Dearly Beloved in Christ
I’m getting really excited because we’re drawing closer to the time of year when a kid can be a kid again in Iowa. I’ve heard that this week it’s going to start getting to springtime weather. And thank goodness for that, right? We’ve been cooped up in our houses for far too long. Maybe we can finally go outside and not worry about hypothermia or snow drifts. Do you remember being a kid and playing those great games that you could only play when the weather got nice like hide and go seek, ghosts in the graveyard, and, my personal favorite, kick the can? And do you remember what would stop those nights of fun? For me it was the sound of my mother’s voice calling me home. And, I always knew it was my mom’s voice calling me home and not someone else’s voice. To this day, if I’m in a large crowd of people and my Mom or my Dad calls my name, I immediately stop whatever I’m doing and find out what they want. There is something powerful about the voice of someone that we trust when it calls us by name.
When I was in Israel, outside of the city of Jerusalem, there was a group of nomads called the Bedouin. They are well known in the Middle East because they don’t really acknowledge countries but take their sheep and roam to wherever they find grass and water. The Bedouin in Jerusalem would, very much like the shepherds at the time of Jesus, keep all their sheep in one place so that it was easier to guard and protect them from predators. They would, usually, have a three sided pen to protect the sheep while one member of the group would lay on the fourth side and act as a kind of human gate. I imagine it was a lot easier for several shepherds to be in the same place so that they wouldn’t have to always be the one guarding the sheep at night but could sleep in the reasonable protection of a tent instead. However, when it was time for one of them to find new pasture, they didn’t all move to the same place. Instead, the patriarch would walk out and call his sheep and the sheep that recognized his voice would come to him. The others who had other shepherds, would not recognize the voice of this shepherd and, thus, would stay in the pen. It sounds a lot easier to me than trying to figure out who owns a sheep by the brand on its hind end.
Jesus, in the gospel, equates himself with both gate and shepherd. He is the gate that protects us from those who would lead us astray and the shepherd who leads us to eternal life. Both of these images are exclusive; Jesus is THE gate that protects us and THE shepherd that leads us. This is why we, as Christians, are so diligent in evangelization: because we know of the exclusivity of the salvation in Christ and we know, further, that we need to share that salvation with others.
Yet, Jesus did not leave his flock untended after his death and resurrection. As we see in the first reading in the person of the Peter, he left us the apostles and their successors, the bishops, to continue leading the church as shepherds. We, here in the United States, are very excited to have the successor to the Apostle Peter, our Holy Father Pope Benedict, visiting us next weekend. Even if we cannot be with him, the grace that will come from a pastoral visit to our country will be felt throughout this great country of ours. But, thank goodness we have a local bishop that is with us, protecting us and leading us, in Archbishop Jerome Hanus, for whom we pray each week. And some of you may have heard that the Des Moines Diocese finally has a chief shepherd again when the Holy Father assigned Bishop Richard Pates. Bishop Pates was the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis before being appointed as bishop of Des Moines. He is a good man with a good vision for the church. We pray for him, this Good Shepherd Sunday, that he may continue the good work done in that diocese.
Ever since the priesthood scandal broke out, the blame among Catholics has shifted from priests to bishops. And, there is a part of me that is edified by that. I have always said and will continue to say that the one thing that gets me out of bed each morning is that Catholics want to love their priests, even those of us who sometimes do and say really stupid things. What I have found concerning, however, is that we don’t have the same respect for the bishops. These are the intelligentsia of the church, the ones with the best educations and the ones who are to protect us from harm and lead us to eternal life in Christ. There are incredible bishops out there with great wisdom and it will be to the detriment of ourselves and the church as a whole if we let the bad actions of men like Cardinal Law stop us from listening to great men like Archbishop Hanus, Bishop Pates, and Pope Benedict. So, I ask you to read an encyclical or get the diocesan newspaper, some of which can be found online, so that you may hear the voice of the good shepherd speaking the in the voices of our bishops.