Leaving Us with Shepherds – Lesson and Discussion
“He leaves home and places his servants in charge”
In the Gospel reading Jesus tells us to be watchful and alert! Then he gives a simile of a man leaving his home in charge to his servants, and giving them tasks. When Jesus resurrected and ascended into Heaven He left his “home”, the Church here on earth in the place of his servants, the Apostles. This has been passed down to the Bishops for over two thousand years. They are asked to keep watch and guard the house.
How are the Bishops the servants? Pope St. Gregory the Great coined the term “Servant of Servants”. The bishops are the ones, who are at the will of Christ. Jesus told the Bishops to be the shepherds of His flock. While the story of the Gospel reading is at near the end of Jesus’ life, it is read today in order to prepare us for Advent. It is to call us to be alert and ready for the coming of the Lord, because the world was asleep, when the Son of Man came into this world, and only a few shepherds found Him. At the time of the Gospel reading, he tells us and the Apostles to be alert.
As mentioned, the Bishops are the shepherds who follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, “I am the good shepherd”[i]. A shepherd was required to be watchful and alert at all times with his flock to be on the look out for wayward sheep or a predator in their midst. In the book of Jeremiah, he prophesied, “I will set shepherds over them who will look after them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed; neither shall they be missing, says the Lord.”[ii] Even if we fail to be watchful and fall asleep, our Bishops are there to awaken us and help us be watchful.
How many Cardinals and Bishops are in the U.S.? Currently there are 7 cardinals and 271 bishops. These numbers include the active cardinals and bishops, not those that are retired.
What is the difference between a bishop, archbishop and cardinal? First of all, they are all priests. A bishop is in charge of a diocese, which has several parishes in it. An archbishop is in charge of an archdiocese, which has been given that title because the Catholic population is very large or because of spiritual or historical significance. Cardinals are archbishops or bishops that have been elevated and given the title “prince of the Church”. They are in a group called the College of Cardinals. This group is of aid to the Holy Father, the Pope, and it is this group that elects the new pope. Each cardinal usually is responsible for an archdiocese or diocese. It is important to note that the Pope is the Bishop of Rome and that all his brother bishops must meet with him once every five years. In the visit to Rome, the bishop not only meets with the Holy Father, but also visits the tombs of Saint Peter and Paul, the pillars of the Church, to ask for their intercession.
Who is the gatekeeper? The Church “is a sheepfold whose one and only door is Christ. It is also a flock of which God himself is said in prophecy to be the Shepherd, and whose sheep, though undoubtedly led by human shepherds, are nevertheless guided and fed continually by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of shepherds, who gave his life for his sheep.”[iii] The Church is ever watchful as the gatekeeper to help us see the Lord and enter through the door of Christ.
Who is the head servant? As Jesus points out in the parable, certain servants have certain tasks and responsibilities. Jesus established shepherds to watch the sheep and assigned them to various tasks including putting one shepherd above all here on earth, Saint Peter, the first Pope. “Together with the Pope, and in communion with him, are the bishops to whom we pay similar homage as successors to the apostles.”[iv] Remember our Lord’s words to Saint Peter, “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.” In these words there are two different nouns, “lambs” and “sheep” and two different verbs, “feed” and “tend”. The Church has taught that Saint Peter’s threefold confession, “yes, I love you” is a reversal of his threefold denial of Jesus. The Church has also taught the Saint Peter and his successors, the Pope, has universal jurisdiction over the whole, universal flock. The Bishops are called to continue the mission of Christ. Christ is prophet, priest and king and so the Church under the lead of the Bishops teaches heal and govern. We can see the word “feed” as the role of teaching as the Bishops feed our souls with the truth. The word “feed” can also be taken literally as in the role of the priest giving us our daily bread, the Eucharist. We can see the word “tend” as the role of governing, especially in the area of moral responsibility. The bishops “tend” to us by bringing us the Sacraments of healing. With fewer than 300 bishops in the United States, the Bishops do not do this alone, but have the help of their brother priests.
Priests also have a special role in being watchful and alert of their flock of their parish. They help uniquely in the Sacraments in order to help sustain us in our patience to be ever watchful. In our darkest hours, when we fail to stay awake and fall into sin, priests help through the Sacrament of Penance to awaken our soul. “They (priests) remind us that their priestly ministry... is ordered, in a special way, to the great solicitude of the Good Shepherd, a solicitude for the salvation of all men... that men may have life, and have it more abundantly, so that none may perish, but that they may have eternal life.”[v]
We too as laypersons are asked to be the servants and look out for our brothers and sisters in Christ to help them, correct them and awaken their soul. The role of a good shepherd is one of patience, humility, “quickness of mind”[vi], and responsibility because “the bad shepherd leads even his strongest sheep to their death.”[vii] Let us keep watch, awake, and alert so that we do not lead ourselves or anyone else to death.
Music - Awake My Soul by Mumford and Sons - POP CULTURE CONNECTION - 3:27
While the verses are coded, we see someone who is struggling with things in front of him. He cries out to God to awaken his soul in order to invest his love in the life he truly wants. For us as Catholics, we must invest our life in the life of Christ so that we may have eternal life with him. We should pray that God awaken our souls so that we can be ready to receive Him.