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Bible Reflections View Comments

What Makes a Good Shepherd?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013
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Pope Benedict’s resignation just before the beginning of Lent has stirred more than the usual amount of papal election speculation. The question of his willingly relinquishing the most powerful position in the Roman Catholic Church took many by surprise. Some saw it as a sign of humility. Others saw it as a dangerous break with tradition.

In our instant information age, the leader of the universal Church is far more visible than in the past, when often people knew the pope primarily from a formal portrait in the church hall. The election of a new pope was international news, but ordinary people didn’t give it much thought until it was announced. In this election, we had detailed accounts of any cardinal who might be eligible to be voted in as pope by his brother cardinals in the conclave. We heard about how many languages they spoke, their educational and professional background, and any scandals that might keep them from the top job. There’s a pretty good chance that Peter the First wouldn’t have made it to the first ballot!

Today’s Gospel offers a way to think about leadership in the Christian community. It’s always a position of service, not power. Again and again theologians and commentators tried to remind the news media of this through the run-up to the papal conclave. The papacy has a long history interwoven with the monarchs of western European history.

In John’s Gospel, part of which we hear today, Jesus offers an extended reflection on his statement, “I am the Good Shepherd.” This is an image with deep roots in the Hebrew Scriptures, which emerged, like the Gospels, from a rural, pastoral culture in which sheep and goats provided much of the food, clothing, and shelter for the people. The prophets speak of God acting as a shepherd to the people. David, the greatest king in the Old Testament, was chosen while caring for his flock and was referred to as a shepherd king.

Jesus frames the metaphor in terms of a protective love, a shepherd who risks his own life for the life of the flock. The threat of predators is very real, both for sheep and for humans. The pope is ultimately the pastor and protector not only of the doctrines of the faith but of the people of God entrusted to him.

Being a shepherd is no task for the weak. A tiny lamb is cute and cuddly, but in a very short time that lamb is heavy, strong, stubborn, and unwieldy. The shepherd must be strong enough to tend the sheep but gentle enough not to frighten them into heart failure. Our God takes much the same pproach with us. And so we come to reflect on the Good Shepherd with both a childlike faith and an awareness of adult dangers. It is an image of comfort, but an image of strong comfort.

Especially this year, we might think that the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, and the clergy, carry the leadership responsibility in the Church. But all of us are called to this task to some extent. Like Jesus, who was both the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd, sometimes we’re sheep and sometimes we’re shepherds. We have a responsibility to care for others in the way that we ourselves have been sheltered and protected. Take some time this week to reflect on your role as shepherd. Unite your efforts in a special way with the loving care of Jesus the Good Shepherd and notice how it makes a difference in your attitude and approach to your daily tasks.


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Anthony Grassi: Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17.
<p>Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a "walking dictionary" who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
</p><p>In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralyzed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life.
</p><p>More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
</p><p>He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences.
</p><p>In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was reelected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
</p><p>He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
</p><p>But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarreling brothers.</p> American Catholic Blog God of love, as I come to the end of this Advent season, my heart is ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I join with Mary in saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Nothing is impossible with you, O God.

 
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