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Freedom of the Sheepfold
Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Opening Prayer: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. You set a table before me in front of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the Lord for endless days.
- The Sheepfold: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.” One definition of a sheepfold is a three-foot stone wall opening up to the sky. It is said a sheep can jump as high as three feet, and anyone trying to get in would have no trouble stepping over that low wall. This type of sheepfold assumes a shepherd who is ever alert and attentive. The Catholic Church is like this type of sheepfold. The sheep have the freedom to jump the wall if they choose, and anyone from the outside can easily enter. We, too, have that freedom. “God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel, so that he might of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (CCC 1743). “The Church proposes. She imposes nothing” (St. John Paul II).
- Thieves and Robbers: The Catechism states, “The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and good that God has put in the human heart” (1742). Humans are much more intelligent than sheep, but we are wise to look to them for their example of trust. It is said that as long as the sheep are full and feel protected, they are happy to stay in place. Our faith teaches that the “thieves and robbers” that tempt us are the flesh, the world, and the devil. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Good Shepherd, who provides fully for us and protects us from harm, why do we find ourselves mistaking the voices of vice as something good and worth following?
- The Shepherd’s Voice: “But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” With over thirty-thousand Protestant Christian denominations in the world, there are various understandings of who Jesus is. For Catholics, we can trust who Jesus is through Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. These three pillars of the Church, like the Good Shepherd, the gatekeeper, and the gate, are Jesus Christ, who promised he would not leave us orphaned (John 14:18). When we doubt, fear, and find ourselves lost through sin, we can trust Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is always alert and attentive and will draw us back to the sheepfold of the Church. We can trust Jesus through his Church to provide and protect us as he says, “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Conversing with Christ: Lord, I believe you are the Good Shepherd. I believe you will provide and protect me. I am sorry for all the times I have left your fold to go my own way. True freedom lies in you, God. Thank you for the gift of the Church, where I can always come home and seek reconciliation through the sacraments.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will learn what the Catechism teaches about the pillars of the Church: Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the Magisterium by reading and reflecting on CCC 74-141.
For Further Reflection: Contemplate Ephesians 1:15-23 on the Church as Christ’s Body.
Nan Balfour is an events coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization ministry that answers Christ’s call by guiding people to encounter him in order to live in hope as pilgrims in daily life. She is also a mother, writer, and speaker on Catholic topics.
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