I have often noticed how animals can become part of the family of their owners. Once when I was in Clare island, off the coast of Cork, I saw an island family leave their home , get into a boat and push off to the mainland. As the family left the house their few cattle followed them right down to the pier. The cattle stretched out their heads as if they were trying to reach their owners across the water. That night I could hear the cattle wailing for their owners.
In John’s gospel ch.10:4 we see that the sheep know their owner. The shepherd calls each one by its name as if there were a personal relationship between shepherd and sheep. The sheep follow the shepherd because they and he have bonded, and they know that he will lead them to fresh water and long green grass.
The flock suffered from various threats from outside. In our society we find big challenges to living in a humane manner: people are often caught in an abusive relationship, human trafficking deprives people of that basic humanizing quality – their freedom. In some countries people are harassed by political or military groups and are forced to flee their homeland. When these people seek new life in another country they find the gates are closed.
Jesus said of himself, “I am the gate ” John 10:9. In this simple image, we may look at Jesus, reflect on what he says and be drawn into his way of being – into being a gateway. When the shepherd called the sheep by name he gave each one great dignity, something akin to personhood. He said, “I came that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10 :10). Jesus beckons us to become the gateway to the abundance of life when we become aware that there is nothing more sacred, more valuable in the whole world than a single human being. I believe when we nurture humanity in one human being, perhaps with a smile or a cup of water, there occurs a butterfly effect -humankind in general is drawn into the abundance of its humanity.
I began this brief reflection by noting the close relationship that can exist between us humans and the animals. I Iike to think that we are invited today to open wide our gate and renew our vital bond with the whole of creation – with our sisters and brothers, with the animals, plants, stones, earth sky and sea. Our gate can open too to that mind-boggling aspect of creation that is modern technology.
May we grow in awareness of the love and guidance of the good shepherd in our personal lives and in the great journey of humanity.
Sr. Kathleen Egan OP