My Dear Sisters and Brothers! In the Gospel, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd but it can be also translated as the beautiful shepherd. The word here captures both dynamics: good and beautiful, not one or the other.
Let me tell you another story. In 1958 after the death of Pope Pius XII the cardinals came to Rome to elect a new Successor of St Peter. Just before the conclave began Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was walking in the streets of Rome when he overheard a woman commenting his obesity. She said to her friend: ‘He is so fat.’ The cardinal turned to her and said: ‘Madame, I trust you understand that the papal conclave is not exactly a beauty contest.’ However he was elected Pope at that conclave. He took as his new name John XXIII but the Christian people gave him also a nickname, he was called the Good Pope. The goodness people saw in him was a reflection of what today’s Gospel revealed. It is goodness which is also beauty.
A Russian novelist Dostoevsky in his book the Idiot put in the mouth of the main character, Prince Myskin, who was a Christ figure in the story, these words: ‘Beauty will save the world.’ The expression was used by both St John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is a catchy phrase, isn’t it? However the phrase goes beyond the common understanding of beauty, which as Pope Benedict observed is ‘illusory and deceitful, superficial and blinding.’
Let us then turn back to the Gospel which proclaims to us Jesus the Shepherd who is good and beautiful. Our Lord also explained that profound union of good and beautiful when he said that the good/beautiful shepherd ‘lays down his life for his sheep.’ A few weeks ago we commemorated Good Friday when Jesus ‘laid down his life of his free will.’ Then broken on the cross, from the worldly perspective ‘he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in appearance that we should desire him’ as Isaiah prophesised some centuries earlier. However despite this brokenness and ugliness which was obvious to the onlookers on the first Good Friday something new was developing, a new sense of beauty. Jesus spoke of that just before his death when he said: ‘When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.’ He was not talking about any force or hypnosis but about a new sense of beauty growing in human hears filled with the Holy Spirit. It is about seeing beauty in the person who sacrifices his or her life for others. Jesus did it. That’s why Our Lady and John and Mary Magdalen did not leave the Calvary. They were drawn to the beauty they saw on the cross. Other Apostles needed more time to become sensitive to such beauty. Eventually they did.
My Dear fellow Christians. Today we observe the Good Shepherd Sunday. As we worship our ‘brave Shepherd’ we raise our prayers to heavens asking for new vocations needed in the Church. Some people say that we would have more vocations if it did not involve celibacy, or if one could be a priest or a religious for 5 or 10 years and after that they could choose a new career. I am not convinced that it is a solution to the shortage of vocations. I am not convinced that it would be what the Church and the world need either. However I do believe that our mission is about treasuring in us this new sense of beauty originated on the cross, the beauty which is all about sacrificing one’s life for others like Jesus did. Our mission is about helping our young people to grow in appreciation of this new sense of beauty. We are called to be like that mother I mentioned at the beginning who exposed her son to the beauty of the sunrise. We are called to help our youth to see that the most beautiful person is not the one who spends hours in front of the mirror or in the gym but the people who give their life to others so much that they have not time for beauty treatments.
As the Church we should pray for vocations coming from this new sense of beauty. We can’t afford to settle for anything less.