Dear friends, although I know they can be very beautiful, I’ve never – as yet – been tempted to get a tattoo. I spent some time working as a prison chaplain and met a man who had an incredible tattoo of a rosary that wrapped itself around his arm. He told me it was in memory of his mother whose name, like Our Lady’s, was Mary. It’s perhaps a reminder in this month of May to warp the rosary around our hands each day as we pray through the mysteries of our faith.
If I ever was tempted to get a tattoo, I think I’d simply like the word ‘John,’ and the numbers ‘10:10’ beside it. It refers, of course, to the Gospel of St John, chapter 10, and verse 10, the words of the Lord Jesus that we heard at the end of today’s gospel: ‘I have come,’ said the Lord Jesus ‘so that they may have life and have it to the full.’
This is the Good Shepherd speaking. And His words are directed to you and to me. We are the sheep who belong to His flock. We are the sheep who hear and know His voice. We are the sheep who follow wherever He, the Good Shepherd, leads. Belonging, hearing, knowing and following – these are essential qualities of disciples, and I wonder what they mean to you, in your life, at this time, here and now. To belong to the Lord, to hear the Lord, to know the Lord and to follow the Lord.
The Lord Jesus tells us ‘I am the gate of the sheepfold.’ He is the point of access to life in all its fullness. It’s our risen Saviour who calls us into His Church, so that we can begin to experience in anticipation, through faith and the sacraments, that life which, one day, we shall have with Him forever in heaven. Until then, He guides us in doing what is right and what is true. Believe me when I say to you that He is with us always, He is always with you, even when the shadows of doubt and the experience of sin can make us fearful.
The Lord Jesus offers a new start in fresh pastures. Over and over again He revives us with restful water from His fountain of merciful love. And here’s an amazing truth. When we follow the Lord Jesus we really do find that goodness and kindness accompany us. We experience new freedoms, new hope and new joy. We come to realise that life has purpose, meaning and value. And not just life out there or life in general, but my life and your life in the concrete realities of day to day.
When the time is right, the Good Shepherd will call us home to live in the Lord’s house forever, to feast at that banquet that never ends. All of this is captured in that briefest of reference: John 10:10 – ‘I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.’
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I’d like to say a word to anyone watching who might feel that God is calling them to be a priest, to be a shepherd after the heart of Christ. I can say to you, completely sincerely, that I have had the most wonderful, fulfilling life as a priest – and, hopefully, it will continue now I’m a bishop.
To be a priest is to share, in a most intimate way, the love of Christ for His Church and for His people. If your personal circumstances allow it, please ask yourself – ask the Lord – ‘Lord, are you calling me to be a priest?’ And if you do have a sense that you are being called to the priesthood – or to the diaconate, or to the religious life as a sister or a brother– please be encouraged to take a step forward in faith and do something about it. And if you think you may be being called to be a priest in the Archdiocese of Southwark, then get in touch with us and we will help you.
Perhaps too, you are considering marriage, maybe more closely or more distantly, but you know the lord is calling you to be a husband or a wife, please God to have a family. Ask the Lord to strengthen you with the grace you need to be faithful to His call.
I want to also say another word on this Good Shepherd Sunday, a word to everyone who has been baptised into Christ as a member of His body, the Church. In the words of St Leo the Great, ‘Christian, recognise your dignity.’ Recognise your dignity in Christ.
Dear friends, you share the life of Christ Jesus who, having died on a cross, rose again. Know that it is the Lord Jesus who has brought you to this point of your discipleship. He who called you continues to call you, to invite you, personally, to deepen your friendship with Him. Be certain that God our Father knows you and that He loves you. As St Peter the Apostle reminds us, the gifts of the Holy Spirit strengthens us as disciples. So pray, asking the Lord to fill you with the gifts and the graces of the Holy Spirit.
Stand up and be counted for your faith, be a witness. Share it and defend it. Most importantly, live your faith with joy. As Christ is your Good Shepherd, then shepherd others – your family, your friends, those you work with, your neighbours, the stranger – shepherd others with a love like His, serving especially the weakest and the poorest, those who have no voice, those who have no standing.
Dear friends, never forget that you are precious in God’s eyes. Always remember that the Lord Jesus, the Good Shelherd is your best friend. Through His wounds we have been healed. Through His wounds we are being healed. Through His wounds we can be healed. And know that the Church is your home. Even in this time of lockdown, you belong to a worldwide family of faith, hope and love, alive and joyful in our risen Saviour.
The Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says to us: ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ Believe in your heart that this promise is for you.