Good Shepherd Sunday always reminds me of my former pastor, Fr. Brian. He died on this day in 2009. He was so much more than a pastor to me. I served seven years on Pastoral Parish Council (PPC) with him. We started together and I left a year before he did. I went off to Africa and when I came back, one look in those bright blue eyes told me that the sparkle was fading. It scared me. He managed to remain about four weeks and we had a marvelous dinner together that someone dubbed the last supper.
Brian was a beloved soul and such a good shepherd. Many of us who knew him still mourn his absence. He was this rough-around-the-edges, earthy priest who turned people’s thinking upside down. He made us ponder what exactly it was we believed in. He made no secret of his earlier struggles with alcohol which probably won us over because he was real. He knew struggle. He knew redemption. He knew whose he was and encouraged us to discover that for ourselves. In fact, in one of his Good Shepherd homilies, he said that we spend so much time trying to figure out who we are that we forget the more important fact of whose we are. He preached a real God–a God caught up in the messiness of life, a God born in a dirty stable and crucified on a bloodstained cross.
Throughout our lives, people come and go. The ones that matter most leave an indelible mark on our spirits. They are our mentors, our teachers, our partners, our elders, and yes, the broken ones. These messy moments in life that Brian preached about–the conversations with the prisoners, the homeless, the widowed–these exchanges also remain forever with us. The nights we would drag ourselves to the federal prison to be a presence to the men there would morph into an amazing homily by Brian and a conversation with an inmate that would transform our own spirits. Brian remarked on this during his homilies the next night at church. When we reach out, sometimes it is our own hearts that are transfigured.
The Good Shepherd is the one who knows his sheep. Brian knew many of us in this way. He listened well and was an amazing storyteller who kept his fold huddled together on every word. We all need people like this in our lives. Someone who believes in us when we cannot. When I stepped down from PPC, he told me that he did not have words enough to thank me for all that I had done in the parish. He knew he had asked a lot of me. I rarely said no to him. He made it easy to live the Fourth Week. In the Spiritual Exercises, the final week examines God’s great love for us and how it can spur us to serving God with abundance. This God who loves us and labours for us invokes within us a desire motivated by that love and goodness to respond selflessly. My retreatant is wrapping this up now and so the material is fresh on my mind. Brian taught me in human terms of how to give lavishly, as Fleming says, like a fountain spilling forth its waters into an unending stream.
In life we all have mentors and shepherds. Think about who you are grateful for in this aspect and how they have made you a more giving, loving person.