Taking After the Good Shepherd

07-17-2021Weekly ReflectionFr. James Aboyi, V.C.

The theme of Liturgy over the past three weeks has been centered on different types of leadership and responsibilities in the Church. Two weekends ago, we reflected on the roles of prophets; last weekend we reflected on the roles of missionaries; and this weekend the theme of the Liturgy is centered on the roles of shepherd and religious leaders. It is not a coincidence that God chose most of the great leaders, the patriarchs in the Old Testament such as Abraham, Moses and David, from among the shepherds. In the New Testament, Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, “who is willing to lay down His life for His Sheep” (John 10:11). This explains why a priest in charge of a parish today is called Pastor, a Latin word for shepherd. Religious leaders as shepherds are called to model their lives after that of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

In the Gospel today, Jesus models for us a clear example of what it means to have the heart of a shepherd. Last Sunday, we were told that Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs and gave them authority to preach, heal and cast out demons. Today, we are told that they returned with many stories to share with Jesus. They were so tired, yet still very busy, to the extent that they had no time to eat. Jesus invited them to go to a quiet place where they could be by themselves and rest. However, their plan was frustrated when the crowd discovered their destination. When Jesus and his disciples arrived at the place, they were surprised that the crowd had arrived before them. Jesus’ reaction to the crowd who kept bothering him and his disciples gives us a clear picture of the Heart of the Shepherd. Rather than getting angry with the crowd for interrupting His plan for a resting time, He took pity on them for He saw their desperation for healing and need to be fed with the Word of God.

The story in the Gospel today contrasts with the First Reading today. Here, Jeremiah speaks about the abuse of power by the shepherds/religious leaders. The problem of the abuse of power and bad leadership by religious leaders is not an ancient thing. I know it is uncomfortable for many religious leaders like myself to talk about it, but it is a reality that we must all confront. When we talk about the bad shepherds who feed on the sheep and bad religious leaders in our time, the first example that comes to mind is the sex scandals by priests. The painful effects of the scandals remain fresh in our minds and lives of the victims and their families. The good news is that, in the past 20 years, the Catholic Church has taken concrete steps to heal the victims of abuse and purify the Church by setting up the Safe Environment programs and the “zero tolerance” policy.

The Liturgy today invites us to pray for our Church leaders. We need priests and bishops who have the heart of a shepherd. We need leaders in the Church who have a compassionate heart, priests who are able to put themselves in the shoes of their parishioners, priests who are ready to walk a mile with their parishioners, and priests who are willing to lay down their lives for their parishioners. Anybody in any ministry in the Church is called to model their leadership after the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.