Being Shepherds Today
Fr Alo and I have just come back from the bi-annual live-in clergy conference of Archdiocese of Sydney. The conference focused much on ongoing formation for clergy – bishops, priests and deacons – who are called essentially to be shepherds to the people they serve. The conference was like a bit of time away from ministry and pastoral commitments to review, refresh and revive our pastoral zeal and life.
However, in all due respect to my own call to be a pastor and shepherd to the parish community, I believe that the call to be shepherd today needs to be shared among us all. We are all called to be shepherds in different ways, in different circumstances and circles of community.
When we were baptised, we are given the right to share in Christ’s servant leadership (to replace the notion of the kingship), and this is the call to be shepherds as God is our ultimate shepherd.
But let me first define who a shepherd is. A shepherd, simply put, is a caregiver, a leader and a servant. I chose these three words with clear purposes. A shepherd is obviously a person who gives care to their sheep. Shepherds are leaders because they are the ones who lead the sheep to find good, green pastures and water. A shepherd is a servant because shepherding is culturally not a highly respected job but a job of a slave or a lowly servant back in the time of Jesus, and probably today as well.
Pope Francis consistently calls the church’s leaders to be shepherds who are close to the sheep to the point of having their smell. I wonder how many of us, as pastors, would take it seriously. But I do know that there are many good shepherds out there smelling like the sheep they are caring. They are parents who are shepherding their children with unconditional and compassionate love. They are friends who are caring for each other with tender understanding and consoling presence. They are strangers who are taking compassion on those who are suffering for fleeing their home countries, for being stolen of their lands, cultures and lifestyles, for financial, physical and mental disadvantages, for being isolated and cut-off from the faith community, the list can go on.
In today’s complex and complicated context of our society, I trust that the Good News of Jesus calls us to be wise, but deeply compassionate and healing shepherds to those under our care.
Let me imitate what the Pope has many times urged, I do believe, with his whole heart. “I ask you: Be shepherds.”
Br Khoi msc