Sister Anne Dougherty is a Franciscan Sister of Allegany, NY. She is President and CEO of the Franciscan Center in Tampa. She holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a doctorate in pastoral counseling. She is certified in critical stress management and is certified as a spiritual director. She serves as chaplain to both the Tampa Police Department and the FBI Tampa. She also currently serves on the Tampa Bay Regional Critical Incident Team.
Let’s face it, sheep are not the brightest animals in God’s kingdom, so being compared to sheep doesn’t feel so good. Sheep are known for being followers, not real independent thinkers, and they smell really bad! In the modern world of today, most people have no real personal reference for sheep. For us they are just cute little animals in pictures or an animal we might encounter occasionally at a petting zoo. But, in many parts of the world, people who raise sheep have done so for many generations. Their livelihood depends on protecting their flocks from predators and keeping all the sheep from harm. Shepherds lead a difficult life. They are vulnerable to weather and to predators plus they lead a pretty solitary life hanging out with smelly animals 24 hours a day. It is a difficult life.
It is hard to imagine ourselves as followers in a world that prides itself on raising up leaders and independent thinkers. The gospel reading from the 10th chapter of John talks about how the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. If the shepherd does not love the sheep, if he is just a hired hand, he will run at the first bit of trouble, leaving the sheep susceptible to injury or death. God is the Good Shepherd. He sent his son, Jesus, to lay down his life for his sheep. God was willing to come into the world, to be vulnerable, to protect all of his sheep. The gate of the kingdom are open to all people because God keeps breaking down the barriers that separates us. Jesus was about transforming the world. He came so all people would know the Good News.
For us to truly let go of all the trappings of the world, we must be as sheep, willing to hear the call of the shepherd and to follow him, unconditional. It is important for us to seek out God’s peace and guidance in every situation. We are not meant to stay within the confines of our safe community but to step out boldly to help and love others. This is how we do God’s work in the world and how we bring the news of the kingdom to all people, wherever they may be.
Recently a Franciscan Nun, Sister Mary Anne, came from Africa to visit the Franciscan Center to learn how to set up a retreat center and what is necessary to run such a facility. In Africa, the nuns meet the needs of the people in many different ways including a facility to help children with HIV and Aids and a clinic to help the poor who would otherwise not receive medical care. They would like to expand their ministry and offer a place where people can come to seek guidance, learn about compassionate care, and seek out spiritual direction. They would like to create a place free from the demands of the world, even if it is just for a little while, to reconnect and rejuvenate. Sister Anne will be traveling to Africa to help them in setting up the facility and to provide them with the training they will need.
This trip does not come without risk. Africa can be a dangerous place. In the fall of 2014, three elderly nuns who devoted their whole lives to protecting women and children from domestic violence in Burundi in central Africa paid with their own lives. They were brutally murdered while carrying out their mission. Living out our faith and carrying out God’s mission is not for the faint of heart. It can be a scary and sometimes dangerous proposition, to step outside our comfort zones to allow God to lead us, like sheep, to do His will. Who better than one that loves us unconditionally, who loves us so much he would send his Son to bring us eternal life? God is always with us and in the words of the 23rd Psalms. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.