|Good Shepherd, circa 300 AD, Vatican Museum|
How appropriate that the Easter season continues with this reassuring revelation of who Christ is for each of us. These times are so confused and confusing--so disturbed and disturbing--that it's hard not to wind up wandering around like wayward sheep. It's hard not to be swayed and misled by the ideologies and ideologues of our times. It's hard not to let evil drive us to fear and to teeter on the edges of despair.
But somehow in these alienated and alienating times, we sense that this bucolic image speaks to our deepest needs. With the Psalmist, we long to cry out, "The Lord is my shepherd...Even though I walk through the dark valley, I shall not fear" (Ps 23:1,4). The Good Shepherd speaks to a time of darkness because it points us toward an even more penetrating light, a Person who will care for each of us individually.
Indeed, the Gospel's revelation of the Good Shepherd makes sense only in the light of the Resurrection. "Jesus said: 'My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (Jn 10:27). But how could he dare to call us his sheep and identify himself as our shepherd, unless he were willing to lay down his life for us--as any good shepherd would? And how could we hear his voice and follow him, here and now, unless he has already conquered death?
So this week, let's lift up in prayer anyone we know who needs to meet the Good Shepherd--those people who are longing for Christ to carry them on his shoulders to greener pastures. Some people are victims of evil directly willed by others; others find themselves beaten down by structural sins; and many people suffer from the consequences of their own bad decisions. But, regardless of what is dragging us down, we are all offered the same "lift" from the Lord.
This week in the Diocese of Joliet, we are raising up a particular group of people to the Good Shepherd. Since April is Child Abuse Prevention & Awareness Month, the diocese has announced that Friday, April 26th, will be a day of prayer and fasting for victims of sexual abuse. The scourge of sexual abuse by priests has wounded so many individuals and families. It has been a tragic chapter in the history of the Church. It has been a dark valley, indeed--out of which only a Good Shepherd could safely lead us.
Fortunately, thanks to strong leadership at the U.S. Bishops Conference and thanks to the witness of our recent Holy Fathers, the Church has renewed its commitment to child and youth protection. Among the lay faithful there is also a better understanding of the widespread reality of sexual abuse. Much work still needs to be done to reach out to past victims and their families, however. And it needs to begin with prayer and fasting. Personally, I'm a particularly poor faster. But each of us can each offer a small sacrifice or mini-mortification in reparation for the pain and suffering that others have been enduring. Each of us can pray that the Lord will continue to bring healing to all those who have been affected by this particular evil.
In the end, everyone who has suffered evil in any way needs to hear what the Good Shepherd says of his sheep: "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand" (Jn 10:28).