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Shepherds to my soul
Fourth Sunday of Easter John 10:11-18 Don Headley
As children, we pretty much get led around by others. Considering how clumsy I still am and how clumsy I was as a child, that is and perhaps always was a very good situation for me. The trouble is that, after a certain height and weight, people expect us to stumble around on our own.
There has been a lot of shepherding in my life. What that meant really never came to me until I found out how terribly dumb sheep are. They are not merely ignorant or misinformed; they are dumb. For this reason I will never try to be shepherd to anyone; almost everyone is smarter than I am.
However, I will try to give you some idea of the shepherds, some needed, some useless and most of them frustrated, in my poor and struggling life.
Mothers are always smarter than we are. If you are a mother, you know this. The knowledge comes in the birthing process. No one can hurt that much and still not be smarter. My mother is still much smarter than I in spite of the encyclopedic quantity of stupidities that I have stuffed into my brain. Notice that I do not talk about quality. There are a lot of wasted, over and under-stuffed fissures in the folds of my gray matter.
One of the wisest processes that my mother shepherded me through had to do with baseball. I know personally that the CUBS are cursed from the beginning of time. My mother still tells me this. But I first learned it together with stories of Zeke Bonura, the greatest flag man in the history of first base, while sitting on my mother's knee (only one ticket that way and it cost seventy-five cents) behind the bull pen in the old and excellent but demised Comiskey Park. Ted Lyons taught me this as he tried his cap on my head. Shepherding certainly has to do with wisdom given away to the ignorant.
In days when physical therapy was unknown I was paralyzed. No one knew quite what to do with me. My legs, arms and face did not work right. I could hear and learn but my body was twisted, amorphous, without feeling. When everyone else was afraid to touch me, some, because I might break, and others, because they did not want to catch what I was or had, my father kept lifting me out of bed and carrying me to the dining room table that still bore the marks where my brother had tried to saw off the leg. He sat me at its corner and encouraged me over and over to grasp the table leg and shinny up to the top. From there I stumbled and fell and tried again until I could finally stand. In my spare time, which was almost all of time, my father made me pick up marbles with my toes. I, ignorant and foolish, kept asking myself, "Why the pain and the bother; I will never walk." But my father, without a lot of words, shepherded me into human living once again.
...I will never try to be shepherd to anyone; almost everyone is smarter than I am.
There are others who try to be shepherds. Bishops carry around a shepherd's staff and lay claim to all the directive attributes of mothers and fathers. They claim to know best even when they burn you at the stake. My personal observation and feeling about bishops is that they are never chosen because of what they have done but for what they have not done. In these modern times, most professionals and factory workers (and certainly mothers) seem to know more than priests and bishops do about almost any subject. This makes life very difficult for those who would shepherd.
Bishops sometimes believe that shepherding re-quires inquisition. Another professor and I were once tried for heresy; I enjoyed the trial immensely and felt, along with the three examiners, that I won at the trial. But most interesting to me was what the bishops felt was pastoral. On the last page of the accusations which I pilfered from under a bishop's nose (They had not given us copies so I felt free to steal.), it said that, if "convicted", we would be stripped of our benefices (I was in the poorest parish in the world.) and handed over to the civil authorities (by name, Colonel Manuel Antonio Noriega!).
Most of us have seen the Paulist film about Bishop Romero's life and resurrection; Of all the bishops I have known, Romero, whom I truly loved, was shepherd and yet never treated people like sheep.
John's text for today points out that there is really only one characteristic of shepherds that counts. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Think about it; who from today's Church would die for you? John mentions the giving of one's life for others five times in only seven verses. For him, there is no other sign of shepherding. As with the prophets, however, we never know who the real one is until all that is said comes true. It is the same with the shepherd; we never know who the real one is until the life is given and forfeit.
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