Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Jesus occasionally would use the image of sheep and shepherd to describe his relationship, as well as the relationship of the Church, with all of God's people. Having been around sheep I can sort of understand this. Sheep can be skittish but at the same time very stubborn. Sheep watch the shepherd or rancher intently, looking for guidance and direction. They are prone to community and wandering as a herd (I guess that should be flock)

The "authority" that a shepherd has over his or her flock comes from the care that is given to the sheep. That whole notion that sheep know the voice of the shepherd is very much true. Good shepherds have to be firm but compassionate.

I write all of this as I have been reading about St. John Newmann. Bishop Newmann is understood to have been a wonderful priest and leader of his people. What is most outstanding about Newmann was his teachings, in which he conveyed the values of the Gospel, and of the Church, but did so with an sense of understanding and compassion. Those whom he ministered to understood from him a deep love and concern for all peoples. More so, whether these peoples were parishioners or priests, they recognized that all that he did, he did in the name of Jesus.

When the Church refers to being a 'shepherd' of God's people it reiterates the image of Jesus as the good shepherd, the model of ministry in the Church. Now some might mistake in this that the Church never says 'no.' We can do whatever we want because Jesus loves us. The Shepherd guides along right paths, into green pasture and living water. That means that we are on occasion nudged along.

St. Paul speaks about the importance to live rightly, and to use our gifts to influence others to live in the ways of Christ. While we might need to admonish each other, as St. Paul reminds us, we need to do so with love and charity.

We really need to prayer to the Holy Spirit and ask that God send us good shepherds. Our Church leadership really needs to proclaim the counter-cultural truths of sacred scripture, and celebrate the sacraments with dignity and reverence. But it is with compassion and gentleness that we enable men and women to be nurtured and nourished along the journey. Christ's authority is best recognized while washing feet and in the Paschal Mystery. Our own authority in the Church can best be observed in the self-less love for one another.

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