Somewhat distractedly, I began to skim the lectionary readings for today. First it was Ezechiel talking about God tending sheep – which always conjures up in me a vague envy for the life of a sheep herder or a dairy farmer (a more realistic choice for our day and location). It’s unrealistic, I know, but there’s something about seeing the animals in the simplicity of their lives – just grazing and having a routine with someone to care for them who moves through the days in relative quiet…Idyllic, no? Well, although I know the reality to be more difficult than that description, there is a warm feeling that arises when I read EZ 34: 11-16 as I did this morning. Then came the 23rd psalm and by the time I got to a second reading before the gospel I realized today must be a special feast in the Church. And so it is. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, simply described, as Paul does, in the letter to the Romans (5:5) by the declaration: “Brothers and sisters, the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The gospel completes the metaphoric shepherd references with the wonderful question of Jesus: “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine and go after the lost one until he finds it?”
It’s all about love, you see – the kind of love that is selfless enough to always think of the good the other more than our own comfort. Jesus was trying to convey that message about God by using something the people were familiar with in order for them to get the message. As I write I hear the melody of a “shepherd song” composed long ago by the St. Louis Jesuits that still conveys the message, not only of care but of tenderness, to me. The refrain says this: Like a shepherd he feeds his flock and carries the lambs in his arms, holding them carefully close to his heart, leading them home.
This is a wonderful day to think of what and whom we love and what it is that makes this love flow out of our hearts. If I love my job, is it because I earn a lot of money, or is it the service I provide and the relationships that develop because of what I do? If I love my family and/or friends, is it because there is never a disturbance – our days being placid and we unruffled by any occurrence? Or is it that there is some long-term commitment and care that has built up trust so that no matter the difficulties, we are in the relationships “for the long haul?” Admittedly, it is easy to feel the love in the easy times but think about the deepening that moments of reconciliation after distress lead to in a relationship. It’s that way with God too. When we are the “found sheep” we are likely able to hear God’s heartbeat more clearly as we are held close, as we are led home…Such a God is ours, such a grace is God’s love.