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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Trust always and a great deal in divine providence; never, never must you let yourselves be discouraged, despite contrary winds. I say it again: trust in God and Mary Immaculate; be faithful and forge ahead! <br />-Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus

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