Caus Gleason, Ed.M.
Caus Gleason, Ed.M.
The scriptural and Easter imagery of the sheep and shepherds takes my mind straight to -Nativity pageants. I really love the sheep. I love that there’s room for all sorts of children in the role. They can be wiggly, shy, gregarious, all sizes. It makes the whole reenactment of the Christmas story a little less predictable – and much more real.
One year, all the animals, shepherds and the rest were to walk up the main aisle of the church toward Mary, Joseph, and the real, live baby at the center of the altar. During rehearsal, everyone was so excited to see the gurgling infant, there was natural crowding around the manger. The pastoral minister reminded the kids it was important to stand on the sides, so that everyone in the church could see the Holy Family during the pageant.
On the appointed day, everyone dutifully went up the aisle and stood on the sides, while the narration and music continued. But eventually, one of the sheep just couldn’t resist, and on all fours crept towards the baby. A shepherd immediately moved in. Now, I grew up New York City, and until that moment I didn’t know that the loop at the top of a shepherd’s staff is not just decorative. So I was pretty surprised when the shepherd deftly placed the hook around the sheep’s neck and pulled him back so he was not upstaging Jesus. It was Fantastic!
Shepherds and sheep abound in today’s readings, which makes sense for the many whose livelihoods depended on sheep back in the day, and whose land was better for grazing than farming. They knew that sheep are social; they generally travel together and produce wool and meat. They have great instincts for fleeing, which is important, because they’re easy prey, with no defense systems. And sheep have exceptional hearing, being able first to recognize the distinct sound of their mother, and then the call of their second protector. Sheep need shepherds to survive.
Today’s psalm, the 23rd, lifts up this imagery. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” It’s a timeless comfort, particularly when there’s deep suffering and fragility. It goes on “Lo, though I walk through the valley of death I fear no evil, for you are with me.” It is lush in imagery. It declares that God will not let us stray at the moments of deepest weakness.
On farms, in suburbs, and high-rise buildings today, we live in vulnerable times. As we make our way back from COVID, as we navigate uncertain days at school, work, and home; as we witness rises in racism, hate crimes, and mass shootings, at the same time that there’s new energy for civil rights and justice for BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities; as inflation, nationalism and violence around the world rise, we can know what it is to feel defenseless. The twenty third psalm offers comfort.
As does the Gospel’s parable of Jesus as first as shepherd, guiding and assuring safety. And for those who didn’t get that image (the Pharisees), the Gospel offers a second: Jesus as the gate, the Way to the sheepfold, where there’s safety for the flock, for us. That’s Good News.
But wait a minute. The sheep metaphor can sound all soft and fluffy, strictly comforting, but we have to do our part. Sheep hear, recognize, and respond, with a little help.
It can be more complicated for us humans. Sometimes we hear technically, but don’t listen. In our moments of bravura, we may forget that we’re vulnerable. We can get diverted by our own wrong assumptions and quick judgments, or tempted by the familiar message rather than what we really need to hear. The din of politics that polarize us, the echo of family fights can linger for an age. We need judgment without being judgmental, compassion while holding a steady course. We need cultural competence to heed Christ’s magnificent voice in those who are different from us: our own race, gender, identity, class, physical ability - you name it. We need the discipline of leaning in, listening for truth with alertness and curiosity. And while vulnerable, we need to be made of tough stuff. That’s a lot.
As we hold these questions in Easter prayer, let’s remember Christ’s combined compassion and challenge. He understands. After all, He was born among sheep, was the lamb of God, and is resurrected, is here in our midst then as now, both as shepherd and gateway.
May our reflections together help us hear the end of the psalm anew:
Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Sonia Caus Gleason, Ed.M.
Sonia Caus Gleason, Ed.M.
Sonia is a strategy and learning consultant to philanthropies and non-profits that are deepening their social and racial justice commitments. This builds on 30+ years of working extensively with organizations serving traditionally marginalized youth and communities. She has developed and sustained a range of learning cadres and cross-sector partnerships that innovate how people plan, measure, learn, improve, and reverse inequities.
A long-time member of Boston’s Paulist Center, Sonia organized a network of small communities of faith, co-chaired the development of socially responsible investment screens, and co-led a partnership to address youth violence in the city. In a variety of settings, she has planned and presided at a range of Catholic and interfaith educational sessions, retreats, and prayer services. And amidst covid, she co-founded a lay-led, virtual prayer group that has brought forth unexpected gifts of youth empowerment and intergenerational community.
Sonia has served on founding boards of the faith-based, Grace Academy for girls in Hartford (a Nativity Miguel school), and the Boston Teachers Union K-8 School. And she recently completed the Women’s Leadership Institute at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, taught by Miriam Terese Winter.
Sonia was one of the first lay lectors in her growing-up parish, thanks to the Second Vatican Council. Her spiritual guides at Dominican Academy and Connecticut College further cultivated her love of liturgy and communal prayer. She’s ever grateful for this lifelong gift. Sonia finds deep joy in preaching and building community as part of her spiritual practice. And at this moment in history, as people rethink what they believe and how they worship, she hopes we will seek and find powerful, new ways of connecting with the Divine and one another.
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