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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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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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