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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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Louis of France: At his coronation as king of France, Louis IX bound himself by oath to behave as God’s anointed, as the father of his people and feudal lord of the King of Peace. Other kings had done the same, of course. Louis was different in that he actually interpreted his kingly duties in the light of faith. After the violence of two previous reigns, he brought peace and justice. 
<p>He was crowned king at 12, at his father’s death. His mother, Blanche of Castile, ruled during his minority. When he was 19 and his bride 12, he was married to Marguerite of Provence. It was a loving marriage, though not without challenge. They had 11 children. </p><p>Louis “took the cross” for a Crusade when he was 30. His army seized Damietta ini Egypt but not long after, weakened by dysentery and without support, they were surrounded and captured. Louis obtained the release of the army by giving up the city of Damietta in addition to paying a ransom. He stayed in Syria four years. </p><p>He deserves credit for extending justice in civil administration. His regulations for royal officials became the first of a series of reform laws. He replaced trial by battle with a form of examination of witnesses and encouraged the use of written records in court. </p><p>Louis was always respectful of the papacy, but defended royal interests against the popes and refused to acknowledge Innocent IV’s sentence against Emperor Frederick II. </p><p>Louis was devoted to his people, founding hospitals, visiting the sick and, like his patron St. Francis (October 4), caring even for people with leprosy. (He is one of the patrons of the Secular Franciscan Order.) Louis united France—lords and townsfolk, peasants and priests and knights—by the force of his personality and holiness. For many years the nation was at peace. </p><p>Every day Louis had 13 special guests from among the poor to eat with him, and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace. During Advent and Lent, all who presented themselves were given a meal, and Louis often served them in person. He kept lists of needy people, whom he regularly relieved, in every province of his dominion. </p><p>Disturbed by new Muslim advances in Syria, he led another crusade in 1267, at the age of 41. His crusade was diverted to Tunis for his brother’s sake. The army was decimated by disease within a month, and Louis himself died on foreign soil at the age of 44. He was canonized 27 years later.</p> American Catholic Blog God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty. <br />–St. John of the Cross

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