Become shepherds after the heart of Christ - Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Become shepherds after the heart of Christ - Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)

 

Each year on this fourth Sunday of Easter we read from Chapter 10 of St John’s Gospel. The entire chapter presents one of the most attractive images of Jesus. He is presented as the Good Shepherd. Images of Jesus carrying a sheep across his shoulders come readily to mind. This is one of the favourite images of Christ found on holy cards and illustrations in books. “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps 42) is one of the most popular of psalms.

The words of the Lord about himself are most endearing to us. He says that as a good shepherd he knows his own and his own know him. We sense from this the individual interest the Lord has in each of us. We are not just part of the flock, lost in the numbers, but are known personally, individually.

He says he is prepared to lay down his life for his sheep. Here the comparison is with the hired man who runs away when the sheep are threatened. The Good Shepherd is willing to sacrifice himself to save his sheep. Of course we know that this has actually occurred. The Lord’s description of what he is willing to do for us reassures us that he is devoted to us and our needs.

This image of the Good Shepherd has particular application to the priesthood. This day is a day in which the Church is encouraged to pray for vocations.

I was a Parish Priest in Sydney when towards the end of 2001 I was asked by Cardinal George Pell to become the Rector of the Seminary in Sydney. This was an unexpected request. I had only a few months to prepare myself for the role. One question dominated my mind: What sort of priest is needed for the Church today?

The priesthood itself, of course, is an unchanging reality – it is the priesthood of Jesus Christ - but it has to be realised within the social and cultural context of both the world and the Church.

We are all aware that the world around us, the cultural context in which we live, is a dynamic and constantly evolving reality. There are strong cultural forces at work, many of which are inimical to the Christian life.

The Church, too, is a living body, the Body of Christ. It has, if you like, a solid backbone of belief and teaching, but there are constant spiritual movements affecting the way the faith in expressed.

Priests live and minister within these realities.

I believe a key element for priests of today is that they have a clear sense of who they are as priests. Priests need to know what it means to be a priest. This may seem an obvious comment, but there has been a blurring of the distinction between the priestly and lay vocations, what is sometimes called the clericalisation of the laity and the laicisation of the clergy.

I believe the Catholic people want their priests to be men of God. The Letter to the Hebrews which speaks of the nature of the priesthood describes the priest as one who is set apart for the service of God. This is so clearly evident in the celebration of Mass. The priest leads the people in their worship of God. He is a man dedicated to the “things of God”.

A priest is the instrument of the flow of divine grace upon Christians. He celebrates the sacraments which sanctify human life. We say that a priests acts “in persona Christi”, in the person of Christ. When he says “I baptise you” it is not he but Christ who baptises. It is in the ministry of the sacraments that the priest effects the saving work of Christ in the life of the individual believer.

The human qualities of the priest are very important. He must be able to engage effectively with people. He is meant to be a “people person”. The priests live among the people, sharing their lives and having as Pope Francis so graphically said “the smell of the sheep”. A priest has to be a person who has developed the human virtues – he is compassionate yet courageous, patient yet firm, a leader and a yet a servant. Above all he must be animated by pastoral charity.

For a priest to be truly effective in his ministry he must be a man of prayer. He must have a strong spiritual life. He is to be a man of God among people living in the world so he needs to be in a close relationship with God. He needs to help people orient their lives to God. We expect a priest to be close to God. We need our priests to be close to God.

A priest has the task of proclaiming the Gospel to the people of his day. Like Jesus he must be a preacher and teacher. Preaching is not just explaining something or commenting on some religious theme. Like Jesus priests need to preach and teach with an authority that stirs people. Preaching and teaching must touch the hearts of people and draw them closer to God. There needs to be a fire in the heart of the preacher. As such a priest must be able to preach the Gospel with personal conviction born of a life lived under the inspiration of the Gospel.

Good Shepherd Sunday is an appropriate occasion to call young men to consider whether Christ the Good Shepherd is calling them to become priests.

This year Pope Francis in his message for Good Shepherd Sunday said, “How wonderful it is to be surprised by God’s call, to embrace his word, and to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, in adoration of the divine mystery and in generous service to our neighbours! Your life will become richer and more joyful each day!” He urged young men not to be afraid of hearing a call to the priesthood and responding with “generous courage born of faith”. 

Today is a good day to pray for our priests that they will be shepherds after the heart of Christ. It is also a day to pray that young men in Tasmania will hear and heed the call to become priests.

Christ, Good Shepherd, speak to the hearts of young men and give them grace in following the call to become your priests among your people.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 25 April 2015