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Monday, May 09, 2011

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I call my own sheep by name and lead them out. When I have brought out all my own, I go ahead of them, and the sheep follow me because they know my voice.’” (John 10:3-4)

Rosary walk benches

May 15, 2011
Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:1-10 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

We shepherd as we have been shepherded. That is to say, the unique character of our upbringing is a strong determining factor in how we ourselves will care for those given to our charge. From earliest days in the arms of our parents right on through so many years with teachers and mentors of every sort and description, we have been fashioned into who we have become – into the unique shepherds we now are.

As is typical with youngsters, I suppose, I often found myself comparing my parents to those of others. And I always found mine wanting. Never mind that we were a household of eight struggling along on a single income, while I was jealous of households of three or four that seemed to have so much more. I was resentful of and embarrassed by my family in younger days. Indeed, as is also typical of youngsters, I couldn’t see beyond myself.

With growing maturity came insight. An epiphany even! A formerly veiled truth was revealed: Mom and Dad were parenting my sisters, brothers and me just like they were parented. Of course! Where else could they possibly have learned to shepherd our feisty little flock! Yes, they were shepherding as they had been shepherded. And in a flash, criticism of them softened to something near warm sweet butter as, for perhaps the first time, I considered their own experiences of childhood.

Mom had been adopted by an older childless couple just days after her birth in 1924, given up, she told us, by a young unmarried woman. While Mom always spoke of her upbringing as warm and supportive, still she must have wondered about her birthparents. While she never spoke of efforts to discover them, the question seemed quietly to nag at her right up until her death in 2003.

And Dad was the youngest of three children in a single-parent household. Born in 1923, his father died when Dad was only six. Thus it fell to his widowed mother (who never remarried) to supply single-handedly for her flock.

While it took me quite a few years to come to the realization, today I can more fully appreciate how confusing and difficult it must have been for Mom and Dad to shepherd our family. Neither of them had the advantage of the presence of two birth parents. And that’s not even to consider the burden of the times. How often growing up did we six offspring have to endure one more tale of the Great Depression of 1929! Whenever we’d made what seemed a foolish purchase and dared to mention it at the supper table, either Mom or Dad (sometimes both) would drag up one more tale of the material depravity they experienced as youngsters. A recurring antiphon at the supper table was “You kids have it easy!”

Indeed, we shepherd as we have been shepherded. Our first teachers, our parents, have left a mark on us that we spend whole lifetimes coming to understand and, hopefully, appreciate. It’s often only when we become responsible in some way for others that we look backward, wondering how Mom and Dad would have answered this question or handled that situation.

Even equipped with the strength of the sturdiest home life, though, we still face challenges that demand more than even the example and wisdom of Mom and Dad. There are situations which demand we reach even farther back than childhood’s memories. There are times when only grasping the hand of God will do.

In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I call my own sheep by name and lead them out. When I have brought out all my own, I go ahead of them, and the sheep follow me because they know my voice.’” (John 10:3-4) Yes, it’s to Jesus that we need look for the best example of shepherding, for, in truth, he is the only one who is able to guide us along the course of this earthly life, assuring our safe passage through the gateway of death and into the eternal life that yet awaits us.

My siblings and I found ourselves in such a challenging situation in mid-Lent when, after a fall at home, 87 year-old Dad was brought to the hospital where I serve. Requiring spinal surgery followed by extended rehab in yet another medical facility, Dad was the worst patient ever! To his many caregivers, he loudly protested, “I’m not sick, I just hurt! Get me out of here!” And while all six of us offspring tried to comfort and calm him, he’d have none of it. He’d spent a lifetime, strong and independent, shepherding the flock and now, widowed eight years and in need of care, he resented bitterly his new imposed role. Wow, it was ugly!

We stood by helplessly calling out to heaven for some guidance. Caring for an ageing parent proved to be something we were wholly unprepared for, a challenge Mom and Dad never prepared us to meet. Then, through prayer, heaven sent us a clue card – Shepherd as you have been shepherded.

So it was that, on the day of discharge from the hospital to the rehab facility, I sat at Dad’s bedside and provided him a dose of his own medicine. In the face of his insistence that I bring him home at that very moment under pain of forfeiting any inheritance, I responded, “Dad, we’re bringing you to a rehab facility near your house where they’ll work with you to get your strength and independence back. You ARE going there. But, once there, what you make of the program will be your choice. Cooperation may mean getting back to your own house. Lack of cooperation may mean you’ll spend the rest of your life there.”

Oh, the challenge of being a shepherd after the example of Jesus! Away with all those gospel images of cuddly sheep and youthful, smiling shepherds! It’s hard work, sometimes dirty work. But it must always be loving work.

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