TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Shepherding the Sheep

This week’s message finds its way to you from the Gold Coast, where Allen and I are taking a week away to visit our children and grandchildren, whom we have not seen since February.

It was really lovely for all of us to gather on Saturday night for a meal, and just to spend time together. Our grandchildren, the cousins, love to just be with each other and it was amazing to see Levi, the six month old, observing all the activity and hearing all of the voices, and somehow expressing in the depths of his eyes and his being the real sense/pleasure of ‘this is my tribe and I belong to them’. Disappointingly, our son, daughter-in-law and grandson, who reside in Canberra, were unable to join us on this occasion. The plan is to have a meal with each family, during the week, as this allows us to have more in-depth conversation with each of them.

Over the weekend, we did spend a good deal of time with one family, as we helped our Year 8 grandson work on a science experiment and research report. While working with him, I had some fairly deep conversations with his two sisters about lying, trust, respect, growing up, friendships and the books they are both reading. Part of me feels sad at the pace of the world and what is expected of children; educationally, socially and emotionally. I wonder about the short time they have to be children because of their exposure to the complexities of the world in which we now find ourselves.

And then I find myself at Mass with this weighing on my heart as the words of the prophet Jeremiah (23:1-6) are proclaimed, in which the shepherds (read that as us) are responsible for the scattered flock:

The remnant of the flock I will gather to me, and bring them back to their pastures.

Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered – it is the Lord who speaks! This, therefore, is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the shepherds in charge of my people: You have let my flock be scattered and go wandering and have not taken care of them. Right, I will take care of you for your misdeeds – it is the Lord who speaks! But the remnant of my flock I myself will gather from all the countries where I have dispersed them, and will bring them back to their pastures: they shall be fruitful and increase in numbers. I will raise up shepherds to look after them and pasture them; no fear, no terror for them any more; not one shall be lost – it is the Lord who speaks!

From this disturbing reading about the scattered flock, we sang Psalm 22 – The Lord is my shepherd. We are part of His remnant flock who longs for people to gather once again, to connect to community and to have faith, hope and love in the message of Jesus and of the God who created them. My own ‘flock’ are busy with the distractions of life in the 21st century, and I wonder and worry about what is giving them their deeper meaning, purpose and connection.

And then as we moved to the Gospel reading from Mark (6:30-34), I was reminded of our need to go off to a quiet place to rest and recuperate. This is part of the reason for this one week’s break, to just take the time for some needed time out. And yet, our children are a bit like sheep without a shepherd. How blest we are that this is the type of relationship we have nurtured with our children and now grandchildren. It seems to me that their family is their anchor and provides them with an abiding sense of belonging. We continue to teach them and guide them.

During the week, at the following meetings of Pastoral Ministries Staff, Diocesan Leadership Group and the Synod Working Party, I found myself reflecting on our need to be a church whose key focus must be on the lost sheep of the under 40-year-olds. For many in this age-group, they have not had a strong connection to the church and therefore have not really had an encounter with Jesus Christ. I shared with each of these groups about our being the leaders, the shepherds, who are being sent to the lost sheep. We share in this grave responsibility for accompanying people as they seek to make meaning of their lives. The ideal of accompaniment was expressed well in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:

The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life. (EG, 169) And in No.171, Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.

Spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God… to accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father. (EG, 170)

While writing this, I am reminded once again of our Synod Papers for Session Two of Synod, in which there was an attempt to invite us to accompany others, and I share with you the reflection which began the Foundation 1 Paper on Identity and Community:

We proclaim the gospel when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, offer hospitality to the stranger, visit the sick and the lonely, care for those imprisoned or dying (Mt 25:35-36).

We proclaim the gospel when we stand up and tell the truth, although it’s easier to stay silent.

We proclaim the gospel when we take time out to be with God, even when there are many demands on our time.

We proclaim the gospel when we agitate for justice and peace to prevail even though our own lives may be comfortable and secure.

We proclaim the gospel when we speak well of our family members, our colleagues, our leaders, our neighbours, our fellow parishioners.

We proclaim the gospel when we share our resources – our time, talent and treasure – with those who need them.

We proclaim the gospel when we recognise and honour those beliefs, customs and ways that are different, even radically so, from our own.


Teresa Brierley
Director Pastoral Ministries
20 July 2021

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Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.