Today, we hear more from Jesus’ priestly prayer in John 17. His words are clearly the words of the Good Shepherd.
“Holy Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.”
“When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
The shepherd is praying for the protection of his flock. His love for them is clear. As he enters his hour, the beginning of his Passion, he prays especially for them. This is the love of Jesus Christ. This is the model for all shepherds.
I realize that it is easier for a parochial vicar than for a pastor. I have none of the many temporal responsibilities about which a pastor can worry. People joke that my budget is going to be cut. Well, it is tough to cut something that is already at zero. Personnel issues, physical plant maintenance, and diocesan accounting systems are also not things which I have to manage.
Nonetheless, there is a great temptation for priests to worry too much about these things. We can try to protect the institution rather than to care for the flock. All those temporal things only exist to support our care for the flock. As priests, our mission is to serve the people of God…to care for the flock. The people then are called to sanctify the world. Yes, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of temporal things like the budget, buildings, and the grounds. Yes, we must comply with federal and state laws and regulations about things like payroll and employment. But those are tangential to our need to care for the flock.
Good shepherds’ care for their flock is rooted in their prayer life. Their pastoral care is an imitation of Jesus’ pastoral care that we see expressed in the Gospel. Priests need to make time for that prayer. I make a morning holy hour every day plus take time for the Liturgy of the Hours at other times during the day. And I always try to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the rectory (admitting that I need to pray more in Adoration in the church). Our work is not our prayer. Our work is done well by God’s grace and because of our prayer.
Pray for your shepherds. Pray that they do not lose focus on their responsibility to care for the flock. Pray for their holiness. When you see them in prayer, give thanks to God. If you can, allow them to remain in prayer rather than be interrupted. Good shepherds are holy shepherds. It is only through our relationship with Jesus Christ and our devotion to the Blessed Mother that we can be the priests that you need us to be.