July 13, 2021
As a young man, I was always inspired by the generous care that I saw embodied in the priests and brothers whom I had met. Our family attended a parish that was ministered by Franciscan priests and brothers, my high school was staffed with many diocesan priests, and my college had Resurrectionists who served as administrators, teachers, and campus ministers. At each stage of my life, I found that their generous service and care of others stirred something within me to want to do the same. Later in life, I realized that they had taken up the call to be shepherds of the people entrusted to their care, whether that was in a parish or in a school. I also realized that, to a person, they were trying to imitate the Good Shepherd, who not only watched over and protected them, but called them to do the same for others that He entrusted into their care.
The gospel today gives an account of how Jesus was “moved with pity” for the crowd “for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Like the Psalm 23’s characterization of the Lord as a shepherd, Jesus saw that these people needed to be shepherded; they needed to be “led beside restful waters,” “guided on right paths,” “given courage,” and “fed” and “anointed.” In other words, Jesus saw that they needed to be taken care of, and he responded to their needs. This is what Jesus did for the crowds in Galilee and this is what he continues to do for us today. Most often, of course, he does this shepherding through the kind and generous work of others, like the many priests and brothers in my life growing up.
Over the years, we have had a change in our understanding of who is called to be a shepherd. Before the Second Vatican Council, we thought that this was the exclusive role of priests, brothers, and sisters—like the ones I gratefully encountered early in my life. The rest of us were called to just “muck along.” But, the document on the Church—whose 56th anniversary we celebrate this year—reminds us that we are all called to a life of holiness and we are all called to participate in the three-fold ministry of Christ as priest, prophet, and shepherd. In other words, each of us can depend upon Jesus to shepherd us, but we are also called to be priests (to offer prayer and sacrifice for others), to be prophets (to recognize and work to overcome injustice), and to be shepherds (to care and nourish others) Each of us is called to do this in our own way: priests and religious in educational and parish ministries, but also parents to younger children who need care and love, children to older parents who need compassion and understanding, teachers to students who need knowledge and example, nurses and doctors to the sick and dying who need healing and consolation, and public servants who are entrusted to govern in ways that help and support those in need.
We have a Good Shepherd. Jesus will never abandon us. He will never forsake his people. But, his shepherding needs to be embodied in our lives and actions today. We are all called to be shepherds in our Church and world.