4th Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2015 7:30am
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air
Myself as Shepherd
I have found today’s gospel speaking very directly to me.
I as a pastor am to be a shepherd, a spiritual shepherd. As I thought about this during the past week, I quickly became aware of some traits that have become very central to my sense of priesthood and of shepherding.
So I decided to share these thoughts with you today. And by the way, I don’t think I have ever before done this so explicitly.
1. Listen, and Speak Thoughtfully
The first thing I notice in this gospel is Jesus saying: “I know mine and mine know me.”
Jesus speaks of a close relationship between himself and the sheep. Well, for this to happen here at Saint Margaret’s, I believe that I first have to listen.
I really have to appreciate your life, your joys and your stresses. I have to listen to your spiritual needs and to your thoughts about faith or the Church.
So I need to listen well, and then I need to speak thoughtfully. By this I mean that I need to remember that I am on the same human journey of life as anyone else.
And so, I need to be comfortable enough in my own skin and with my own faith to share myself with you. I have to allow my faith and my humanity shape what I do and how I do it as a pastor.
I need to speak more with you than to you. In this century and in this culture, I think this needs to be the approach if, as Jesus says, “I know mine and mine know me.”
2. Be Positive
My next thought really flows from this.
I need to be positive. Again, in this century and in our culture, I do not believe that being negative will take us anywhere.
I believe that preoccupation with sin and evil, whether in us as persons or in our world, isn’t really very helpful. In fact, it may well be counter-productive.
I believe it is better and maybe even more challenging to be positive and constructive. I believe that a shepherd needs to be positive about spirituality.
It is important for me to reflect with you on how we can positively relate to the Lord Jesus and how we can come to spiritual maturity. In the past month, I read a book entitled, “The 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness.”
The title of this book really reflects how I see my role – lifting up a positive message of spiritual growth and wellness. This is what I believe we need to bring to our young people and in fact to everyone in today’s pluralistic and diverse culture.
3. Welcome and Include
The last thing I want to share is that I, as a shepherd, need to welcome and include.
Jesus says today, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” Jesus is clear that they are still his sheep.
In many other places in the gospel, he is clear that he welcomes and includes everyone. Today, this might be Catholics who do not come to Mass often or those who have pretty much dropped out of the Church.
So, maybe parents present a baby for baptism and they are not practicing their faith very well. No question, I want them to practice their faith and come to Mass.
But instead of making that a pre-condition, I welcome them and we work together and baptize their baby. I believe this way of shepherding has a far better chance of leading them closer to the Lord.
Or maybe a couple comes to be married and they are already living together. I and we all know our Church teaching that this level of intimacy should be reserved for marriage.
But instead of turning them away and putting them down, I rejoice that they want to be married in the Church and we proceed to make that happen. And once again, I believe that this way of shepherding has a far better chance of leading them closer to the Lord.
I am convinced that this approach is key to being a 21st century shepherd. And by the way, it is not a watered-down approach to faith, but rather a more authentic and even more challenging way of living it.
There are other things I could say but these are some of the primary traits I try to embrace in being a shepherd today.
1) Listen, and speak thoughtfully. 2) Be positive. 3) Welcome and include.