There is a deeply held conviction in the heart of many spiritual traditions that life is not all about you. Bishop Robert Barron devotes a good deal of time to that point in many of his lectures. And it’s rather common-sensical, isn’t it? There is so much we don’t know. So much that each of us, individually, can’t accomplish. So much we can’t see or hear or sense. This conviction is a deep-down knowledge, an intuition, that we have much to learn. But it really only explains half of life. Because, you can bet your bottom dollar, it’s also very much about you! We do know some things. We do have something to share. We have lots of things to share! So, maybe it’s about both then: you and me, I and us … we are all in this together. Yet, that doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a choice. Indeed, the Church has a fancy name for that, for that choice to live with others. For that choice to give and receive with others. It’s called communion. It’s the choice God made in Creation. A jaw-dropping mystery: God chooses to give and receive from us. God began it all, but beckons us to join in. Truly life, then, is an experience of learning and teaching, listening and speaking. Life is a matter of discernment, a matter of staying with one another as things continually unfold. That’s revelation. In the meanwhile, we do better, so I think, when we hold in mind the example of a shepherd. The Lord Jesus gave us this example, and recently, I was delighted to see how Pope Francis opened up its meaning for me in a new way. He talks about how shepherds know when to be up front, be in the middle and stay behind. Sometimes, they have to lead. Sometimes, they have to humbly follow. Sometimes, they have to just be with the flock, wait with the flock. Pope Francis gave this explanation of the Good Shepherd to bishops, but I really think it applies to us all. To collaborate, i.e., to work with God and each other, we need to be willing to occupy any of those places. We need to own our gifts and lead. But then again, so do others. And we should yield! Truly sometimes we need to listen. Other times we need to speak. Ah! The wisdom of Solomon (and The Byrds): There is an appointed time for everything / and a time for every affair under the heavens. Sometimes, too, we need to maybe just wait. Just be with each other and wait.
For what it’s worth (and no more!) I offer this examen, as it were, of The Shepherd:
Am I willing to speak up, when I believe others are missing something important? Am I willing to contribute my own self to make a situation better: at home, at church, in my community?
Am I willing to challenge the status quo and its keepers?
Am I willing to live with what someone else sincerely holds as true?
Am I willing to go outside my comfort zone, at least some of the time?
Am I willing to simply observe and listen without judgment?
Am I willing to follow others? Any other, even just for a while?
Am I willing to help others prepare for leadership? Do I encourage others?
Am I willing to admit that everyone can do something I can’t?
Father Matthew Marshall, Pastor of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Viroqua and St. Mary Parish in Coon Valley