May 10, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Good Shepherd leads his pastors and all of us to eternal life

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:27–30).

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. On this day, the Church invites us to reflect on the pastoral leadership style of Jesus, the Pastor Bonus (Good Shepherd).

Pope Francis tells us that a good pastor sometimes leads his people by walking in front of them; sometimes by following them; but most often by walking alongside (accompanying) them. This insight comes from reflection on the ministry of Jesus.

A good pastor should lead his people in prayer and in the search for holiness. Walking in front of his people here doesn’t mean that the pastor is necessarily better at praying or that he is holier than others, but it does mean that he makes the spiritual life a top priority. In so doing, he gives witness to others about the importance, and the richness, of spiritual health and maturity.

A good pastor should also walk in front of his people when it comes to reflecting on God’s word in sacred Scripture and experiencing God’s presence in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The primary objective of all pastoral ministry is to lead others to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and, so, to experience firsthand his love and mercy, his healing and his encouragement, his suffering and his triumph over sin and death.

A good pastor walks alongside his people when he accompanies them on their personal journeys. With them, he shares in the joys of marriage and childbirth, the sorrows of sickness and death, the troubles that stem from unemployment or financial hardships, the consequences of sin and all of the experiences of daily life—good, bad and indifferent. A good pastor is close to his people. He knows them, and they know him to be one of them as a brother, a friend and a faithful companion on the road to life.

Parish life should be the place where this accompaniment is experienced most directly and most often. The word “parish” (paroikia in Greek) is rooted in the idea of a pilgrimage, the journeying together of a group of people who share with one another their hopes and dreams as well as their challenges and frustrations in the search for God, for life in all its fullness.

Finally, a good pastor walks behind his people—bringing up the rear, so to speak. He points the way and then follows closely behind them in order to make sure that his people remain on the right path. A good pastor trusts that the Holy Spirit will lead and safeguard his people, but he is constantly on the lookout for danger and for evil influencers who try to lead people astray.

Jesus tells us that good pastors are willing to sacrifice themselves for the people they serve. They abandon the 99 in order to seek and find the one who has strayed. And they rejoice greatly when the one who has been lost is eventually found.

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). There is nothing cold, distant or indifferent about a good pastor’s love for his people. Like Jesus, a good pastor lets himself get close to us (taking on “the smell of the sheep,” as Pope Francis points out). In him, we experience a degree of warmth and intimacy (always expressed appropriately) that we would not ordinarily expect from religious or civil leaders.

“I give them eternal life,” Jesus says, “and they shall never perish” (Jn 10:28). A good pastor accompanies his people on the road to eternal life. He leads the way, but he also listens to his people and follows their lead when he discovers that they have insights and experiences that he does not.

Above all, a good pastor recognizes that we are all held firmly in the hand of our loving Father. As Jesus says, “My Father, who has given [my flock] to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn 10:29).

This Good Shepherd Sunday, let’s pray for our pastors. May they follow the words and example of the Good Shepherd and may they know the peace, hope and joy that comes from being leaders, followers and companions of the people entrusted to their pastoral care. †

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