The imagery in our readings for this week are rich in God’s creation, glory, and promises. The invitation resounds beginning in Jeremiah, leading to the well-known and beloved words of Psalm 23, and continuing with the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. The encouragement from Jesus is simply, “Come away with me and rest for a while.” Our readings remind us this week that Jesus is the good and gentle shepherd, inviting us to refreshment, restoration, and renewal. We are reminded in the Gospel today from Mark that when Jesus was going out he saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and so he began to teach them many things. Jesus still preaches his message of peace and love today to all of us. The question I believe for all of us is are we paying attention? The compassion and mercy of Jesus, his heart, moved him to be with the people and to minister to all who were there in this chaotic scene of people coming in great numbers to form a vast crowd surrounding both him and his disciples. So, he began to teach them many things. This same heart ministers to us today. This same heart that is moved with kindness and concern comes to us quietly when we need Jesus the most. This same heart who loves us all beyond our imaginings and dreaming is with us intimately, entering into every moment of our lives. This same heart is present with us today and is willing to teach us many things. The invitation is always there.
And so, I began to ask myself these questions: How open am I to the voice of the Shepherd in my life? Am I open to instruction and direction? Am I attentive? How receptive am I to feedback? How reachable am I in the depths of my soul to the leanings of the Shepherd? How teachable am I? How flexible am I? How available are we to the Shepherd? Are we distracted by the many other voices competing for our time, energy, and attention in our lives? I can honestly say that the answer for me varies on any given day. My answer to these questions is also based on how tired I am or how centered I feel. At times, don’t we all feel the tug of too many commitments and voices from others and from ourselves to do more, to be more, to get more?
There is a wonderful opportunity here this week to learn from both the sheep and the shepherd. What if the invitation here for all of us is to enter into the fields with the sheep and the shepherd? What if we bowed our heads low? What if we waited? What if we were silent and stood still? What if we postponed our own plans and delayed them in response to a call or a clarity in direction from Jesus? What if we truly listened to our good and gentle shepherd? As we know, as we have seen, as we may have felt, known, or experienced, God is faithful, even when we’re not. There have been times and there will be times in all of our lives when we may feel like sheep without a shepherd. What if in our humanity we were able to enter into the sheep pen more fully? What if we hung out in the fields and stayed there for awhile? What if we listened for the voice of our Shepherd? What if we took all that we learned there and applied it in our own lives?
Maybe we would go to compassion first instead of judgement. Take it from me. I am someone who knows this all too well in my own life. I can very easily get hung up on judgments of myself and others. It happens so quickly and so easily that it’s scary the conclusions I draw about myself and others without all the information or even the correct information. And so, I am going to stay with this image in my prayer and enter in to the life of sheep in the sheep pen. From what we know, sheep are mild and meek animals. They are usually very quiet and gentle, holding themselves in a faithful stance to their shepherd. In a herd, all the sheep tend to listen to their leaders and show esteem to them. Because of their obedient character, sheep are among the most popular animals beloved by mankind. Despite the popular belief that sheep are not smart, they are actually incredibly intelligent. They have very impressive cognitive abilities, and just like humans, they form deep and lasting bonds with each other. They stick up for one another in fights, and they grieve when they lose a friend.
Sheep are smart, kind, curious, and brave. In our lives, at different times, we are called to be both sheep and shepherd. As we may know, have felt, or experienced, God always brings us back to the fold. Nothing and no one are ever lost in the kingdom of God. This may be why the words of Psalms 23 are so well-known and loved, and have been a healing balm in my life. The Lord IS my shepherd. He leads me beside the still waters. He refreshes my soul. The shepherd offers me rest and restoration and renewal over and over again. My head is anointed with oil. My cup overflows. Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. We could easily spend our entire lives praying with Psalms 23, so rich in imagery and praise of the shepherd. And so, I invite us all to pay attention in our own lives to both the sheep and the shepherd. Living an integrated life in God, with God, for God, and sent by God, at our best selves, we are both. We are sheep and shepherd, ultimately listening to the one voice of the good and gentle shepherd who calls out to us so tenderly.
Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, life is going to humble us. We are going to feel like one day we are so confident saying I got this, and the next day we may feel like no way, I so don’t got this. I know I do. And I know that I have to watch out for those moments when I think that I so got this. On a daily basis life humbles me. And whether we like it or not, things are going to feel messy and dirty and chaotic and uncomfortable. We may feel like sheep without a shepherd. But the shepherd is there in expectant waiting, longing for us to respond with a daily yes. I’ll try again. I’ll show up. I’ll do what I can. I’ll do the next right thing. I’ll take the next right step in love. I will be a sheep and a shepherd. As we guide others, we will be guided along the right path. We can count on the promises of God from Jeremiah to Psalms 23 to the Gospel of Mark that God will gather us all back to the meadow. God will appoint shepherds for us along the way who will shepherd us so that we need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing.
Jennifer Berridge, CSJ
Jennifer Berridge, CSJ
Jennifer Berridge, CSJ, is a Sister of Saint Joseph in the Congregation of Saint Joseph in the Wheeling, West Virginia community. She is originally from Cleveland, OH. She professed first vows on July 25th, 2020. She currently provides case management services at Catholic Charities West Virginia in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Through a collaborative partnership, she ministers at Wheeling Hospital to provide resources and supportive counseling to the most vulnerable. As a Sister of Saint Joseph, she embraces the sacred call to serve the dear neighbor without distinction. Her desire is to welcome and support all in her ministry and community so that others will feel accepted and loved in her presence. She dreams of a world and prays with Jesus’ vision of unity “that all may be one.” She works toward justice by her prayer that God would use her life for active inclusive love. She has also served children, teens, young adults, and women recovering from addictions.
Take an opportunity to read and reflect on the Sunday readings during the first five weeks of Lent. Participants are provided with links to reflections on the Lectionary readings (Cycle A) written by scholars -- including weekly preaching from Catholic Women Preach. Then, each week participants share their insights in an online community discussion, guided by a facilitator.MORE INFO/REGISTER
Advertise with Catholic Women Preach: email Russ at email@example.com