The Good Shepherd-Carried and Called : Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest
For the last three days our Scripture readings have included the “Good Shepherd” readings from the Gospel of John. Yesterday’s Gospel includes:
“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me….and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd….” (John 10:14-16)
I am ,as always, moved by the intimacy and inclusion in these words of Jesus. His relationship with the sheep is one of caring and trust. His love extends even to “laying down his life” for the sheep. They are called by name and the sheep know his voice and do not follow strangers. And he is not parochial, he is including those of other folds. There is a genuine relationship there. How blessed we are to be part of that huge diverse flock!
I have always felt drawn to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. As I sit here at my desk to my left is a depiction in embroidered cloth obtained and made a long time ago, of Jesus carrying a little lamb and reaching toward another sheep. And on my right on my other desk is a Bible that a Good Shepherd church member gave me, opened to the 23rd Psalm describing God as ‘My Shepherd” who leads me into green pastures and by the still waters, and “restores my soul”. In the accompanying picture is Jesus on a mountain- side carrying a lamb and leading the sheep. Although the Jesus figure is not accurately Middle Eastern in appearance, the care for the sheep is heart warming. Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 43:1 “I have called you by name and you are mine!” How blessed it is to be called by name by our loving God.
In my autobiographical book “The House on Sunny Street: A Tale of Two Brooklyns…” ( PublishAmerica Press, 2013-Amazon.com-Kindle copies) I share that when I moved to Florida over 25 years ago needing a professional change, I wandered away from addresses the Real Estate Agent gave me and and saw this house with a little lake right behind it. When I stood by the lake I knew that God, my Shepherd was still leading me by still waters to gain rest for my soul. We bought that house! Also in the book is a story of getting lost as a small child after church and one of the men of the church finding me and carrying me to my frantically waiting mother. Mr. Leopold Dyce was from Jamaica, in the West Indies, and yet I felt that he was the arms of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, for me that day.
Even as a child I felt called to follow the Good Shepherd, and to be the arms of the Good Shepherd for others-to help shepherd the flock. I was happiest inviting friends to church. Throughout my life, no matter how old I was I could see Jesus lifting me to his breast as a little lamb, and I could feel him finding me and bringing me home as an adult when I strayed away from the flock. (It was not easy to stay with the flock when some strong members rejected me for the gayness I embraced in my thirties). I would find other flocks and somehow Jesus always kept me close to Him.
Hence, when my life partner Judy Beaumont and I started our ministry in Fort Myers, Florida in 2003 by buying a house where a homeless woman and her family could live, we easily agreed to call our ministry The Good Shepherd Ministry. When I was ordained a Roman Catholic Woman Priest in 2008, we were ministering with the homeless and hungry in a local park (since 2007) with the support of many who chose to assist this ministry. In 2009 we bought a building to be our Church Home and a shelter for the homeless that we called Joshua House, Jesus’ House. More than a hundred people left homelessness behind once they entered those doors. We came together to become The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Church located in central Fort Myers. Those who served and those who were served became one serving church.
Below are some pictures of our Good Shepherd Community. Like the sheep Jesus taught about we are diverse, all colors and sizes and shapes. Each one different and each one called by God to follow. In the second picture below some of our members are joining several from earlier years in electing to be Confirmed as followers of Jesus. Over 30 people of all ages and walks of life were baptized in our church. In the last picture we are meeting outside during Covid, Pastor Marina Teresa Sanchez-Mejia is standing next to our Church elder, Mr. Harry Gary and myself. Like sheep we have developed a wonderful mutual aid and friendship community. It is good to know that sheep are actually smart creatures who form friendship groups, know each other and care for one another. Our community exists to the present time even though early deaths and moving have diminished our numbers from over 70 to about 30. Semi-retired now, I am not able to offer regular Mass. Pastor Marina is working full time in a Hospital and has a separate Hispanic ministry. We meet as we can but are still a community. We would do well to emulate sheep in developing non-hierarchical mutual aid communities where young and old are cared for. I enjoyed the research on sheep by Tamsin Cooper, Online, 2022, and in Countryside Sept, Oct 2020. I am happy to be one of the sheep!
Bless you as you seek to follow the Good Shepherd,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Florida 5/3/2003
div dir=”ltr”>This is such a heartfelt story of your genuine calling. Just wonderful!
Honored to have known you.
Lovely to see Lauretta and all the other ‘Lambs’
you and Pastor Judy B
You must be filled with such gratitude for all of them. And the half has not been told.
Sent from my iPhone
Good shepherd save lives.