Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

April 30: Fourth Sunday of Easter

Thursday, April 20, 2023


Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; 1 Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” This opening line of today’s responsorial psalm is among the most familiar biblical texts.

The touching words and charming imagery of Psalm 23 have provided comfort and support for sick, the grieving, the disappointed, the lonely, the forsaken, the destitute, the fearful for thousands of years and will continue to do so until the end of the age. The image of a shepherd caring for his sheep, which are helpless without him, speaks to virtually every person who prays this psalm.

Jesus made use of the imagery at the heart of Psalm 23 in speaking of himself and his ministry: “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11). It was a metaphor that had a long history in the culture of the ancient world.

Pharaohs, emperors and kings used it to speak of their responsibilities toward their people. The Old Testament used it to speak of God’s care for Israel. Images of Christ the Good Shepherd appear on tombs of martyrs in ancient Roman catacombs. The church uses this figure of speech to speak of those who exercised the ordained ministry.

The Greek words appearing in the final verse of today’s second reading, translated as “shepherd and guardian” (1 Pt 2:25), are also used to speak of priests and bishops. The word “pastor” is the Latin word for “shepherd.”

We are so accustomed to the use of this shepherd imagery that we do not give it a second thought. Still, we should be careful not to carry the imagery too far.

Using it to speak of ordained ministers in the church is certainly legitimate. But thinking of the Christian faithful as sheep can support the view that the faithful have a passive role in the believing community.

All Christians, lay and clerical, need to exercise their respective responsibilities in the Christian community since all the baptized have been called to complete Christ’s work on earth.

Among the great achievements of the Second Vatican Council was calling all the baptized to take their place in carrying out the mission of God.

Pope Francis develops this vision of Vatican II as he teaches that synodality is a constitutive element of the church’s life. Synodality calls for the participation of all the baptized in the church’s life and mission since the Holy Spirit empowers all to be authentic and effective agents of evangelization.

Synodality calls for not only collaboration of all in the church’s mission, but also communal discernment in which Catholics listen to each other as they develop responses to the challenges that face the church in the 21st century.

Synodality is founded on the recognition that the Christian faithful are not simply sheep with no contribution to the life and mission of the church. It calls for the baptized to accept their responsibility to become “the light of the world” and “salt of the earth” alongside the church’s ordained ministers.

The signs of the times suggest that it is wrong to make the proclamation of the Gospel the task of an elitist, professional class in the church. All Christians, because of their baptism, are called to be missionary disciples — people committed to the spread of the Gospel.

A growing number of lay folk have been preparing themselves for full-time ministry by getting theological education and entering ministry as theologians, pastoral associates, pastoral counselors, canonists, seminary professors, spiritual directors, missionaries and hospital chaplains. In addition, synodality provides a framework within which Catholics from a variety of backgrounds can offer the benefit of their faith and experience as believers to learn from each other about the ways the Gospel can shed light on people’s lives today.

The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd speaks to gentle, loving and comforting care that Christ offers to those called by his name. The church’s pastors have adopted that imagery in speaking of their ministry to the Christian faithful done in the name of Christ.

Today, the Christian faithful are more than simply recipients of pastoral ministry. They are accepting their responsibility as baptized Christians to participate in the church’s mission, fulfilling Christ’s mandate to proclaim the Gospel to every person. Synodality offers Catholics today a pathway for all Catholics, lay and clerical, to become missionary disciples.


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