Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, which will be unusually lengthier (please excuse me), I make a pastoral application of the qualities of the Good Shepherd hinted in the Gospel of John 10:1-18. I do so, not as a scholarly piece, but consistent with the approach of our reflection as a way to engage us in this spiritual contemplation of the role of Christ as the Good Shepherd.
Joe and Nancy had a terrible year. Their child had barely survived a drug overdose and his life has become a constant painful struggle for him and for the entire family. Joe’s Mom has not been doing well either. From one case of depression to chronic panic attacks, the family has been through the darkest months of their life.
Amidst their struggles, the pastor of their church paid them regular visits. Sometimes he prayed with them. Other times he brought them Holy Communion, anointing them with the Oil of the Sick. From time to time, he mentioned their intentions during Masses and often reassured them he was praying for them. On a number of occasions, the pastor simply visited, not saying much except one or two words while simply being present.
Months passed, and the crisis seemed to fade. Slowly. For the couple, Joe and Nancy, God was constantly with them through the thick of their problems. For them, the human instrument used was their pastor.
“He is indeed a good pastor,” they said.
What does it mean to be a good pastor? By the way, have you wondered why the leader of your parish is called a pastor?
Pastor is from a Latin word which in English means, a shepherd. It is a title borrowed right from the imagery of God as our shepherd and we as His sheep (see Is 40:11; Ez 34:11-31). Our Lord Jesus Christ would use the same imagery and personalized it since he is the “Good Shepherd” (Jn 10:11).
The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church, referring to the prophesies of Isaiah, Ezekiel and the Gospel of John 10, captures this teaching in a beautiful way: “The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ. It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds; are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds, who gave His life for the sheep” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium,n. 6).
We read from the Gospel of John how Jesus Christ taught this truth about himself. “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn 10:11). He goes ahead to tell us some of the qualities of the Good shepherd:
1. The Good Shepherd willingly lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11, 15, 17): There is a commitment to the greatest sacrifice which the Lord Jesus Christ made, offering his life for the sheep. To be a good shepherd is to share in this commitment in some ways; willing undertaking daily sacrifices for the welfare of those we serve.
2. He does not carry out the shepherding role because of pay (Jn 10:12):Nothing was found in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, as a pay-for-service. When pay-for-service is a model of the work of pastoring, one wonders if it is consistent with the role of the good shepherd.
3. He is passionately committed to the care of the sheep, not as a hired shepherd (Jn 10:13): The passion for the care of the sheep, not because of what financial benefits will come from it, but simply because we desire the sheep to find succor and green pasture is a sign of good shepherding. Pastoral life is first and foremost commitment to the spiritual, Christ-centered nourishment of the people. It isn’t primarily a commitment to the financial stability of the pastor, the parish or the church.
4. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep personally and they know him (Jn 10:14): It has been part of the church’s pastoral commitment to regulate that pastors have a manageable size for their parishes. The reason behind this is so the pastor will be able to know each member of the flock personally. This is not always possible though given the shortage of priests. It is when we get involved in the normal lives of the people, know them personally, that we will truly ‘smell like the sheep.’ (Pope Francis). It is then that we know them, and they know us. The good shepherd does not pick the wealthy over the poor or the poor over the wealthy. He aspires to know them both. The Code of Canon Law number 529 (paragraphs 1 and 2) emphasizes this need for the pastor to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care by visiting their families, sharing in their joys and sorrows, strengthening and enlightening them as the case may be just like the pastor of Joe and Nancy in our opening story did. This is why it is important to pray for more vocations, because ‘the harvest is rich, but the laborers are few’ (Mt 9:37). With a growing need for good pastors and the growing shortage of priests, it makes it difficult to know every member of the parish personally and this is not very effective for the role of shepherding.
5. His sheep heed his voice because they know his voice (Jn 10:4, 16): Because the good shepherd’s love and sacrifice are so impactful, the sheep heed the voice of the shepherd. The grace of Christ the Good Shepherd makes this possible too. However, the shepherd has to be that voice of love and care, so the sheep would hear and listen. What inspires people the most is the realization that they are loved and cared for. It is not sympathy. It is love, mercy, empathy and compassion. These inspire.
6. The Good Shepherd models the way for the sheep, and they follow (Jn 10:4): The role of the shepherd as a leader (governing role), is hereby highlighted also. The sheep models the way, leading by example and not simply by words. Actions, they say, speak louder than voice. The Lord Jesus Christ himself, walks the talk. In order to be like Christ, the shepherd has to be able to walk the talk too—mirror what they preach in the Word and what they celebrate in the Sacraments. Thanks be to God who makes this possible by the grace of Christ and our cooperation with that grace. When the sheep see the role-modeling life of the shepherd, it makes it more real to follow. It becomes relational and hopefully, easy to emulate. People want to see Christ in the words and actions of their pastor. Even in the pastors’ vulnerabilities and weaknesses (as we all are human) they want to see the way back to Christ not away from Christ.
7. The Good Shepherd’s mission is safety and life for the sheep (Jn 10:10): The Lord says he comes that we may have the fullness of life—salvation. The pastor’s primary role is that God’s people will receive the grace of salvation, fullness of life in Christ. Through the preaching, the celebration of the sacraments, and involvement in the social affairs and social justice, this central goal is the driving force of good shepherding.
So, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray that Christ the Good Shepherd will inspire all the minsters of the Word and the Sacraments to follow the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd; and that the Lord will inspire more people to open their hearts for the invitation of pastoral vocation. Amen.
I would suggest for this special day of prayer for vocations, you light a candle (pray) for your priests. Pray also for more vocations to the priestly ministry, diaconate ministry and religious life.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Fourth Sunday of Easter B (Good Shepherd Sunday): Acts 4:8-12; I Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18]
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.