Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! 2 The shepherd walks right up to the gate. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. John 10:1-4 (MSG)
404 The good shepherd does not need to fill the sheep with fear. Such behaviour befits bad rulers, and no one is very much surprised if they end up hated and alone.
I grew up in a time where, if we weren’t afraid of our priests and pastors, we were certainly intimidated by them. They were often quite stoic, we thought they were incredible holy and pious. In some ways, they were our role models, but we always understood we would never, ever be like them. Their lives were a target, and maybe if we were 50-60% of who they were, we would be okay.
Sometimes though, if we didn’t behave perfectly if we missed something during the service, they were terrifying, for we believed that they could speak God’s wrath upon us, and disappointing them, (or more likely ticking them off) was no different than doing the same to God Almighty.
Now that I am a pastor, and I know many pastors and priests, I know the difference. The best are the ones who clearly aren’t perfect, who are broken and therefore know how to minister to the broken. They have had the dark nights of the soul ( and such texts prove this is not new to GenX/Millenials) and easily empathize with those who walk with depression and grief, who struggle with sin and with resentment. Who is well aware that this life is hard, and know that hope and joy aren’t something we manufacture, it isn’t something we create, but it is found at the cross. Oddly enough, it is found not only as we laugh with the people we care for, but that hope and joy, and even peace can be found as we love them enough to cry with them and as we cry for them.
As I hear people lament the death of the church in America (or Europe) I wonder if this isn’t what St. Josemaria was talking about, what both Pope Benedict and Francis talk about when they talk about pastoral care, and the work of priests and the religious. Have we, in trying to lead our people in, in preaching about their need for God in their life, scared them off? Have we tried to rule their lives, rather than guiding them? Have we forced them into our boxes, whether we are read for it or not? If we have it is no wonder that we are alone, that our voices echo in empty sanctuaries, that our words fall on deaf ears.
Jesus addresses this as well, as He teaches about shepherds. If we are shepherds rather than “ranchers”, if we guide the sheep rather than pen them in, if we walk with them, they learn our voice, and that voice is one they will respond to, knowing that we care for them. I am not saying they won’t be stubborn at times or get themselves stuck in the mud, but that they will respond.
They will recognize that we are broken people who have found their healing in Jesus, while helping them heal. They will know God’s love, because they see it in us. They will respond to our teaching both law and gospel, because they see how we value it.
God is with us… we need that… and they need to see it.
and they will hear Jesus, and be drawn to them.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1821-1823). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.