On the 4th Sunday of Easter, the Church places before us a section of the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus speaks of Himself at the Good Shepherd. Some of the earliest images of Jesus depicted in the artwork found in the Roman Catacombs show Him as a shepherd, highlighting how well this image resonated with the early Christians. And it is an image the Church invites us to consider on this day.
When I was preparing for my ordination to the priesthood, I looked at hundreds of pictures of Jesus to use on the ordination holy card that I would give out to family and friends. I came across an image of the Good Shepherd that was different from the other images I had seen of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Many pictures had Jesus looking very meek and peaceful as He gently carried a sheep around his shoulders. But in the image that I chose, the artist Alfred Soord proposed a picture of the Good Shepherd that showed something very different. The Good Shepherd was reaching over the edge of a cliff to rescue a sheep who was in danger of plummeting down to the ravine below. There were scratches on his arms as He pushed aside the thorny brush in order to get access to the sheep whose life was in peril. This image resonated as it depicted the sacrificial nature of being a shepherd who was willing to put his own life at risk in order to save his sheep. Such was the life of Jesus who laid down His life for His sheep, and such should be the life of those the Lord has called to be His shepherds, particularly bishops and priests who share in His work of being a shepherd in a more direct way.
In 1992, Pope St. John Paul II issued a beautiful document on the priesthood titled Pastors Dabo Vobis, the Latin for the words from the Prophet Jerermiah: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15) The Lord promises that He will continue to provide shepherds for His Church, but the Holy Father offers the following reminder:
The Church must never cease to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he send laborers into his harvest, (cf. Mt. 9:38). She must propose clearly and courageously to each new generation the vocational call, help people to discern the authenticity of their call from God and to respond to it generously, and give particular care to the formation of candidates for the priesthood. (PDV, 2)
Today is a good day for us to pray for young men, especially here in our diocese, to hear and respond to the invitation to consider serving as a shepherd of the Church as a priest. Let us also pray for the shepherds of our diocese, particularly that they might be shepherds after the heart of the Good Shepherd, being willing to make the necessary sacrifices to their comfort, their preferences, their reputations, even their own lives in order to save those entrusted to their care. Along those lines, I would also invite all of us to consider making some regular, small sacrifices for the benefit of more vocations to the priesthood in our diocese and for holy, sacrificial shepherds who care for only one thing – helping us to get to Heaven!