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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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Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows: Born in Italy into a large family and baptized Francis, he lost his mother when he was only four years old. He was educated by the Jesuits and, having been cured twice of serious illnesses, came to believe that God was calling him to the religious life. Young Francis wished to join the Jesuits but was turned down, probably because of his age, not yet 17. Following the death of a sister to cholera, his resolve to enter religious life became even stronger and he was accepted by the Passionists. Upon entering the novitiate he was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
<p>Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.
</p><p>His superiors had great expectations of Gabriel as he prepared for the priesthood, but after only four years of religious life symptoms of tuberculosis appeared. Ever obedient, he patiently bore the painful effects of the disease and the restrictions it required, seeking no special notice. He died peacefully on February 27, 1862, at age 24, having been an example to both young and old.
</p><p>Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was canonized in 1920.</p> American Catholic Blog Life is not always happy, but our connections to others can create a simple and grace-filled quiet celebration of our own and others’ lives. These others are the presence of Christ in our lives.


 
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