One of the most renowned images in
the whole of Sacred Scripture is that of the Shepherd and his relationship to
the sheep of his flock.
David is a prime example. The prophet
Samuel, moved by the Holy Spirit to seek out and anoint the future King of
Israel, visits the house of Jesse and his many sons. After many of Jesse’s sons
were discarded categorically, there was still one left--- the youngest who was
tending the sheep in the field. Upon viewing him, Samuel rejoiced and said that
he would be the one to be anointed King. Indeed he was! Samuel anointed David
as king and from that moment the Holy Spirit rushed impetuously on David.
Saul eventually dies and David
replaces Saul and becomes the King of Israel for decades. Despite his failures
and even serious sins, the Shepherd, King David, was loved by God dearly, a man
after the very heart of God.
David was a man of prayer and
devotion, composed many of the 150 Psalms, a gifted warrior, musician (a
harpist), capable of deep-seated friendships (as with Jonathan, the son of King
Saul), a man of great compassion, but especially a great lover of God.
Another modern example of a truly
Good Shepherd could be found, meditated, and admired and imitated—at least to a
limited degree—in the person of Blessed Pope John Paul II. He was Chief Shepherd of the enormous
flock—the Catholic Church-- from October 1978 until April 2005; one of the
longest pontificates in the history of Catholicism.
Without a doubt he was one of the most
admired men in world history. He was the most travelled Pope—possibly
individually—in the history of the world. His funeral ceremony with the Mass
brought in the largest number in attendance in the history of the world, not to
mention the millions who viewed his funeral on television or via internet!
We all have to have models on which
to pattern our lives. Jesus of course is our supreme model; He is the Way, the
Truth, and the Life. However, it indeed
is important that we have human models.
What then are indispensable qualities
to pursue becoming a GOOD SHEPHERD, to the flock that God has entrusted to us?
Off we go!
GOOD SHEEP OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD. Of primary and capital importance in being a
Good Shepherd to the sheep entrusted to us, we must be a good sheep of the Good
Shepherd and Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
Jesus says I know my sheep and they know me. My sheep hear my voice and
they follow me. (Jn. 10). In concrete what does this mean? Another analogy that
Jesus gives parallel to the Good Shepherd is the Vine and the branches. (Jn.15)
Jesus says that He is the vine and we are the branches. The Vinedresser will
prune away any branches that are fruitless and cast them into the fire. Jesus
says that He has called us to bring forth fruit and fruit in abundance. This means for us nothing less than a deep
and growing union with the Good Shepherd and the Vinedresser (God Himself). How
can this become a concrete reality?
DEEP PRAYER LIFE. Union with the Good Shepherd is in direct
proportion to a serious, methodical, well-directed, dynamic and growing prayer
life. Nobody can give what he does not have!
SACRAMENTAL LIFE. As sheep hunger and fall into pits and are
bitten by wolves and are wounded and must be nourished and healed; likewise, we
the sheep of the Lord’s flock must be nourished and healed. How? Our primary
sustenance and stable is the Eucharist, the Bread of Life. Healing? The
specific sacramental grace that comes from Confession is healing , healing of the wounds inflicted
STUDY. In this year of faith (year of
grace) the Holy Father challenges us to study our faith. Of the works that the
Holy Father encourages us to study are the four Dogmatic Constitutions of Vat.
II: Dei Verbum, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Gaudium Spes, and Lumen Gentium. Furthermore, the Holy Father exhorts us to
read and study and learn the basic content-matter of the Catechism of the
Catholic Church. The study of the
catholic faith should not be temporary but on-going; if you like, permanent!
SAINTS. Saints were leaders! They followed the voice of the Good Shepherd
and felt the call to lead others to the heart of the Good Shepherd. A wonderful
enterprise and worthy undertaking would be to purchase a series of books on the
lives of the saints and start to read them. This will foster friendship with
the saints, prayer to them, a desire to imitate their holy lives and finally
establish leadership qualities!
An authentic spiritual life which consists in constant growth in union
and friendship with Jesus would be far from complete if the Blessed Virgin Mary
were absent. All the saints--- the great
spiritual leaders of the church and world at large—had a great knowledge, love
and following after Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. But also
the saints discovered a pearl of infinite value--- the Blessed Virgin
Mary. Mystical Rose, Tower of Ivory, Ark
of the Covenant, Gate of Heaven, Our Life, Our Sweetness and our Hope are just
of few of the sublime poetical expressions that refer to Mary that the saints
loved to pray to and meditate upon her virtues! If Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord
of Lords, then Mary is the Queen of the universe. It was through Mary’s presence and prayer
during the first and most efficacious novena--- that of Pentecost—that the
Apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit and then were transformed into
among the greatest leaders (Good Shepherds) in the church. This being the case, Mary can intercede for
us and help us to receive the “Gift of Gifts”—the Holy Spirit who will
transform us into true leaders!
SELF-CONTROL. As a result of Original Sin and its effect on
our person we enter into the world weak, prone to sin, with our intellect
partially darkened, our emotional life in disarray, and a life of disorder.
Therefore, a true leader must first order his own interior state of affairs—his
own interior life and soul--- before he can presume to lead and order the lives
of others. Once again, you cannot give what you do not have yourself! There is
a basic law in life: either we dominate the flesh and its urgings and
experience the true liberty of the sons of God; or we give into the flesh and
its cravings and we become slaves to our lower passions. How then can we arrive at this self-control? Very
simply through two channels: the grace of God and our own collaboration, hard
work, as St. Theresa of Avila reminds us, “We must have a determined
determination…” In concrete, the constant practice of penance, abnegation,
asceticism, self-denial. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ unequivocally taught
us: “Whoever wants to be my follower
must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me…” Still more, Jesus said, “Unless you do
penance, you will perish…” How can
leaders demand others to carry out obligations, apostolic commitments and
practice virtue, if we who call ourselves as “leaders” do not manifest this by
our own example? Why not start with
Friday—which by the way is a day that we are obliged to do penance—to undertake
specific concrete gestures of self-denial?
LOVE BEGINS AT HOME. If we presume to be leaders in the context of
the church-community then it is incumbent upon us to start with the basics—that
is to say, we should start with our own family which the Pope defines as the
“Domestic church”. We do not want to
fall into the “Rip-van-Winkle” complex.
This novel figure was renowned for his love, dedication and service
towards everybody who had a problem in his whole neighborhood; however, his own
home was a total disaster! Start by loving and serving your spouse; then
attending to the moral, spiritual, intellectual, and human needs of your
children. With this in order, then church leadership will prove much more
efficacious! Never forget the last and
greatest Commandment of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
UNION AND HARMONY WITH THE SHEPHERD
OF THE FLOCK: THE PASTOR AND PRIESTS.
Of vital importance for lay-church leaders is that they be in strict
harmony with the Pastors of the church.
This means an independent spirit, secretive attitude, overly-critical
nature, underhanded and covert actions can wreak havoc in the context of the
Church-community! On the contrary, lay church leaders must pray for their
Pastor and priests, have a sincere love for them, open dialogue with them, and
an attitude of great docility and obedience!
The adage is so true in this context: “In unity there is strength.” And
another maxim: “The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Remember the pop-song of the 60’s:”Divided we
fall; united we stand.” The devil seeks
divisive spirits to tear apart and destroy; the Holy Spirit is the spirit of
unity. Related to this, gossip in all
colors, forms, sizes and shapes should be shunned as a plague!
LEADERSHIP NOT AS DOMINION BUT AS
SERVICE! Of course, the supreme model of
service for all leaders far and wide is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His
whole life was an eloquent witness of an attitude leading concrete actions of
service! Upon this point Jesus said:
“The Son of man has not come to be served but to serve and give His life in
ransom for many.” Of all times and
places Jesus taught the supreme and sublime example of service at the Last
Supper when He lowered Himself to his knees, girded Himself with a towel, and
poured water on the dirty(probably not aromatic in scent) feet of the Apostles!
What was the lesson here? Jesus explained that He was called Master and
rightfully so, but what He did, they too were called to imitate--- this was to
wash the feet of others, to be truly servants of others. For that reason, the
first Pope, St. Peter, calls himself the servant of the servants. When the Pope
signs his letters often they too are ended with “Servant of servants”. True leaders do not pursue their own
self-glorification but the honor and glory of God. The Ignatian motto should be
the motto of all true leaders: AMDG--
All for the greater honor and glory of God! However, true leaders
receive as a reward true joy and peace of soul because they know that they are
imitating the Master and Leader and Teacher, Jesus the Lord, who said that
there is much more joy in giving than in receiving.
CONCRETE PRACTICAL HELPS TO EXERCISE
EFFICIENT AND EFICACIOUS LEADERSHIP.
Pray for the sheep of the flock that
God has entrusted to you.
EXAMPLE. Always be willing to put
into practice any activity, chore, duty or apostolic work that you would tell
others to carry out!
PUNCTUALITY IN MEETINGS. In the course of organizing and summoning
members to meeting the Leader—Good Shepherd—should be well-prepared and
punctual! Too much valuable time is lost
be lack of order and punctuality! Life
is short and no time to waste! St.
Father Alberto Hurtado reminds us: “There are two places to rest, the cemetery
MERCY. Group-members are not perfect
because only God is perfect. Leaders
must be merciful and willing to forgive not only seven times but seventy times
seven times! Remember the words of
Jesus: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful!”
FRATERNAL CORRECTION. However, if it happens that a sheep is
wandering near the pack of wolves and is in danger of bringing the wolves into
the flock, then the Leader/Good Shepherd, must exercise the art of fraternal
correction. Actually in his Lenten message, the Holy Father Pope Benedict VI
exhorted followers of Christ to be willing to speak up against clear
injustices. The political philosopher
Edmund Burke poignantly summarized it as such: “So that evil advance in the
world, it is sufficient that good men do nothing.” In other words, we can fail
due to the sin of omission!
CHARITY AT ALL COSTS. However, the
most important quality of a true Leader and an authentic Good Shepherd is
CHARITY. Charity has two dimensions: the
vertical and horizontal. The vertical
refers to God! A true leader tries to live out the Gospel of Luke 10—to love
God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength; then the horizontal, to love
one’s neighbor as he would his very self!
A true leader manifests a sincere, pure, honest, transparent, faithful
and dedicated love! In the primitive
church many were magnetically drawn to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The reason was very clear: look how they love one another. May the true witness
of love be the authentic hallmark of true Christian leaders, of the true Good
Shepherd who loves his sheep, knows their voice and is even ready to lay down
his own life for the love of his sheep. May the Good Shepherd, Jesus the Lord,
be our Way, Truth, and Life!