Where is the Good Shepherd?
In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t
baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t
conceived in the sanctity of marriage. These are today’s
hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who
separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor
girl, who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the
courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish
to parish so that it’s baptized!
-- Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio
Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2012
After recent decades of being bombarded with self-inflicted bad press, the Church comes today to the celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday with Scriptures that speak of conflict and division and yet offer hope. It is the story of the fledgling Christian community of the first century. It is very much the story of Catholicism in the twenty-first.
Throughout the history of Christianity, the Good Shepherd has been the most endearing image representing Christ’s compassion and inclusivity. The Good Shepherd is always present to his flock. The Good Shepherd is especially concerned for the marginalized, the one before the ninety-nine. The Good Shepherd is a constant reminder to us to care for the least among us.
In Jesus’ day, widows and orphans were marginalized because they had no male in their lives. It’s called patriarchy. Jesus challenges his disciples with the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of what was wrong with a priest and Levite who were more concerned with ritual purity than exercising compassion for one of their own. That’s called clericalism!
When Francis, early on in his papal ministry, said that he wanted a church of the poor, he was signaling what many hoped would be the end of the clericalism that has so crippled the work of the Good Shepherd in our day. What Francis was and is calling us to is an equality of service, regardless of our specific role or title in the church. The obstacle to that vision is patriarchy and clericalism. Two sides of the same coin!
There is nothing clerical in the image of the Good Shepherd. It is an image of discipleship. Each one of us must ask ourselves how we measure up to that image in our own lives. WE must shelter and protect the powerless from harm whether they are the poor in our inner cities or the families at our southern border! WE must leave the ninety-nine faithful and search out the one who is lost. WE must feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. WE must raise up the sick and comfort the sorrowful. WE are the Good Shepherd in our day!
That image is reinforced through the Eucharist. It was the memory of that Last Supper in which Jesus offered his Body and his Blood “for you and for all” that sustained the early disciples in times of turmoil and uncertainty. Throughout this season of Easter, the Scriptures keep going back to the Eucharist as the sacrament of the Divine Covenant that asserts that God’s love knows no bounds.
When we receive the Eucharist, we are to symbolize that unconditional love.
In the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council, it’s time for the Church, the People of God, to assert their true identity. The Church of the Acts of the Apostles struggled with its identity and its mission. Like them, we must put our trust in the Good Shepherd to be the model of discipleship in our day. Like them, we celebrate in the Eucharist the reality of the Risen Lord moving in and through us to bring comfort and solace to both troubled souls and a contentious world. It’s time the Church (that’s us!) were seen as the Good Shepherd.