During this pandemic, I have seen some social media posts that compare people who wear masks or get vaccinated to sheep. They imply that wearing masks and vaccinations are signs of weakness, of blindly following the crowd, or of sacrificing our personal liberty. Sadly, even some Catholics bought into this narrative and helped perpetuate behaviors that made it harder for us to successfully beat this pandemic.
If we Christians detest being called sheep because of how we respond to the pandemic, do we then also have a problem being called sheep under the care of Jesus, the Good Shepherd? My guess is the answer would be no. It’s because we trust this shepherd, we know him and He knows us. We recognize His voice and we follow Him.
But in today’s Gospel, Jesus also warns us of those “hired men,” who are not shepherds, who would run away when they see wolves and leave the sheep behind to be devoured. We see examples of this in political figures and other influential persons who spread disinformation about the coronavirus, solely for their own political gains. The tragic aftermath is the millions of lives lost. Those we expected to be good shepherds end up leaving us behind to be devoured by the wolves of coronavirus.
A good shepherd cares for his flock. That is why our Church teaching places priority on the common good and the dignity of every life. In his Urbi et Orbi blessing last Christmas, Pope Francis reiterated that we cannot “allow the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their December 11, 2020 statement said: “Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community.” Similarly, the Mexican Bishops Conference stated on February 9, 2021: “In today’s world, the use of vaccines clinically accepted by the international scientific community helps to protect personal health and that of our neighbors, helps to care for creation; it is an action that safeguards the true common good and promotes the true culture of life, based on unrestricted respect for the dignity of every human person and the justice derived from it.
We Catholics must not contribute in any way to disinformation because the lives of people, especially the most vulnerable, are at risk. We invite all the Catholic faithful, and all brothers and sisters of good will, to commit ourselves to prevention as part of our daily lives, in order to avoid unnecessary suffering and the eventual loss of life.”
Wearing masks, getting vaccinated, and doing other safety measures do not turn us into dumb sheep who are being led to slaughter by some kind of world order. Instead, doing them helps us become good shepherds by caring for one another.
Peace, Fr. Sam Nasada, OFM
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