This weekend’s Gospel reading focuses on the relationship between the Good Shepherd and flock but so much of what it says can be applied to our own life also. Our relationship with those ‘in charge’ of us changes dramatically when we sense that not only are they in charge, but they truly care about us and are committed to our wellbeing. Rather than resisting their guidance we learn to appreciate that all they do is aimed at our good. The Good Shepherd ‘lays down his life for his sheep’. Similarly we are blessed with people in our lives who have often laid down their lives for us by putting our needs before their own, by sacrificing themselves so that we might have greater opportunities in life, by setting aside their own interests to care for us and support us through difficult and vulnerable moments in life. The gospel is an invitation to remember in gratitude all those who have ‘shepherded’ us and continue to do so today. It may be a parent, a spouse or partner, a son or daughter, a friend or neighbour, a carer or home-help– extraordinary people who go out of their way to care for us and look after us when we need it most.
Jesus also speaks of the freedom of the Good Shepherd in laying down his life. Faced with the needs of others, we can at times feel trapped into looking after them: caught by duty, obligation, or guilt. We can become like the hired hands doing a job without truly caring for the person. Perhaps we have experienced both attitudes, caring for others under duress and caring for others by your free choice. The attitude and heart we bring to caring for others makes all the difference, even in circumstances where we feel little option. Caring for others is not always easy and is not always appreciated, but if we can learn to see it as an opportunity rather than a burden or obligation, it can become for both the carer and the cared an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience. May God grant us the heart of the Good Shepherd in our shepherding and caring of each other. Fr Seán