Alleluia, alleluia! I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my own sheep and my own know me. Alleluia!
Uniquely in our readings for this Sunday Christ is described as the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice, the Good Shepherd, who tends to His flock, and also the gateway to the sheepfold, the way which leads to salvation. Starting in 1996 artist Andy Goldsworthy re-created a number of dry-stone Cumbrian sheepfolds, symbols of an ancient way of life, that has now largely passed away. However, many sheepfolds remain, as ruins in the landscape. The setting of these sheepfolds may be very different from first century Palestine, but Jesus would have recognised these structures for what they are, places of safety and gathering for the flock. For Goldsworthy these structures hold deeper connotations beyond their role as pens for livestock: “The fold becomes a forum for something, the idea that something has happened in it: not just leaving an object but leaving a story … space charged with the memory of things that have happened there … an intense space.” As Christians the sheepfold symbolises Christ’s love and care for us. In this sense then the sheepfold represents the cradle of our faith, the intense space is the Church. For Catholics the sheepfold is charged with the story of salvation. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§754) describes the Church as the sheepfold, to which Christ is the gateway. We then, as Catholics are the flock that is necessarily led and nourished by Christ.
The last verse of our Gospel reading this Sunday introduces one of the most famous phrases in the Bible: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” It is a quotation so well known that we can, and do, use John 10:10 as shorthand for this phrase and it even lends itself to the name of Ten Ten Theatre, which organises Catholic-themed performing arts-based activities for young people (and who have visited Beckenham in the past). But what did Christ mean by life to the full?
In John’s Gospel Christ contrasts Himself with the thief, who comes only to steal and kill and destroy. The shepherd nurtures and protects his flock; and we graze on the word of God, seeking the spiritual nourishment which the Bible provides. Meanwhile, the thief, the evil one, steals from us the promise of a life lived to the full, leads us away from the sheepfold and into the night, away from God. If we choose to follow the thief, then we lose joy and hope, and we lose our most precious relationship, that with God.
A life lived to the full can only be achieved by embracing what Christ has gained for us through His sacrifice. A life lived in love of God, and in communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ is a life of abundance. This is a life lived generously, this is how we are each called to live.
This weekend is Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter and also Vocations Sunday. We pray especially this weekend for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Ten years ago, at the Chrism Mass in the Vatican, Pope Francis famously called for priests to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep”, he was calling for our priests to be closer to those in need, to be active in their ministry among their flock within the sheepfold. We are truly blessed that men continue to heed the call of God to become shepherds of His flock. In Beckenham we have benefitted from the ministry of seminarian Frazer Bellfield this Easter and previously Joseph Gulliford during lockdown, Joseph now serves as a priest in Dulwich. This weekend there is a second collection for the Priest Training Fund, which supports the work of the Archdiocese of Southwark’s Vocations team, so they can encourage and inspire those who hear God’s calling. Your donations will also support the seminary fees and living costs of our Seminarians and those in formation for the Diaconate. The future of the Church is dependent on those who generously give their lives in ministry and your generosity in your giving, and most especially in your prayers, is most precious in supporting ordained ministry, the shepherds of the flock.