John 10:1-10, 4th Sunday of Easter
A usual afternoon after a private mass in the sacristy is spent watching the neighborhood from the third floor of the parish rectory. The parallel streets display a sprawl of rusty corrugated sheets in haphazard and unintelligible configuration, the scampered power lines loosely stretched from post to post resembling a tangle of messy black spaghetti. And with everyone in their houses, I find the atmosphere of quiet so bizarre, and the lethargy so uneasy. It is more disconcerting to see the distraught and lonely faces of a few people in next to empty streets.
The covid pandemic has brought a sense of helplessness that may spill at any moment to utter hopelessness. The blatant hunger is satiated once in a while by relief goods from the church and baranggay center; however, the degree of unfreedom to work and resume a living during a lockdown and the days after is still undefined. The other day, on my way to distribute relief goods to other parishes in the vicariate, I saw an incredibly long queue of people, an indiscernible stretch of a mile, under a merciless midday sun hoping to receive the elusive SAP assistance from the baranggay center. The long line no longer observed social distancing because what mattered most was to have the amelioration fund at the end of the day.
When people are hungry and weary and helpless, I picture a flock of sheep intently looking and waiting for the familiar call of the shepherd to lead them to green pastures and to a stream of running water. Where is the shepherd in this time of pandemic?
Since the start of the community quarantine, many inspired moments and earned epiphanies have dawned upon me. The Gospel this Sunday allows me to see the shepherd in each one mysteriously resonating, or a bit of it, in the one and true Good Shepherd (and the gate of the sheep). Numerous drawn experiences and narratives point to the good shepherd in many of us…
I came to know of a poor woman who shared the relief goods she received to her listless neighbor even if what remained with her would only suffice for a meal or two for her family. When I asked her about it, she would say that God will provide them for another day and the next, and that God will not abandon them. “Higit na mahalaga, Father, makakain kaming parehas ang aming mga pamilya. Hindi dadapo ang gabi na wala rin silang masaing.”
Then, there is the group of three mothers who would surprisingly arrive at the church’s doorstep and make a jovial announcement that they could spend the whole day to help in the repacking of goods. “Ito na lang, Father, ang paraan na makatulong kami sa mga nangangailangan sa panahong katulad ngayon. Gipit din kami, eh.” And they would gladly and willingly keep on repacking of relief goods everytime there is a need.
Then, there are my Jesuit mentors and friends in the Ateneo who unexpectedly drop a text message that starts with “Kumusta ka at ang sa parish mo?” and, for the most part, ends with “Sige, will cue a batch of relief goods for your parishioners.” It always brings the widest grin I have in weeks, one that can be traced only to a genuine heart’s thanksgiving.
Then, there are those benevolent parishioners who generously share what they have to help others, not from the “much” they hold but even from the little they do have. An elderly man sends a bag of green mangoes from his front yard; others happily bring salted eggs, camote, fruits, vegetables, raw and cooked food, dessert, etc. And they continue to share because they feel that they are still blessed even in these trying times. These create a perfect picture, true to what is meant of verdant pastures and streams of running water.
The good shepherd in us opens the gate of grace for others to bring abundant life in this dreaded time of pandemic that threatens to steal the vibrance of life and its meaningfulness. When we thought we were struggling and could do nothing, there are avenues we can see around to recognize and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. He is calling us to look for ways where we can do what is good and show our compassion to others. So that like the Good Shepherd, even in challenging situations, we come to lead others to have life and have it more abundantly.