In the Gospels, Jesus identifies himself with several titles that begin, “I am…”. For me, the title that is most tender and compassionate is when he says,
“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
Jesus reveals in his ministry that he is the ultimate good shepherd because his purpose is to save the souls of all humanity and he completes his mission by laying down his life on the cross.
Although Jesus Christ completed his mission, he established his Church to carry on that work of saving souls. He built this Church on the confession of Peter who he charged with tending and feeding his sheep. Through the priesthood, he gave Peter and the Church the authority to forgive sins and to change bread and wine into his own body and blood so that those who believed in him might have eternal life.
Priests and Deacons
In an unbroken line from Peter and the Apostles to our present Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests Jesus continues his role as Good Shepherd as they all perform their ministry in persona Christi, which means in the person of Christ. As they minister the sacraments of the Church it is Jesus Christ himself who makes the sacraments effective through them.
Deacons are also ordained into this unbroken line dating back to the beginning of the Church. Though their ordination differs from that of bishops and priests, they are nevertheless called by Christ to serve his flock through the ministry of the Word and other services that require special formation. They can perform baptism, funerals, and witness marriages in the absence of a priest, or at the assistance of a priest. The Diaconate ministry covers a wide spectrum of service to the Church including but not limited to liturgy, evangelization, visiting the sick and imprisoned, faith formation, and assisting the bishop and their pastors as needed.
The consecrated life of the religious is also essential to Our Lord’s plan of caring for souls. Through the ages, the religious have been a heroic sign of the presence of Jesus Christ as they educate, evangelize and serve all who are in need. Religious organizations have produced thousands of canonized saints and their work has been indispensable in the passing on of the faith.
As the numbers of clergy and religious continue to decline we all must pray every day for vocations. Certainly, the Good Shepherd continues to call men and women to participate in his work of saving souls. Our prayer is for those he is calling to respond to the call, not only for the sake of the souls they will be helping, but also for their own sake because we can only reach our potential for happiness in this life by following the plan the Lord has for us.
We see the beauty of Jesus’ plan as he continues to shepherd souls, but what about the rest of the Church? Does he expect the small number of clergy and religious to be solely responsible for the salvation of humanity? There is a huge army that is expected to participate in this saving work called the laity. We are all baptized and have received the theological gifts of Faith, Hope, and love as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every one of us is equipped and expected to participate in the work of saving souls by praying for the conversion of those who have separated themselves from God and by being a witness of what we believe by what we say and do. If we have experienced God’s love, mercy, and providence we certainly want to share this Good News with others.
When we pray for vocations, we also pray for holy marriages and sanctified single life. Every baptized person is expected to be a light in the world, bringing the presence of Christ into our homes and the workplace. When we read the lives of the saints and hear the stories of clergy and religious, we find that most discovered their calling from God through the faithful witness of their parents. The home is where children should first learn about God’s love for them as they are taught how to pray and ask for God’s guidance at a very early age.
There is no baptized person who does not have a calling from God. When we order our lives to God by a commitment to daily prayer, by living the sacramental life and continue to be formed in the faith through spiritual reading we give God the opportunity to influence our decisions as we continually draw closer to him, and then promises he gives us in the Gospels become a reality in our lives. In addition to the magnificence of creation, the reality of the existence of God should be apparent through the witness of those who believe in him.
How can we follow the Good Shepherd?
If there is chaos in our lives, in society, or in our world there is only one explanation- we, the society or the world are not following the Good Shepherd and the plan he has for us. His plan doesn’t eliminate all sickness, suffering, and disasters but he gives us the grace and peace to persevere with the confidence that he will bring us through. We see this reality repeatedly when we read the lives of the saints. Because God is patient for our salvation, it is never too late to begin anew in Christ. As a matter of fact, we know from his own words that he seeks out those who are lost. He will find his way to any soul that has a humble, contrite heart.
We know the words to say,
“Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Good Shepherd, lead me into the security your Sacred Heart.”
Deacon Tom Fox, K.H.S. is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with his wife, Mary Jane Fox. The two left their careers after a profound conversion experience and began working full-time in ministry at their parish in 1986. After several years and having impacted tens of thousands of families, the Foxes founded Pilgrim Center of Hope in 1993 as a response to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization. Deacon Tom is an invested member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.