Animals are viewed by those who love them as agents of comfort, warmth and healing. They sometimes accomplish for people what fellow humans can’t for their own.
Children who have lived through traumatic experiences find solace and protection in therapy which revolves around their relationship with animals.
The lonely and depressed of all ages turn to their pets for the acceptance and undemanding loyalty and companionship that they crave but which they have been unable to find in others.
Guide dogs, working pets, provide the sight that the blind lack and rescue dogs play critical roles in the survival of hurricane, earthquake, landslide and avalanche victims.
In today’s gospel (Jn 10:1–10), Jesus refers to Himself as the Shepherd who leads His flock to safety, to green pastures, to life. His followers, we the people who profess our trust in Him, are His sheep.
Sheep are often perceived as foolish creatures, unable to think for themselves. Interestingly, Jesus affirms that His sheep listen only to His voice and flee from those whom they do not know, those who are “thieves and brigands; … [who only come] … to steal and kill and destroy.” They know whom to trust and they follow His lead unhesitatingly.
Can we, as sheep living through this frightening and confusing time of COVID-19, learn anything from our identification with sheep and by extension, with animals in general?
Last Sunday, we read about Cleopas and his companion who were unable to recognise Jesus, whom they both knew well. Fear and confusion often mar our ability to see, to hear, and to think constructively.
This Sunday, we are blessed to be likened to the sheep who hear and recognise the voice of the Master. Many of us may have come to the very surprising and unsettling realisation that, forced to be in the almost constant company of our families, we haven’t previously really been listening even to their voices and find it difficult to relearn the art of listening with our hearts as well as with our ears.
How much harder it is to listen with faith, with trust to the voice of our Lord whom we are unable to see physically before us.
As sheep of the Shepherd of Life, we are being given the chance, uninterrupted by the cacophony of noises and the distractions that surround our lives in ‘normal’ times to re-create ourselves.
We are being invited to become like those animals that enhance and preserve life in circumstances that threaten, maim and even destroy.
In short, we are being allowed yet another chance to live heroic lives. We are being called to follow the example of the saints who served the Lord in the ordinary and unremarkable circumstances of their lives.
It is only those whose lives we touch in the process who will have any inkling of our heroism for there will be no glamour or fulsome public praise as we go about offering hope, comfort, direction, food and healing of body and spirit.
This is a time like no other than we have ever experienced. This is a time of change and a time for holiness.
The Shepherd is leading us. We must recognise and respond to His voice. He will bring us to safety and the fullness of life in Him.