Pastor and Neighbors

After Mass one Sunday morning, a young gentleman approached his priest and told him, “Father, this church has been insulting me for years, and I did not know it until this week.” The stunned pastor replied, “What do you mean?” “Well,” said the guy, “I always hear you telling us that ‘We are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of His hand.’ And for years you called us God’s flock. Well, this past week I visited a farm and there I discovered that sheep are just about the dumbest animals God ever created. They are so stupid that they even follow one another without hesitation into the slaughterhouse. I think pigs are smarter than these sheep.” The priest replied, “My son, next time would you feel better if I call you instead a pig.”

Some of us have this mental picture of Jesus whenever we think of the Good Shepherd. He is surrounded by a flock of sheep with one small lamb on his shoulders. He looks at them with a smile on his face. He looks so gentle. He looks so sweet.

However, this perception of gentleness and sweetness ends when we really think about what makes a good Shepherd. I tend to think of Jesus more with his hands bloodied fighting for us, keeping us safe from our enemies. It is because the test of a good shepherd is not just on the way he is nice to his sheep, but what he does to the thief or the wolf when they attack his flock.

That is the kind of picture I want to present to you as we celebrate this Sunday the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The Church has this on the calendar to remind us about the need to pray for more priests and religious sisters, because the number, our number is getting low.

I believe that one of the solutions to the shortage of vocation lies with the messengers: the priests and religious sisters themselves. The messenger is the medium. Priests and nuns, by the life and the love they manifest, are the primary vocation promoters. If a young person sees in his priest the happiness and fulfillment that he needs to have in his life, then he will try to imitate him. But if he sees unhappy and grumpy men on the altar, if he sees nasty and uncaring ministers, I doubt whether that young person would ever think of the priesthood.

But the solution to the problem does not just concern the ministers. It also involves the people he is serving, his parishioners. I have experiences with people who expect too much from their pastors and when things do not go their way or they do not get what they want, they blame their ministers for it. We have heard countless non-life threatening justifications from people who had been away from the Church: Father was not nice to me so I left this parish. Father did not visit me when I was sick or Father did not smile at me when I went to Church.

There was the story of a priest who took his parishioners on a tour of the Holy Land. He read to them the story of the good shepherd and as they continued their tour, he was explaining to them that they would see shepherds on the hillsides just as in Jesus' day. He wanted to impress the group, so he told them that shepherds always lead their sheep, always walking in front to face dangers, always protecting the sheep by going ahead of them.

He barely got the last word out when, sure enough, they rounded a corner and saw a man and his sheep on the hillside. There was only one problem: the man was not leading the sheep as the good priest had said. No, he was behind the sheep and seemed to be chasing them. The pastor turned red. Flabbergasted, he ran over to the man and said, "I always thought shepherds in this region led their sheep out in front. And I told my people that a good shepherd never chases his sheep." The man replied, "That's absolutely true and you're absolutely right. But, I'm not the shepherd, I'm the butcher!"

Some of us know too well about the Good Shepherd, but a good number of us are all too familiar with the butcher. We know of people who have butchered ministers of the Church with negative things, gossips, rumors and bad publicity. If this is what our children hear from us, then we will always be short of priests. If within our own families, we are indifferent and unsupportive of our ministers or we discourage our own children or grandchildren from being priests and nuns, then we will always have the shortage of vocations, then Catholic school education will always be expensive.

Finding a reason to live, finding meaning in life means placing emphasis on the things that we need to do right. It means putting into proper perspective and priority the decisions we have to make. It means going back to what we originally intended.

If we go back to the word pastor, we would know that it is taken from Latin. It means shepherd. The term parishioner, on the other hand, comes from the Greek word meaning neighbor. On this World Day of Vocations, let us examine ourselves whether we had been a neighbor to our pastor? Have we been good parishioners to our shepherds?

Whether or not we follow the call of Jesus, the Good Shepherd will depend upon whether or not we have been good shepherds ourselves, whether or not we had been good parishioners, good neighbors to one another.
29 April 2007

1 comment:

cgm said...

Nice an d inspiring reflections, Sano. Better compile and publish them into a book. Para may mabilin ka na writings kun ma-canonize ka na. he he he