That They May Have Life, the Art of Shepherding

Antonio, P. Pueyo
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Sunday
Reproduced with Permission

The fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. In the Gospel, our Lord Jesus spoke of his mission, "I have come that they may have life, life in all its fulness" (Jn. 10:10). The shepherd is one who promotes and protects life.

In the Philippines, sheep are rarely seen and I have never herded them. As a boy, I have herded goats and carabaos (water buffalos). Goats are stubborn. One summer, I was pulling on the rope of a goat who refused to move, when it suddenly gave way and I fell on a sharp bamboo stick. I still have the scar on my thigh. Carabaos, although large, are gentle and obedient. The problem with my carabao was it liked the water so much, it would run when approaching the river. Once, I could not hold on. I fell between its horns. It had some sense not to step on me.

Whether one takes care of sheep, goats, or carabaos, the process of herding is simple. The goal is to bring the animals to good grass and clean water. The herder watches that the animals eat well and do not come to any harm. In my country, there are no wolves, lions, or leopards who might attack the animals, but one has to be on the lookout for thieves. As the Lord cautioned, "The thief comes to steal, and kill and destroy." There are two aspects to shepherding -- nurturing and protecting. The shepherd nurtures the flock by leading them to good pasture and good water. The shepherd protects by being on the lookout for whatever may harm them. The shepherd has to be both caring and courageous.

I once watched a National Geographic tv show about a certain tribe in Africa where herding cattle is a rite of passage. The herders leave as boys and come back after many months as men. They bring the thin cattle to where the rains feed the grasses and the streams. They have to protect the cattle from wild animals and thieves. When they come back with the cattle safe and well-fed, they take their place among the men of the tribe and are deemed responsible and therefore may take a bride.

One example of a good shepherd in our modern times is Pope John Paul II. The millions of people around the world who mourned his passing away, and the unprecedented number of heads of sates who personally attended his funeral attested to his shepherding qualities. In this age of globalization, the world became the Holy Father's parish. He promoted, nurtured and protected life, amidst a secular culture that tend to compromise with pragmatic; and popular opinions against life. His encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, is a written testimony of his life-giving mission. In his last few days, his own "fight for life" became a symbolic struggle for the life of every person who is sick, elderly, weak, and powerless.

The art of shepherding as modeled for us by Pope John Paul II is an art that can be learned by any person who is in a shepherding position. One may be a parent, a boss of a company, a teacher, or a pastor, but the principles are the same. One has to think first of the well-being, growth, and life of those under his care. One also needs to be courageous in order to protect and defend the flock.

An art can be learned. Some may have the natural abilities for a certain art, but practice perfects the art. Such is the case for the arts of calligraphy, painting, acting, singing, or shooting basketball. Such is also the case for the arts of parenting, ministering, care-giving, teaching, administering. and coaching. All of these fall under the art of shepherding.

It is not too late to learn a new art, the art of shepherding.