Sheep to shepherds

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Ruben M. Tanseco S.J. - The Philippine Star

The figure of speech that Jesus used for himself and for all his faithful disciples is very touching indeed. He was no more than a human sheep, born as an infant in Bethlehem, loved and cared for by Mary and Joseph, all the way to adulthood, and converted himself to a shepherd, loving and caring for all the human sheep who need him.

“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep . . . I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I will lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11, 14-15). This is even followed by the universality of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for all mankind. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, and one shepherd” (v.16).

Allow me to just single out two who followed the call of Christ, the Good Shepherd. From sheep to shepherds. I am inspired to focus on our two, newly-canonized saints: St. Pope John XXIII and St. Pope John Paul II.

St. Pope John XXIII. He was the son of ordinary peasants and grew up with a simple lifestyle. Little did he know that one day, he would be the patriarch of Venice. And much less did he foresee that he would become Pope of the Catholic Church. And soon after the start of his papacy, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to convene the Second Vatican Council! This was a major breakthrough, for it opened the windows of the Catholic Church to the rest of the world. His major concerns were Christian unity, peace, and a church of the poor. At that time, conservative bishops were pressuring to officially pronounce the condemnation of what they stated were modern errors. But Pope John XXIII stated: “Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.” He also initiated the celebration of the Holy Mass in local languages and strengthened the role of the laity in the daily life of the Church.

Most of all, the documents of the Second Vatican Council are really historically significant, even though St. Pope John XXIII passed away before their publication. They covered so many significant issues, but due to lack of space, let me just focus on one, which many Catholics of today may not have read yet. It is about religious freedom, which is so relevant, especially today.

“On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully, in order that he may come to God, for whom he was created. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.” (From Religious Freedom, #3). There you are. St. Pope John XXIII, from sheep to good shepherd.

St. Pope John Paul II. Like Jesus, John Paul II was born to a poor family. As a young man, he used to wear wooden clogs and worked in a chemicals plant under Nazi occupiers, and ordained to the priesthood in 1946. In 1978, at the age of 58, he was elected Pope, the first who was non-Italian, and the youngest in 150 years. His apostolic zeal was such that he was able to visit more than a hundred countries during his papacy.

He was very ecumenical and interfaith in the practice of his leadership. In 1981, he invited leaders of different religions to an interfaith prayer meeting for peace in Assisi. Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Orthodox, Buddhist, and Sikh religious leaders came, including African animists and Japanese Shintoists. They celebrated their unity in diversity.

One Apostolic Exhortation of St. Pope John Paul II that I want to single out here is Familiaris Consortio, on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. He emphasized the equal dignity of man and woman. “In creating the human race ‘male and female,’ God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity, endowing them with the inalienable rights and responsibilities proper to the human person” (#22). Moreover, he insists on the social and political role of the family in society.

“The social role of families is called upon to find expression also in the form of political intervention: families should be the first to take steps to see that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family” (#44).

This active and dedicated Pope was later assassinated by a Turkish gunman, but in God’s providence he survived. Not only that. The Pope later visited the assassin in prison to forgive him. The Good Shepherd no less!

You and I are likewise called by the Lord to be good shepherds, according to each one’s uniqueness as a person, being loved by God unconditionally, and called in return to be a lover of anyone and everyone. Christ the Good Shepherd is no less than our role model and constant companion. Amen.

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