You and I are made in the image and likeness of God. What a gift! This means that we will [should] naturally desire to care for those in and under our care — like the Good Shepherd. But identifying with the identity of the Good Shepherd isn’t easy. It’s difficult to understand what a good shepherd does — culturally and spiritually. Few of us have herded sheep — literally speaking. And few of us would describe ourselves as a sheep given the common understanding that it is defined as a person who is too easily influenced. Americans pretend to be [or are] fiercely independent of thought and action. So what are we to take away from the Bible stories that talk about the Good Shepherd [Gospel of John, chapter 10] and His lost sheep [Luke, chapter 15]?
Every time I hear the Bible passages with regard to the Good Shepherd and the lost sheep I recall the times I have lost a child or two. Thankfully, each episode was short-lived and had a happy ending. The common thread for each occurrence was the result of being distracted — by someone or something else. It even happened at home. I vividly recall the day — a long time ago — urging the kids to hurry so we could catch their father by surprise as he got off the bus after work. We had to hurry to get there on time. I responsibly counted all of my kids; yep there were four in number. I counted again and then hurried them along. We made it to the bus stop just in time. As Dave approached, he asked: “Where’s Michael?” “Michael?” I said looking around quickly and instantly realizing that I had left Michael in his crib — sleeping. Panic rushed over me as I ran home (a matter of six very long blocks). Thankfully, Michael, was still fast asleep not realizing that he had been forgotten! But I had counted four! How was that possible? Then I realized that I had counted the dog - Bouncy! The moral of the story is that distractions kept me from focusing on what and who was really the most important to attend to! And this is especially important as we try to live a life that is a true reflection of the Good Shepherd.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote that making the whole of a child is so much more interesting and important than the making of her whole pinafore. I think he wrote that — not to disparage the heroic effort of working parents — but to remind us that the most important task for parents is often obscured by life’s distractions. Therefore, we need to undergo personal and radical transformations in order to become His holy and good shepherds. We also need to be seriously transformed into ‘lost but found,' and fully obedient sheep who are able to:
“Give thanks to the Lord, invoke his name, make known among our children His deeds. Sing to him, sing his praises, proclaim all his wondrous deeds. Glory in his holy name, rejoice with hearts that seek the Lord. Look to the Lord in his strength; seek to serve Him constantly. Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought, his portents and the judgements he has uttered [for our sake and that of our children.” [adapted from Chronicles 16:8-12}
These verses remind us of the need to introduce our son & daughter to the authentic Good Shepherd. We also need to teach them to learn to hear and recognize His voice — over and above all other voices. Before the age of 11, parents are urged to do everything within their power to protect their children from the wolves of this world. After that, we begin teaching our children to learn how to protect themselves — slowly and surely. In time, we have to help them understand [as St. Augustine writes] “the nature of the battle and know whom they have to beat. Just because there is no obvious enemy attacking your body, does that mean no hidden persecutor is assailing you with the allurements of materialism. How many wicked things he suggests, how many things through greed, how many things through fear!”
What wicked things lurk in our backgrounds today? Naturally parents are on high alert when ushering their children through over-crowded shopping malls and while attempting to help them cross very busy streets. If we happen to get separated, we automatically call our for our lost child regardless of who hears our concern. Our children recognize our voice and run back with outstretched arms. Parents also have the daunting task of teaching their children to know and heed the voice of the Good Shepherd so that they continue to do so after they are no longer under our care. When confused, facing moral questions, afraid, in doubt, in trouble or when seeking the truth, our children — regardless of age — have to have learned how to run quickly to the waiting arms of the Good Shepherd. He alone will give them authentic Truth and Guidance. Turning to the Good Shepherd requires all of us to put on the virtues of humility and obedience. It means being infused through instruction and impressions that He is the Good Shepherd and with the theological gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity. Faithful sheep are able to understand St. Catherine of Sienna when she writes: “God told me that He is the I AM WHO AM and that I am the she who is not!” She wasn’t offended by God’s definition of sheep; after all, God is all powerful, all loving, all knowledgeable, all kind, all … everything and she is not. Neither are you and me.
But, let’s get back to the question posed at the beginning of the paragraph. What wicked things lurk around in the background today? Did you know that around 15% of children ages 9 years have their own smart phone service plan? Virtually every teen has a smart phone in the US. When I recommend that parents throw their children’s smart phone plans and service away, they laugh at the suggestion. But that’s because they may not fully realize the wolves lurking in and around the apps and the internet — according to recent surveys of parents. Parents assume a lot about their own children and their usage of the smart phones without verification. Many parents also feel uncomfortable supervising their child’s phone usage. Studies also show that — on average — a young boy’s first encounter with pornography usually occurs between the ages of 9 - 10 years old. This opens the door to developing an early addiction that has emerged as one of the biggest obstacles to having a happy marriage.
What other wolves lurk around us? The list is endless and we should think about them and identify them for our children. And even more importantly, we have to teach them the voice of the Good Shepherd - without delay and without distraction. While we do not seem to be putting as much effort into forming future great saints as did parents from eons ago, we have to get back to that! For our sakes and the sake of our children and the generations that lie ahead of us. The wolves are dangerous and for real and we are overly distracted in this busy world.