By Monika Manser
The most frequent way of praying that Saint Ignatius uses is that of imagining ourselves in a Gospel scene. We imagine ourselves as a character in the story. We take part in the story, seeing Jesus and all the other people, being aware of what’s going on and how we are feeling. The purpose of praying with the imagination is to allow Christ in the Scripture to speak to us. To bring the Gospel stories to life for us. We are not trying to recreate history. It doesn’t matter if your imagination takes the story off in a different direction to the Scripture. It doesn’t matter if the story takes place in 1st century Palestine or where we live now in the 21st century. What is important is what God wants to say to us through this passage.
Sit and relax by focussing on your breathing for a few minutes so that you can contemplate the Gospel using your imagination.
Acknowledge you are in the presence of God by saying the following prayer:
Direct O Lord and guide and influence all that is happening in my mind and heart during this time of prayer: all my moods and feelings, my memories and imaginings; my hopes and desires; may all be directed and influenced to your greater glory, praise and service and to my growth in your Spirit.
Let the Spirit guide and enlighten my mind as we read the Gospel and reflect on my relationship with Jesus and the kind of image the Good Shepherd resonates with me.
I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and runs away
as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man
and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd;
I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold,
and these I have to lead as well.
They too will listen to my voice,
and there will be only one flock, and one shepherd.
The Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me;
I lay it down of my own free will,
and as it is in my power to lay it down,
so it is in my power to take it up again;
and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is called Good Shepherd Sunday and the Gospel Reading is always taken from Chapter 10 of St John’s Gospel in which Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd. In this Gospel passage, Jesus compared his relationship between himself and his disciples with that of a shepherd and his sheep, one who is ready to lay down his life for his sheep irrespective of the risk it poses. With this in mind, let us enter the scene and find a place within it.
- Who are you within the story? Are you one of his disciples? One of the Jews listening to Jesus? A scribe or Pharisee? A shepherd? Perhaps a person that is not specially mentioned in the printed story?
- Where are you listening to Jesus? Outside? In the temple? In someone’s house? Is it a public gathering or are there only selected people present?
- What time of day is it? Morning? Noon? Evening?
- What is the weather like? Hot? Cool? Windy?
- Are there many people listening? What is the atmosphere in the crowd like? Peaceful? Attentive? Argumentative?
- Where are you in this crowd? At the front? In the middle? On the margins?
- Why are you there? To hear Jesus because you like his way of teaching? Are you there to confront him? Or are you there to just listen?
- Given that shepherds in Jesus’ time were on the margins of society and whose social status was equivalent to that of tax-collectors, how do you react to Jesus’ comparing himself to a shepherd and you to a flock of sheep?
- Do you understand the analogy Jesus is making regarding the relationship between a good shepherd and his sheep? That a good shepherd is concerned for his sheep; will lay down his life for his sheep; acts out of love for his sheep and will protect his sheep at any costs. How does that make you feel? Safe? Protected? Loved? Do you think this is a call to humility and trust in God? Or do you struggle with the image?
- How do you react to the analogy of the hired man who has no concern for his sheep? Do you feel it is true because he has no real commitment? Do you compare this hired hand to your leaders who have no sense of responsibility to those under their care?
- Do you like Jesus’ desire to draw everyone into the one flock? That we will all be united under the one Good Shepherd? That Jesus’ invitation is open to all? Do you think that this is achievable?
- When you hear Jesus’ voice, what does it sound like to you? One of gentle encouragement? Do you hear him calling you by name because he knows you intimately? Do you hear the love and compassion in his voice? Do you hear Jesus inviting you to love him just like he knows and loves the Father? Do you sometimes not hear his call? Ignore his invitation? Are you sometimes distracted?
- Do you now understand the analogy between the good Shepherd and his sheep. The unconditional love the Good Shepherd, Jesus has for us his sheep who can be foolish creatures.
Feel what is going on inside you as you listen to Jesus’ words. Is there anything you want to ask him? Approach Jesus and talk to him about what is going on inside you. Listen to his voice and what he tells you.
Let us now share what we thought, felt etc. only if you are comfortable to do so.
Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Scripture texts: from the Jerusalem Bible 1966 by Dartington Longman & Todd Ltd and Doubleday and Company Ltd