The Rev. Dr. Michael Halsall is the Director of Curriculum Development at Allen Hall Seminary, Westminster and a Priest in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. This means he knows a bit about what it means to be a priest and what it takes to form young men for the priesthood. It also means he knows the ground: he knows what is going on currently in the Church with regard to vocations and priestly formation. He gave a most excellent homily for Good Shepherd Sunday (last Sunday) which I thought I would share with you here:
The earliest known image that we have of Jesus, is of a man carrying a sheep over his shoulders, with another sheep standing/following close by. He is dressed very roughly, with a leather jerkin and sandals; no robe, no hat or ring of office. The image was found in the Catacombs which lie just outside the city of Rome, where Christians chose to be buried when it was unsafe to bury bodies in the city during the plague seasons.
In our technical, digitally mesmerising age, the idea of a shepherd is beyond the experience of most urban creatures. For most people, in order to grasp the context of a shepherd or sheep fold/pen, then they would have to Google it. Anyone brought up in the country, however, and such people are increasingly rare, then the dual images that Jesus sets before us are all too familiar. The sheep pen is a place of safety when the shepherd has to sleep, or be somewhere else. It is a barrier against predators, and helps a shepherd’s particular sheep have an identity. In our Gospel today – the only parable in John’s Gospel – Jesus calls each one by name, and they know his voice. He leads them to fresh pastures; he establishes their safety and well-being. It is not difficult, therefore, to make the connection between a good shepherd and one who leads the flock of God today.