Sermon: Our Lady of the Good Shepherd
We often call today ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ for obvious reasons, since Jesus has just told us ‘I am the gate of the sheepfold’ and He will go on, if we continued reading John chapter 10 to verse 14, to call Himself the ‘Good Shepherd.’ We heard Psalm 23: the Lord is my Shepherd who will lead me fresh and green pastures, protecting me with His crook and staff.
The ‘Good Shepherd’ is one of the most familiar and oldest images of the Lord; in fourth century paintings found in the Roman Catacombs we see Him depicted as a shepherd - a young, beardless man, since, in antiquity, youth symbolized eternal life.
May is the month of Mary, Mother of God and (to use a French medieval title) Mother of the Good Shepherd. In Spain and parts of America, from the 1700s, the Franciscans encouraged devotion to Mary as the ‘Divine Shepherdess.’ There is a famous shrine to her under this title in the Philippines, at Gapan City. You sometimes see images of her wearing a large straw hat, a blue mantle and carrying a shepherd’s crook; often she carries a lamb with her. Mary had a little lamb…
In May we celebrate the motherhood of Mary. She is not a goddess, a sort of female counterpart to Jesus. Everything she has, every privilege, every grace, comes from her Divine Son, Jesus. She exercises a maternal role for us, who through baptism have become Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters. She leads us to Her Son, she protects us from the ancient serpent, she shepherds us along the right path, away from the valley of darkness and to restful waters which revive our drooping spirit.
Mary is not only our mother and our ‘shepherdess’. She is the model disciple - one of us, who leads us along the way because she herself has trodden that path. There is much that she can teach us in our journey and much that she can teach us in this strange time of lockdown:
Mary trusted in the Lord. When she said ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel, she did not fully know how her life would unfold or what the birth of her son would entail. She surely could not have foreseen the cross or the empty tomb. She teaches us to put our trust in God and to hope for future good times!
Mary also teaches us the virtue of obedience - never a very popular concept! We have all found ourselves in lockdown; we mostly had no choice in working or studying from home, in being furloughed, in following the government’s guidelines.. We have had to sacrifice seeing family and friends and give up many aspects of our way of life. Let us learn to say ‘yes’ to this situation, to recognise its blessings and fruits, to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Mary was not only a hands-on mother but a reflective one - she pondered in her heart all the things she saw. These days should help us ponder, to live in God’s presence. An Italian bishop wrote recently to the religious women in his diocese, who live an enclosed life in the cloister. Perhaps what he wrote can be our prayer to the Lord at this time when so many of us live in isolation and when we can imitate the prayerfulness Our Lady: ‘Teach us that it is possible to live with very little and to live in joy...Teach us again about the savour of little things,...teach us the art of silence,...[and] teach us to do things slowly with solemnity, without rushing, to pay attention to details because every day is a miracle, every encounter is a gift, every step an entrance into the throne room.’
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
Our Lady, the Divine Shepherdess, pray for us!