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The Lord is my shepherd | Word Alive

Sr. Damien Marie Savino, FSE

Friday, July 16, 2021

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The Lord is my shepherd

A reflection for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

by Sr. Damien Marie Savino, FSE

This Sunday’s readings highlight the theme of the shepherd. This is an ancient image and was the most common symbol of Christ in the early Church. Christ even gave himself this name, calling himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:1).
But what does this mean for us today? Many of us in our increasingly urbanized society are unfamiliar with animal husbandry and have little or no experience with sheep or shepherding.
Reflecting on this Sunday’s readings can give us a few hints. What are some qualities of a good shepherd, and of Jesus Christ as our Good Shepherd?
First, the shepherd gathers his flock, listening to the bleating and crying of his sheep and leading them to verdant meadows where they can freely graze (Jeremiah 23:3, Psalm 23:2). The Good Shepherd guides us to the right paths for our lives and refreshes us beside restful waters (Psalm 23:2-3) when we take time to pray, listen to his Word, and contemplate his goodness. As in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, he leads his apostles away to a quiet place to rest awhile (Mark 6:31). He carries us on his shoulders, as the many shepherd images in the catacombs of Rome depict, especially when we have gone astray and are afraid.
As we hear in the first reading from Jeremiah 23 and in the beautiful responsorial psalm, the Good Shepherd will not forsake us in the dark valleys of life. Just as the shepherd will never desert his sheep and stays with them through all kinds of weather, protecting them from predators so “they need no longer fear and tremble” (Jeremiah 23:4), so the Good Shepherd will not allow any of his flock to go missing and will not abandon even one of us.
Secondly, the shepherd feeds his flock, just as the Good Shepherd feeds us.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark describes Christ taking his apostles off to a deserted place to rest. However, they were followed by a vast crowd of people who seemed through Christ’s eyes to be like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). He taught them many things, feeding and shepherding them with his Word.
The Sunday reading ends here, but the passage that immediately follows recounts the miraculous feeding of the five thousand at Christ’s request. The call of the Good Shepherd is to feed his sheep, both physically and spiritually. At the celebration of the Mass, he spreads the table before us, as the responsorial psalm proclaims, pouring himself out as the bread of life and offering his body to us in the Eucharist. As Catholics, we have a tremendous gift in the sacramental life of the Church and especially in the Eucharist. By attending Mass and receiving the sacraments worthily, we allow the Good Shepherd to feed and strengthen us in our faith lives.
Third, the shepherd protects his sheep with his life, as does the Good Shepherd, who gave the supreme gift of his life so as to prepare a house for us in which to dwell (Psalm 23:6).
As we hear in the second reading from the Ephesians, the Good Shepherd is a reconciler (Ephesians 2:14-16). The word “reconcile” means to re-conciliate, or to restore to union and friendship what has been estranged. The Good Shepherd laid down his life on the cross in order to break down the walls of enmity that keep us apart and restore to us the possibility of friendship with God, with others, and with the created world. Through his sacrificial actions, he built a bridge for love, making reconnection and peace possible in our relationships, which are so often estranged or broken. Through his death and resurrection, he gave birth to the Church and prepared a house for us in which to dwell. As he laid down his life for us, he taught us to do the same for others by living sacrificial lives and spreading his message of reconciliation and mercy. Only by following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd and anchoring ourselves in the Church as our spiritual home will “goodness and kindness follow us all the days of our lives” (Psalm 23:6).
What a beautiful, consoling message to take with us as we follow the Good Shepherd into this Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time!

The readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, are
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Ephesians 2:13-18
Mark 6:30-34

Sr. Damien Marie Savino, FSE, is a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist currently serving as the Dean of Science and Sustainability at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has travelled across the United States, Canada, and Europe lecturing on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and our Catholic responsibility to care for creation, as well as on various topics related to the integration of science and faith. Sr. Damien Marie earned her doctorate in Environmental Engineering from The Catholic University of America and also has advanced training in theology. She lives with her religious community on a 230 acre farm outside of Grand Rapids.

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