needs the northern style of shepherding, and sometimes we need the southern style. We have sheep that like the one style, and sheep that will better follow the other. Sometimes we need southern shepherding, and sometimes we need northern. And if there is an eastern, and western style of shepherding—then so be it, let’s be led aright by God, if it works in leading people in the way we ought to go, then, let’s go for it.
Where are we all supposed to head for? We Catholics know the answer: We all go to Jesus, the Head of this whole operation. He is the Good Shepherd (John 10) and He is the Chief Shepherd, as 1st Peter 5:4-6 calls Him. As we get led into Glory, it says: “…when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will each and together win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, to be led to this victory, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time.”
4/I hear these Petrine letter verses speak to shepherding as needing the qualities of humility, and grace, and due respect, and a spirit for unity. Moms do well with those qualities, and many of us know from seeing it lived out before us as their children, grandchildren, step-children and others in mentored lives to their mothering.
This shepherd idea and motherhood idea reminds us that, sometimes we need warm and cuddly, tender loving care. And sometimes we need correction and direction. After all, those entrusted to care for us have to reprimand sometimes. When sheep want to go their own way; good shepherds have to corral them back. They have to use curved sticks, staffs or crooks, to grab their flocks by the neck and pull them back into line. When that happens, it does not feel good. It feels like the shepherd does not respect us and love us. We may cry and want to leave the flock; but the good shepherd is not going to let us, no matter how hard we cry.
Mothering is like shepherding; they both come in all shapes and sizes, in all different styles. But the good shepherds, like good godly mothers, share one critical character. The good shepherd, says Jesus, “lays down their life for the sheep.” The good shepherd is unselfish.
Now, I know we all need a little self-centered care, in taking respect to our needs. We must think of ourselves in order to survive, and even to help others. But let us speak about selfishness today. There is so much of it, that many disqualify themselves quickly from being any good kind of leader or shepherd or caretaker. Have you noticed the massive load of selfishness which pervades our time right now? Everything has to be about #1, the mighty me. Too quickly, a person judges a situation only by the criteria: “What’s in it for me?” That feeds a way of greed and lust for wanting more and more, but caring less and less about others. Jesus instead says, as a Good Shepherd, that we are to: “Love one another” 5/ and “serve one another” and to deny our selfish side, so as to take up a Cross of caring, so to follow Him in the Way Home.
Yet as I listen to all the squabbling in society; it’s a babble of selfishness of people always wanting something for #1, and not so much for any common good. Thank goodness for some moms who taught us better sense than that, so as not to get lost in that direction. (Well, they taught us, but did we listen?!)
The opposite of selfishness is caring for the other. In fact, the opposite of selfishness is being a good shepherd. “The good shepherd lays down his life,” says The Lord. The gospel for today is not just about how Jesus is a good shepherd on His own; but maybe it is that He wants to keep living that life through our own consent and through our surrendered persons. The Good Shepherd wants our availability for His works.
Let the heart of the Good Shepherd in us help us to become and stay as the Christian we ought to be.
How can we be a Good-Shepherd-led person? Well, first thing is: Ask: Who do I shepherd? Who am I shepherding right now? Who ought I care for and how—as guided by Jesus in me? Of whom am I consciously trying to care for, and to shepherd along life’s way, even in service of the Chief Shepherd, for the main path of their getting to Heaven? Whom am I nurturing, in love? Who am I guiding along a rocky path to get to a smooth one? For whom have I gone out looking to bring back from their being lost and afraid? Have I ever heard the cries of someone, and turned around from one direction, to go help someone? Like a shepherd, have I risked anything for ‘a sheep,’ like scrambling down mountain rocks in order to save the one who fell? On a mother’s day application: whose hair are you brushing, as a shepherd might tend to the sheep’s wool? Who have you cleaned up after? Who are you cleaning up for?
7/ Mothers who do it all for the love of the Lord have a great motivation. That inspiration is to great benefit from their receivers.
Jesus said that the good shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep. And Jesus did. The sheep, that is, the disciples, did not understand exactly what that meant – even after it happened – but they believed Him anyway. Essentially, Jesus wanted to show the world what the real power of love is. The power of love is such that Jesus could let the rulers of this world crucify him, he could let the rulers of this world deny love – but love would not deny them. Jesus was resurrected from the dead to show us that love always wins. Alleluia! He keeps loving us, leading us to Glory.
There will be people in our lives who show us the same thing. They will deny their very self, even lay down their lives, for our sakes, because they love us. They are the greatest people. On mother’s day, we know that their category leads the way in this example. Bravo to them! What courage it is to lay down their life for someone whom they love! That is what mothers will do, even when they do not want to do it. They will delay their own fulfillment and gratification in order that their children can enjoy fulfillment. And, of course, it is not just mothers who do this. It is anyone in a mothering role, even a father, or a godmother, or a grandmother, or a woman with a caring heart to another. They are all good shepherds, who lay down their lives for those they love. Yes, we do give thanks for them today.
The Blessed Mother is to be thanked for her role in the Church, too. She is a real good mother! She teaches us how the journey out of selfishness is the journey to being a good shepherd and serving others, even in her maid-servant of the Lord example. She’s perhaps the great northern shepherd example for us now, having triumphed in her Immaculate Heart and Assumption and being in her place with God now above.
She lived what Psalm 23 has taught us. There is a secret in praying: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I shall not live in slavery of “the want” I have but I shall desire of what God has for me and to do His will.