FISHERS OF MEN AND SHEPHERDS OF SHEEP
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Acts 13:14.43-52; Ps 100:1-3,5; Rev 7:9.14-17; Jn 10:27-30]
In last Sunday’s gospel, Peter was asked to look after and feed the lambs and sheep. He was called to tend to the flock of God, the newly baptized, the lambs, young and innocent; and those growing and maturing in faith. This was the mission entrusted to St Peter by our Lord. That was why he remained in Jerusalem to tend to the Church before finally ending up as the bishop of Rome. He did not go to the ends of the world to preach the Good News. His task was that of a pastor to the flock of Christ. In his letter to the elders, he advised them thus, “Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.” (1 Pt 5:1-3)
There is no doubt that we need shepherds to look after and feed the lambs and sheep. This is probably the real weakness of our Church. Firstly, we do not take ongoing discipleship seriously. Most of us think that we can grow in our faith simply by coming for mass on Sundays. Most of us do not continue with our formation after baptism by signing up for courses, seminars and retreats to update our faith. Worse still, many do not belong to any Church ministry, and even if they do, they do not have a small community of like-minded faith believers to share their faith within a prayerful gathering. This explains why many eventually drop out of the Church, become Sunday Catholics, then nominal Catholics and then lapsed Catholics. Some, influenced by other faiths, even become hostile towards the Catholic Faith because of misinformed teaching.
Of course, the other issue is that we do not have enough teachers of faith, whether priests, religious or lay teachers to form our people in faith, doctrines, morals and spiritual life. We are too heavily dependent on the limited number of priests in our parishes; most of whom are in their late 50’s and above; and with two active priests in a parish of 6000, many priests are unable to find time to give formation to all the ministry members, much less to the faithful of the parish. We have a lot of goodwill, but when it comes to knowledge of scriptures and doctrines, we are rather weak. Perhaps this explains why we feel more comfortable being involved in social and humanitarian work rather than sharing our faith, the Word of God and our spiritual journey. That is why our sheep are prone to be poached by other Christian denominations as many of them are half-baked in their faith and shallow in their spiritual life, and encounter with the Lord.
Indeed, in the gospel, the Lord said, “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.” If we do not listen to the voice of Jesus through personal study of the Word of God or through bible sharing; or attend courses and retreats, how could we ever be formed by Him? We say we are too busy to listen to the Lord, whether in prayer or in study, but strangely, we have time to listen to the world. We have our Facebook, Instagram and social media. We have time to listen and read fake news, half-truths, but no time to read up on our faith and beliefs. If our Catholics are confused and lost, it is simply because, as the Lord said, they do not listen to His voice. So we should not be surprised that the greatest traitors and detractors of the Church are not from outside but from within – Catholics who do not know much about their faith but feel they are qualified to criticize their own Church beliefs and take sides with the world.
This, precisely, was the same attitude of the Jews when St Paul preached to them. “When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans.” It is ironical that whilst many Catholics have given up on their faith because they lack formation in their spiritual life and faith, many are looking and hungering to find God in their lives. Those who desire God and take time to search for Him will find Him. This was what the evangelist noted. “It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus, the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.”
How, then, can we heed the advice of St Paul to the Christian Jews? By remaining in fellowship with one another! “When the meeting broke up, many Jews and devout converts joined Paul and Barnabas and in their talks with them, Paul and Barnabas urged them to remain faithful to the grace God had given them.” We need to belong to a Catholic community, have a circle of friends to gather together to pray, share our faith and testify to God’s work in our lives, and not just for gossiping, eating and drinking. Unless we challenge each other in faith and share our faith journey, it is difficult to grow and deepen our knowledge.
Secondly, we need to evangelize. This was what St Paul said, “For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said: I have made you a light for the nations, so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” It is not enough simply to be Shepherds of our sheep and lambs, but we must, like St Paul, be fishers of men. We must go out and catch the fish beyond our boundaries. Our weakness is that we are too parochial-minded sometimes. We build enclaves among our own little ministries, are inward-looking and protective of our organizations instead of reaching out to bring new members into the ministries and church. When we fail to evangelize and be missionaries for Christ, our parish will stagnate, organizations remain the same for years, and gradually, the parish will perish because ministry members get older and die. That is why a maintenance church cannot be maintained for long. Rejuvenation requires outreach, new members and evangelical zeal so that no one becomes too complacent.
Indeed, as the responsorial psalm reminds us, “Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing for joy. Know that he, the Lord, is God. He made us, we belong to him, we are his people, the sheep of his flock. Indeed, how good is the Lord, eternal his merciful love.” We must claim all for Christ’s kingdom. The vision we have for the Church of God is spelt out in St John’s vision. “After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands.” But we can be dressed in white robes only when we have washed them clean with a living faith in Christ.
Most of all, we must be ready to suffer with and for Christ for the greater good of His Church and the People of God. Like St Peter and St Paul, we must be ready to lay down our lives for our sheep and lambs just as Jesus did. For others to live fully, we need to die for them. Indeed, our goal as pastors and missionaries is to give them life abundantly, for that is what the Lord comes to give us all. “I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.”
Today, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. We need to bring together these two themes. St Peter was called to be a shepherd of the sheep. St Paul was to become the fisher of men. As Christians, we are called to be both shepherds of God’s sheep so that we all can become fishers of men. As shepherds, we look after our sheep. This is the ad intra dimension of the Church. As fishers of men, we must be missionary-minded like St Paul who went out on His mission to the Gentiles. If we were to do that, we must first be one with Jesus, just as Jesus is one with His Father in mind and heart. Jesus said, “The Father and I are one”. We need to pray for more priestly and religious vocations. But we also need to pray for more lay leaders and missionaries as well. But besides praying for more, we must also be ready to support them morally and financially so that they can serve the Lord with total freedom and commitment to His kingdom.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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