Of shepherds and sheep
Rev. John Roche, SDB
As we welcome our new bishop, we are reminded of familiar images associated with that responsibility. We refer to our bishop as the shepherd of the archdiocese. This profound metaphor is rooted in Sacred Scriptures.
Recently we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which refers to this rich imagery citing Ezekiel 34: "I myself will look after and tend my sheep." The responsorial recalls one of the most loved passages from Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want." In the Gospel passage from Luke 15, Jesus challenges the Pharisees and scribes with the parable of the shepherd who would leave 99 sheep to go in search of the one lost sheep.
What, then, is the role of the bishop? Certainly, the bishop has a myriad of administrative tasks linked to his role in leading the various parish communities and their ministers toward responsible stewardship of these communities in their many needs.
And the highest need, among many, is to keep the people of God focused upon the risen Christ, to live and love as he has, and thus continue the process of ongoing conversion. This always calls us beyond ourselves and our own personal interests to care for the wider community with its many needs: to care for the outcast and the poor, to seek out the lost and alienated, to bring peace and meaning into the lives of others.
And what is the role of the flock? We are the flock. Most of us are men and women trying to do our best in life while juggling the responsibilities of caring for our families and contributing to the betterment of society. This is not such an easy task because we are, all of us, not always focused upon the Shepherd.
We are sinners. We are weak people. And we all have many conflicting needs. None of us consciously decides to flee from the flock and the shepherd. Just like sheep in the pastures, some will become lost in the process of searching for food.
I remember a powerful homily delivered on Good Shepherd Sunday one year. The deacon explained that most of us "nibble ourselves lost." In pursuit of our own problems and needs, living with our own inadequacies, we become lost on a path that often leads us away from the priorities in our lives, the people we need to care for, and from the Good Shepherd himself.
There are moments in our lives when we lift our heads and discover we have strayed from the path — we have nibbled ourselves lost. The Good News is that our Good Shepherd is already in search of us and ready to carry us home when we turn again and again to Him for that help.
With the shepherd of our diocese, our communal task is to live and to love as the Good Shepherd. We are to remember that we all have moments and periods of distraction and becoming lost. We all need the mercy and the love of God. And we are all called to be witnesses to that love.
Let us pledge to support our local shepherd by living as authentically as we can, by praying and working with each other, and by listening carefully for the voice of the Good Shepherd. In every season of our lives, He will call us again and again, leading us to follow him more closely.
(Rev. John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley.)
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