Don’t be a sheep!
I am not a sheep! I think for myself!
You’re all just a bunch of sheep!
We see it on signs and bumper stickers. We hear it and read it. We’re told by the world not to be “sheep”, and, yet, that’s exactly what we’re called to do. We are each called to be a sheep.
What do people mean when they throw around “sheep” as an insult? A “sheep”, in that context, is someone that doesn’t think for themself, someone that follows blindly. First, to “be a sheep” doesn’t — couldn’t — mean to follow blindly, because sheep don’t do that. I’ve been on farms, and no matter how often I kneel down and call “Here sheepie, sheepie, sheepie”, they don’t come over to me. Why? Because I’m not their shepherd.
I also means, perhaps, passivity. Sheep don’t seem to do anything. The many generations that have relied on wool garments, and sheep’s milk and meat, would disagree. Sheep don’t do the same thing as the shepherd, certainly, but they have a unique role to play. You cannot have a field full of shepherds with no sheep; likewise, you cannot have a field full of sheep without a shepherd — at least not for very long. Shepherds don’t provide the wool to warm the world – or, if need be, flesh to feed it. Jesus sends us forth as sheep and, as sheep, we have work to do. We are not called to live passively but to faithfully follow Christ. What a tremendous difference that is to anyone that’s discerned and embraced their vocation! What a difference that’s made in the world, whenever Christians have faithfully followed Christ – to service, to charity, or even to martyrdom. The great works of Catholic culture were not made by passive people. The great acts of saints did not come from docile men and women. They came from people on fire for the Good Shepherd.
In Lumen Gentium, we read that “(t)he Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ. It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds; are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds, who gave His life for the sheep.” We are sheep because we want to be part of this flock. We want to be in the sheepfold. We want to be safe — not safe from thought or freedom or choice, but safe from error and sin. We want to be in the place where He is.
In paragraph 1465, the Catechism teaches that “(w)hen he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep…”. We need a shepherd, as well, for those times we wander off. We all do, at one time or another. We all become lost in life: in our vocation, in our morals, in our relationships. In the confessional, we’re embraced by the Good Shepherd and returned safe.
Finally, in the footnote to paragraph 896, the Catechism quotes St. Ignatius of Antioch: “Let all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ follows his Father, and the college of presbyters as the apostles; respect the deacons as you do God’s law. Let no one do anything concerning the Church in separation from the bishop.” So we follow not just because Jesus is our Good Shepherd but because He is also our model. We are Christians, after all: followers of Christ, little Christs. We follow because — and in the way that — He followed faithfully.
We follow because He is worth following. We follow because we are faithful to Christ’s teaching. We follow because we do think for ourselves. We think, and we and conclude that the best way, the only way, is the way He is already walking.
Copyright 2016, Joe Wetterling