Fr John's Homily - Mother's Day - The Good Shepherd

12 May 2019 | General Interest


Jesus as Good Shepherd & Mothers’ Day

Jn 10.27-30   AA 13.43-52   Apoc 7.9-17

Images of Jesus as Good Shepherd go back to my earliest childhood memories, the picture of Jesus with the lamb around his shoulders, a sense of security implied in his loving care. You may recall too that Pope Francis had an early papal image, having a lamb on his shoulders also, signifying chief pastor of his global flock of 1.2+ billion  (1913).

If we start with the image of the shepherd, and go back to the time of Jesus, we need to understand that a shepherd had an important and demanding role in caring for his flock, in tough circumstances, out in the cold and wet, in rough country, with few fences, and with a concern for each individual one, as Jesus emphasises in his parables relating to sheep and shepherds.  The relevant psalm is so often used, with its words of hope and consolation, and the 1% parable of the lost sheep is not about buying another, nor forgetting the intrinsic value of each individual, the lost one needing to be found and returned to the community group.

Then there is the corresponding metaphor of the sheep, about which I raise questions, as I like to think we have more personal responsibility than sheep just following the leader, for whom it has sometimes been facetiously said in politics: “I am their leader! Where are the people?  I must follow them!”  We do have to think and decide for ourselves.

We are all called in our own way to shepherd others, in terms of guidance, by good example for one thing,  and can well transfer this into the way we reach out to others, providing understanding and encouragement, and a sense of connection and friendship in the environments in which we find ourselves.  Jesus has a fundamental line: “I call you my friends, if you do what I command you.  Love one another as I have loved you.”  It sounds nice and simple, but don’t we know it’s another thing to put it into practice?

Pastoral care is in the general lexicon of our secular society, acknowledged as critical in proper health care, welfare and education, and don’t we know it is a fundamental requirement and expectation her in our parish community and beyond, the role necessarily shared over a wide area, with many involved in providing that care.  Yes, as priest, I am a pastor, but not on my own.  It’s a collaborative ministry where we work together to live Gospel values and convey the message of Jesus in practical ways, sacramentally and in listening, encouraging and responding to needs of all sorts.   It’s about building community, creating a sense of belonging and inclusion for all, in our diversity.

During this last week, with Michael Di Nuzzo as Principal, I’ve been interviewing parents applying for Prep at St Therese’s School for 2020 (over 100 have applied for 80 or so available places).  What strikes me first is their genuine concern for their child to have a good education in a caring Christian community in the Catholic tradition, where there is warm welcome,  respect, acceptance, emphasis on the person of Jesus, along with ethical values, and a commitment to growth and learning in all aspects of personal development, beyond the basic R’s of Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Religion and Recreation, along with many other aspects of being drawn out, and so, educated. Teaching is a very valid form of shepherding, guiding along the right path of enlightenment and encouragement.

As times and the world change, it also makes me reflect on the demands of parenthood today, with most families having both parents in paid employment, whether full or part-time, striving to balance the heavy demands and responsibilities of family, work and leisure.  It’s not an easy task to raise children in a complex world. Nor is it for teachers and support staff, in trying to do the best for our children, our future!  Quite a few remarked on the way in which Grade 6 leaders, welcomed them and confidently showed them through the school and surrounds, speaking of their own positive experience of being there as students.

(One mother had just completed a PhD relating to women and literature in society, and the way in which their contributions in the background had often been overlooked, with the men writing the history books, and dominating the politics in society and in the Church.  I had an older female historian friend when I was in Ottawa, and her passion was researching and writing books about the critical role of women in the Middle Ages, keeping their families going and broader village life as well,  when the men were off at their various wars, which was often all that we heard about in the past, history being written by the winners, however that may be defined!) 

And so our theme today also fits well with our other celebration this weekend, that being of mothers and their nurturing comforting and loving presence in our lives.  Whilst we acknowledge their selfless love and constant and consistent care, I always say it’s good to have an occasion or special day to stop and consciously reflect on and express who they are to us, at whatever stage of life we might be.

I was talking with my good friend and yours, my predecessor here, Bill Attard, today, and he prompted me to think of mothers too, mentioning how our local member, another Bill, was distressed at the way his story was twisted by the media, in regard to the sacrifices made by his own mother, who gave him the education and opportunities he might not otherwise have had.  After raising her children, she finally pursued a law degree and became a university lecturer in her middle-age.  Since that came out, many others have told stories of their own mothers, and the way they let their own pursuits and interests come second, to the love and care they gave to their children, as their first priority. Mothers are not perfect, but generally speaking, they provide a model for what good shepherding is all about, and formation in faith.

Our fundamental vocation is to follow the nurturing example of the Good Shepherd, in faith, by imitating his pastoral concern for all, starting at home, which is where we primarily acknowledge the mothers and mother figures who have cared, and continue to care for us throughout our lives. As I fondly and gratefully remember my own Mum (now 16 years gone), for the love, care and lifelong self-sacrifice she demonstrated, in looking after her frail octogenarian parents, living with us as family for some years, and a husband and 5 young children 9 years apart from eldest to youngest. (Of course, she couldn’t have done it without me, as oldest big brother – no automatic dishwashers back then either!!)  So let’s appreciate our Mums for who they are and what they’ve done for us, for as long as we can remember.  Mine showed me much about ‘pastoral care’ at the coalface of family, local and broader community, in so many ways. It’s Gospel stuff!

And finally, for a parable about a mother’s enduring love, I’ll try an old favourite from Dr Seuss, about “Horton Hatches the Egg”, as “Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat! He meant what he said and he said what he meant… An elephant’s faithful one hundred per cent!”


john hannon                                                                     11th  May  2019


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