“A Present or Missing Shepherd?”
April 17, 2024, 6:00 AM

Franciscan Fractal: “A Present or Missing Shepherd?”

Contemplating today’s culture with the wisdom of Jesus and St. Francis.



Psalm 23


The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


Tragically, for many people in our culture today, the power of the 23rd Psalm has been distorted and lost. The caring Shepherd who compassionately looks over you and me is missing, and has been replaced with the “self”. If the psalm were to be written today, it might speak of a selfish, more self-centered experience. The author Darrel Manson suggests a contemporary version of Psalm 23:


I am my own;

I can buy what I want.

My bed is the softest made.

Wherever I walk, people look in envy.

Even though I walk through the valley of death I fear no one,

for I am the meanest person in the valley.

I spread a table finer than any of my enemies.

The best of life will be at my fingertips all the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the best house in the city.


This is not a writing in which we find comfort. Including it in this fractal only sadly lifts up what we often encounter in our culture. Self-centeredness and lack of concern or gratitude toward God and others are at its core.


The original 23rd Psalm was written at least 1,000 years before Jesus was born and most likely by one of King David’s writers. It helps readers to recognize God’s comforting presence in the midst of life’s most trying moments. I imagine that King David used the Psalm to comfort himself and help him through troubled times.


The 23rd Psalm has been so powerful that it has been recited by generations of people throughout the centuries. It is able to comfort us, bless others, and mold us in our faith, no matter what our religious affiliation or denomination. The words of the Psalm can be heard at funerals, in times of distress, and even on ordinary noneventful days.


It is interesting to note that the 23rd Psalm also has been used in baptism as an instructional piece for entering the church. The shepherd is a reference to Christ in the catechumenate documents. The pasture is referred to as the Scripture that nourishes the hearts of believers and gives spiritual strength. The cool, still water is the actual water of baptism, where sin is destroyed and a person is made new. It is the sacraments that become our protection and lead us on a path that is safe from fear or evil. The rod and the staff of the Shepherd refer to the ongoing, outpouring of the Holy Spirit who promises to guide us forever.


As we grapple and struggle with the realities of a culture and world that often feel devoid of the Shepherd, may we have our faith restored in Psalm 23. Allow its powerful words to wash over you, so that you may be immersed in the power of our living Shepherd who causes us never to want.


Prayers and Blessings,


Fr. John