April 23, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Priests called to become shepherds of God’s people

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11).

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Jn 10:11-18), Jesus tells us that “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11).

In his apostolic exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis” (“I Will Give You Shepherds”), the late Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that “priests by means of the sacrament of orders are tied with a personal and indissoluble bond to Christ. The sacrament of holy orders is conferred upon each one of them as individuals, but they are inserted into the communion of the presbyterate united with the bishop” (#74).

This means, of course, that we who have been ordained to the ministerial priesthood are called (individually and as brother priests) to be good shepherds of God’s people. 

A priest’s primary bond, the fundamental and indispensable relationship that creates and sustains his ministry, is with Christ. Nothing can replace this intimate, indissoluble connection between Christ and his priests.

At the same time, as the Holy Father reminds us, this bond of love between Christ and his priests has a communal dimension. When a priest receives the sacrament of holy orders, he is joined with his brother priests—and his bishop—in a presbyterate.

A bishop shares his ministry with his priests. Together they carry out the Lord’s work: by their proclamation of the word of God, by their celebration of the sacraments, and by their pastoral leadership. A bishop and his priests are true partners in ministry. Although they have different responsibilities, the Lord calls them to be united for the sake of the Church’s mission.

In the first reading for this Sunday, we read:

“Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said: ‘Leaders of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved, then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved’ ” (Acts 4:8-12).

Good shepherds do not minister in their own names. They are successful only to the extent that they exercise their responsibilities in Jesus’ name, and base everything they say and do on the stone rejected by the builders that has become the cornerstone.

Bishops and priests are called to become guides for God’s people, sharing the love they have received in the depth of their hearts from God the Father as they take up their role as shepherds. The Good Shepherd (Jesus) gives himself completely to his flock, and priests are called to do the same. However, because we are ordinary, sinful human beings, the responsibilities of priestly life and ministry would be too much for us without the grace given to us by the Holy Spirit, which enables us to shepherd God’s people in Jesus’ name. 

In the Responsorial Psalm this weekend (Ps 118), we joyfully proclaim: 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever” (Ps 118:2).

“The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes” (Ps 118:22-23).

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good for his kindness endures forever” (Ps 118:29).

All of Christian life, and certainly all priestly ministry, must be founded on Christ whose teaching, example and presence in our lives is the only source of our salvation. In him, and through him, we can see “what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God” (1 Jn 3:1). 

When bishops and priests are growing in holiness together, and when they have based their ministry on Christ the cornerstone, they are in the best possible position to effectively preach the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments and serve the pastoral needs of the people entrusted to their care as good shepherds of God’s holy people, the flock he has chosen as his own. 

Let’s pray for our bishops and priests. May we always be open to God’s grace; may we base our ministry on Christ the cornerstone; and may we be good shepherds of the people that God has entrusted to our care. †

Local site Links: