Sheep are rather dim-witted, and the wits they do have are “one-track.” One of our teaching Sisters shared a video she showed her students in proximity to Good Shepherd Sunday. The candid video records visitors to a Norwegian sheep farm who want to test the theory that sheep only listen to one voice, the shepherd’s. The visitors hoot, holler and cajole, but the sheep continue munching placidly, heads down, as if nothing is happening. Then, the shepherd steps forward. Within seconds of his calling, heads rise and the sheep, just a few at first and soon the whole herd, amble toward him.
Many times in the Gospels, Jesus likens us to sheep. Are we dim-witted? In comparison to God, we do understand very little, and very slowly. It is hard for us really to believe that a good God guides our lives — that the blessings we receive come from His hand, that He abhors evil even more than we do, and that He only permits it to give us a greater good, one that we most deeply desire.
Thankfully, our Shepherd is truly good. He is leading us to green pastures, whether we know it or not. But, if we can be as dim-witted as sheep are, are we also as single-minded as they? Do we hear the Shepherd’s voice, and do we follow? The fifth-century Roman empress Galla Placidia built a chapel in Ravenna whose walls and ceiling sparkle with now world-famous mosaics. One depicts the Good Shepherd seated on a hillock and surrounded by sheep. None is looking down, grazing obliviously; every single head, no matter where the sheep stands in relation to Christ, is pointed to Him. The sheep are alert, attentive and content.
There are many moments when we cannot understand God’s ways, but are we still listening and following? Sister Prema, third superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, tells this story about Mother Teresa: “One day when she saw a sister going out for apostolate with a sad face, she called her in her room and asked: ‘What did Jesus say, to carry the Cross in front of him or to follow Him?’ With a smile the sister answered: ‘To follow Him.’ Mother asked then: ‘Why are you trying to go ahead of Him?’”
In those moments when God seems to be asking too much, do I remember that I follow? He never asks me to go where the Shepherd does not go before. When Jesus chose to suffer and die for me on Calvary, He foresaw, entered into, and redeemed each of the sufferings I endure. He went there first, and He is with me now. I am not alone.
In this month of Our Lady, let us remember her single recorded command, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). If we cannot change the fact that we are somewhat dim-witted, let us ask her at least to make us single-minded in listening to His voice and trusting His goodness.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.