Fr. Barron says he's heard sheep that bleat as if they were a child in distress. It reminded of a couple years ago when a friend introduced me to a hilarious youtube video of "goats screaming like humans." See, I don't do much pop-culture for myself, I have to get it through other people: my friends, teens at the high school, other priests, or even my parents who introduced me to Duck Dynasty. But the fact that sheep have a voice that is sometimes very much like our own may be kind of creepy, but also it makes the symbolism all the more clear.
The Lord is our shepherd, and we are his sheep. And sheep can be stubborn, ignorant, and foolish, as I discovered in a great short story by Andre Dubus, who talked about how difficult it was for him to be kind to the sheep that his family was in charge of for one summer in his childhood. The sheep would eat from trees that would make them sick, would themselves cut up on the fence as they broke free and wandered out where coyotes ate them at night. In short, sheep can do unintelligent things. But despite all the annoying ways we harm ourselves, our shepherd Jesus loves us infinitely.
The Latin word for "shepherd" is "pastor," and pastors are called to take care of their parish like Jesus does for us when he literally died to save us. I'd like to share about my time in Italy with Fr. Dan and the fiasco of the Good Shepherd statue. We had seen the Vatican Museums enough times in recent past to be busy about other things, but Fr. Dan had to go and see if this statue was still there in the museums, on our last day, two or so hours before we had to meet Pope Benedict XVI. So we go to the museums - the line was quick - and we head in straight for the "gift shop." And there is this beautiful replica of a statue modeled off of the oldest existing image of Christ Jesus: as a young man carrying a lamb on his shoulders. We have our own larger replica right next to the entrance of the education center. Fr. Dan had an idea for this statue: place it above the garage of the new rectory that was being built at St. Vincent's. As we plotted how to make this work, (could he carry it onto the plane? how about checked baggage? how about leaving it at the US seminary for a while?) we eventually decided the best would be to just ship it home now. Fr. Dan committed to buying it, and it was boxed up very slowly and carefully, taped like crazy, wheeled to the curb, loaded in a car with all the other knick-knacks, and we went straight to the closest DHL (the European version of UPS). Another 30 minutes were spent here is they measured and weighed the shipments (Fr. Dan couldn't but just one thing!) and we were told how much it would cost: yikes! Fr. Dan was short, very short. I had nothing. They said to go to an ATM, but news flash, Fr. Dan doesn't believe in credit cards! So luckily, very very luckily, my credit card gave me cash though I'd never done this before (I can't believe I even guessed my passcode correctly!). We got the dough, and were able to leave the package with them, praying that it would make the rest of the pilgrimage as smoothly as it started.
Apparently it did. I have a picture of it on my blog. This weekend that statue will be in front of the altar and in the evening (on Sunday) carried to the rectory and placed in its permanent home, a perpetual reminder to every priest what he is called to be: a living model every day of the Lord's cross, which gives us life. And the place where we experience the Good Shepherd picking us up and carrying us on his shoulders all the way to heaven is right here in the Mass, as well as all the sacraments, but especially here. In the Eucharist we see what the Good Shepherd does: he gives all the way to the end so that we may have the fullness of life. Today these children are receiving their First Communion. The life of the Good Shepherd is given to you today in a new way, in the deepest way we can experience before we go to heaven. With you we all can now pray "Jesus, thank you for loving us as the Good Shepherd, and help us to live in that love all our days. Amen"