Today, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. In today’s Gospel, we remember the words of Jesus [John 10:11-12]:
I am the good shepherd:the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.The hired man… abandons the sheep…
The first hearers of Jesus were Jews. They would have understood that Jesus was talking about his leadership of his Church. He would exercise this personal leadership through those he called to serve as his Apostles, and those who would be ordained to succeed them through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
The failed priests of Israel
His Jewish hearers knew that Jesus was contrasting himself with the shepherds, the Old Testament priests and kings of Israel, whom God had rejected through the prophet Ezekiel. These shepherds’ were more concerned for themselves than the faith needs of the people. They [Ezekiel 34:3-5]:
… failed to feed the flock…to make the weak strong… to bring back the strays or look for the lost
Jesus supported his followers personally
In the Gospels, we read of Jesus supporting and caring for his followers personally. He taught them and answered their questions. He revealed how to go about leading others to God, and encouraged them. When they were tired, he called them to rest awhile with him.
He was frustrated with his followers at times, but always challenged and encouraged them. He left them the sacraments as the chief means to spiritually empower his followers in their efforts to live as he taught.
Jesus calls shepherds for each age
Jesus appointed the Apostles as the first to serve his people in his name as shepherds. They were to hand on to others the spiritual gifts and responsibilities they had received first from him through what we now call the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Those who receive this sacrament are now called Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
Jesus cares personally for his followers today
Jesus the Shepherd continues to care for his followers today, and to support them personally. He does so through Bishops, Priests and Deacons. Through them, he seeks to feed his flock spiritually, particularly through the Eucharist.
Unlike the shepherds criticised by Ezekiel, Jesus seeks to go out ‘to bring back the strays or look for the lost’ through Bishops, Priests and Deacons today. They are called to lead parish communities to do the same.
Our need for priests and deacons
Unfortunately, today we do not have the Priests or Deacons we need for the needs of the growing Bunbury Diocese. Two towns in our Diocese are in the first three of the most rapidly growing areas in Australia. The people of our Diocese need two new parishes.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised always to provide shepherds for his people [Jeremiah 3:15]:
I shall give you shepherds after my own heart, who will pasture you wisely.
In faith, we know that this promise is being fulfilled in our Diocese. There must be young men, therefore, called to serve as Priests and Permanent Deacons of Christ to our people, but who are not hearing or responding to the call.
Let us examine our consciences on this Good Shepherd Sunday to ask whether or not we are doing all that we can to nurture these callings in our Diocese. Let us resolve to renew our efforts to obey the Lord’s command [Luke 10:2]:
The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to do his harvesting?
May more young men come forward to serve Christ and his people in the future as Priests and Permanent Deacons.
God bless, and fraternally
Most Reverend Gerard J Holohan
Bishop of Bunbury