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A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: June 10, 2023
By Father Jason Tyler
The idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd comes from the words of Jesus himself in John’s Gospel. It was so strong in early Christianity that the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd shows up on the walls of many ancient catacombs.
In John chapter 10, Jesus speaks of himself as the “gate for the sheep” in verse 7 and as the “good shepherd” in verse 11 and again in verse 14. In contrast to a thief who comes to steal and slaughter and destroy, Jesus points out in verse 10 that he “came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
What does it mean for us to have life “more abundantly?” This world will tell us that an “abundance” of life means doing whatever we want, possessing whatever we want or controlling whatever — or whomever — we want. At the very least, it might mean having the newest car or the latest gadget in the company of all the “best” people.
As followers of Jesus, we know to have life abundantly means to live fully in and through Jesus. It means that we seek a life lived in imitation of him, submitting ourselves to our heavenly Father and seeking to align our own desires with his. To live abundantly in God means to seek holiness of life in him.
As followers of Jesus, though, we know that to have life abundantly means to live fully in and through Jesus. It means that we seek a life lived in imitation of him, submitting ourselves to our heavenly Father and seeking to align our own desires with his. To live abundantly in God means to seek holiness of life in him.
This holiness does not have to mean an isolated life apart from the world. Such a life is wonderful for those who are called to it. For most people, though, the holiness that God calls us to is a matter of conducting our daily lives according to His will and design. It means being an everyday hero in the small things of life.
As Pope Francis said in Gaudete et Exsultate, his 2018 apostolic exhortation on holiness, “Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.”
Holiness and being a hero in holiness are not limited to the dramatic moments in life. We admire the martyrs and other canonized saints. We can learn much from their lives, but most of our opportunities to grow in holiness will be found in the smaller, less dramatic moments of our lives.
Does a friend tempt you to gossip? By refusing to speak ill of anyone, you have a chance to grow in holiness. Do you need to spend some time with your child, even at the end of a long, tiring day? The sacrifice of your time and energy in this situation can also be united to the suffering of Jesus and can be a moment to grow in holiness.
When we think of Jesus the Good Shepherd, we think naturally of him shepherding us. That is certainly the plain meaning that Jesus seeks to convey: we are his sheep, and he cares for us and guides us. As important as this primary meaning is, we can also gain something in considering how we are the shepherd. The shepherd’s work is not usually dramatic; it is normally very ordinary and messy. To live in holiness is also a matter of doing ordinary things that are often messy and not very dramatic.