A SHEPHERD WHO SEEKS
“There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” This caption from a viral ad campaign titled ‘Priceless’ by MasterCard launched over twenty years ago, is still fondly remembered even today. A journalist who interviewed the marketing team behind this popular strategy recorded that the main reason for its success was that MasterCard was able to change the customer’s perception to have a ‘relationship beyond money.’ That though money may be the goal, the purpose is life. Isn’t it intriguing how a marketing plan is able to entice viewers to purchase products and services, simply by tugging at the most ‘priceless’ moments of their hearts?
The truth that we seek something beyond the desire to possess and covet, remains one of the most intrinsic parts of our human fabric. Regardless of our status in life, we are constantly seeking, thirsting and longing for something beyond our physical reality, even beyond ourselves.
True Love Costs
In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Himself the ‘Good Shepherd’, providing His onlookers and seekers something far more priceless than just the attractive offer of a great sheepfold. A shepherd is not content with simply having a large number of fattened sheep; he is interested in their life, their protection, their well-being, even if it costs His own life. In using this imagery, Jesus offers His followers a way led by One who goes beyond Himself, no terms and conditions attached, no disclaimers or hidden costs. A good shepherd leads by laying down His life for His sheep.
As a relational being, the only way my mind is able to comprehend this great exchange is – love. Having served in youth ministry, the idea of sentimental love runs deep in our pastures. But what kind of love does this Good Shepherd portray?
Unlike the popular love which only lasts as long as one receives what one desires, Jesus shows us that true love is not possible without sacrifice. True love costs. True love goes beyond oneself. True love lays down life. True love is sacrificial.
Parents to a new-born are the best evidence of this kind of sacrificial love. From sleepless nights to tiresome days, they will endure great hardships to ensure the well being of their child. A paid help on the other hand may also provide these services, but only under the condition that it is included in their contract. No wonder Jesus refers to a hired man as one who has no concern for the sheep, other than self-gain. He will therefore run away when service demands sacrifice or when a cost is involved.
The Good Shepherd
Every fourth Sunday of the Easter season, the Catholic Church reflects on the role of Jesus as Good Shepherd and asks us to pray for vocations, particularly priesthood and consecrated life. As I pondered on the duty of priests as shepherds, a distinct memory from not too long ago came to mind.
Just before Holy Week, I made my way to the confessional. Given that our parish has a bustling Catholic population and the Church was reopening after several months, I ensured that I got there early. To my surprise, I saw six priests sitting across the hall with barely a handful of parishioners in sight. I was ushered all the way to the front row with just three people in line before me.
Within a short while, it was my turn to enter into this Sacrament of grace. The arrangement for this ‘socially-distanced confession’ was unique. Due to safety measures, the usual confessional booths were closed and so tables were placed in the Church compound with the priest and confessor seated on either side. When I was finally done laying out the broken pieces of my heart, the priest gently spoke words of edification and upliftment which was the perfect healing balm I needed at that moment. My mask may have covered my mouth but oh what freedom my heart experienced as hidden masks and hidden disclaimers were uncovered. As we concluded, the priest asked me to pray through Psalm 23.
After receiving the final blessing, I walked to the back and sat down to spend a few moments in prayer. When I opened my eyes, I saw all six priests still in the hall, but none of them had anyone across their table. The confessional was empty. As per the schedule, there was still an hour to go until closing time. I sat there silently watching these shepherds for the next ten minutes. To my astonishment, not a single priest got off his seat. A few of them even had their mobiles on them but none resorted to a quick scroll or hurried text in any form. They sat waiting for their sheep, even at the cost of lost time and effort. True love is sacrificial.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (Psalm 23:6). I found myself repeating this line as I concluded my prayer that evening. As I watched silently, my heart was softened to see ‘beyond’ myself. These men in robes (who I must admit I have often taken for granted in so many ways), were seated at what is best described as the sacrificial ‘seat of mercy’. The goodness and mercy of God was right before my eyes. The true sacrificial love of heaven poured on earth – my very own ‘priceless’ moment of grace.
If you are like me, you’ve probably grown up listening to that famous hymn ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ which has a line that says “He guides me along what He knows to be right.” Could it be however that we have become so consumed in ‘getting the job done’ that we’ve strayed away from the sheepfold, away from what He knows to be right. Are we too busy resorting to ‘hired help’ and planning our own paid strategies that we are no longer able to see the priceless hearts of priests and consecrated members that so devoutly serve us?
Pope Francis says “The heart of the priest is a heart pierced by the love of the Lord. For this reason, he no longer looks to himself, but is turned towards God and his brothers and sisters. It is no longer ‘a fluttering heart,’ allured by momentary whims, shunning disagreements and seeking petty satisfactions. Rather, it is a heart rooted firmly in the Lord, warmed by the Holy Spirit, open and available to our brothers and sisters.”
Friends as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday this year, let us remember this God who so recklessly loves us that He willingly lays down His life to save us. And as you receive His merciful love, may I ask that you whisper a prayer for every priest, these men ordained by God Himself to feed, protect, nurse and care for the sheepfold. They are truly seekers who go beyond themselves, who sacrifice until they bleed love and who show us that true love is possible, even in our consumerist sentimental world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brinelle D’Cruz was raised Catholic but it took moving to a desert (Qatar) to discover the Wellspring of life. There youth ministry and deep friendships made for refreshing streams alongside salivating shawarma spots. With a degree in Architecture, her aesthetic preference is like her choice of words – minimal, which is why she believes God divinely blessed her with a life-time entertainer, her husband Daniel. They make their home in Mumbai. Connect with her on Instagram @bree.mix