In the scene Jesus describes in the Gospel, shepherds bring their small flocks together into one sheepfold for safety at night. Then in the morning, each shepherd comes and calls his own sheep, one by one: they recognise his voice and follow him.
This Sunday, traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday, is the day when we pray for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, because the flock of Christ needs shepherds. As a diocese we can rejoice that we have a new chief shepherd in Archbishop Malcolm, but his task will be very difficult unless many more priests are ordained in the next few years. The first question put to him in an interview last Sunday was about the shortage of priests. He replied wisely, saying that we definitely need to be more creative and imaginative in recruiting priests, but also pointing to the work that has been done in recent years to encourage and equip lay people to take up their proper role as missionary disciples, playing a much more active part in the mission of the church and not leaving it to priests and religious.
Last Thursday evening parishioners who had been ‘Walking through Lent with Pope Francis’, reflecting in groups on the Sunday Gospels in the light of the Pope’s message, ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, came together to pool their ideas as to how we might respond to that challenge of becoming missionary disciples. They came up with lots of suggestions for building on the great work that is already happening in this community. These suggestions can be summarised under five headings:
• Provide more personal formation for parishioners
• Make Mass more welcoming
• Build up contact with the community, especially those who currently don’t come to Mass:
• Improve our outreach to children and young people
• Take action for justice
During the next few weeks we will be publishing and considering all these ideas (and any more that may come in) but one thing is clear: none of them will happen unless more of us devote time, energy and the specific skills and gifts we have to making them happen. Our shepherd is calling us, one by one, to follow him and is waiting for each of us to respond in our own individual way.