To Teach, Sanctify, and Govern
Today we celebrate what is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday” in reference to our Gospel reading. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Since this is also the Year for Priests as proclaimed by our Holy Father, I devoted my homily today to the mission of the priesthood. The priest has traditionally been charged with three sacred tasks, to teach, to sanctify, and to govern. Each of these tasks can be seen in the readings today.
In the first reading, we find Paul and Barnabas out teaching. God did not leave us with just a book to be a “do-it-yourself” Christian. He left us teachers. Our world is filled with darkness and error. It is precisely into this context that the truth of the teaching of our faith shines as a bright light. May we always be grateful to God for the teachers he gives us, especially in our priests.
In the second reading, we have a description of the beautiful scene in heaven where those who have struggled through this life now live in joy. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. This is a sign of where we are all destined and a sign of our mission here on earth. We are called to be holy, set apart. That’s what it means to sanctify. The priest especially is set apart by his ordination, but all of us are called to be God’s special people through baptism. May we have priests who are selfless models of holiness to point us to heaven.
Finally, the priest is called to rule or govern. Jesus reminds his priests that the model for their leadership is that of the shepherd. At the time of Jesus and even to this day the way a shepherd leads is unique. A shepherd does not forcefully drive the sheep with whips and prodding the way cattle are driven. Rather, a shepherd goes to the group of sheep, some of which might belong to other shepherds, and simply begins to sing. He then walks away singing and his sheep know to follow. As Jesus tells us in the gospel, they know his voice. This is how the priest is to govern; he walks ahead of the sheep, leading them to the green grass of the life of grace, all the while singing the praises of God. May we have priests who are not afraid to walk alone at the front of the sheep and may the sheep listen well and know to follow the voice of their shepherd.