The following is an excerpt from Father Nick’s homily on Good Shepherd Sunday. This day is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in the church. You can listen to the whole homily by subscribing to The Discerning Catholic Podcast on iTunes or Spotify. If you are interested in learning more about discernment, log onto www.jacksonpriests.com for more information.
Shepherds, in the words of Jesus, are not hired men, but they are called forth by the Chief Shepherd to lead the flock. Jesus calls forth shepherds, not hired men, to be His priests. He is the Good Shepherd because he lays down his life for his sheep, and he lays down his life for his sheep because his only concern is doing the will of God and not the will of men. The opinion of men slowly turns against Jesus throughout his public ministry, but his fidelity to the Truth remains steadfast. He refuses to allow fear of retribution or rejection stop him from being the leader that the Father asks him to be. And yes, this costs him his life. The Good Shepherd then, is good insofar as he does what he is called to do by God. As priests our Chief Shepherd is Jesus Christ. We follow his lead.
Being a priest is not being hired to do a job. It is having your soul conformed to the heart of the Good Shepherd. The way that I think about life has completely changed. And while I fail over and over again to live up to the standard set by the Chief Shepherd, he mercifully calls me back into the fight each time I ask back in. When we were first understanding the gravity of the pandemic, one of my first priestly thoughts was, “how are we going to get into the hospitals?” Some of my other thoughts were, “I’m terrified of going into the hospitals,” “I’m terrified of the way this is going to change the way we celebrate mass and attend mass,” and “how long is this going to go on?” As a priest I had to figure out how to shepherd the sheep God had entrusted to me. And there were many heroic examples throughout the world and in my own circles. A few of my friends in a nearby diocese were assigned by their bishop to be the Covid team. They figured out a safe way to anoint Catholics in the hospital, and so they were assigned to cover all the parishioners in the COVID ICUs throughout the diocese. They helped me to develop a strategy to anoint when I needed to go provide the sacrament during that time of fear and confusion.
Celebrating mass alone in front of a streaming iPhone was completely bizarre at first. And yet because I knew that this was the best way to shepherd those entrusted to me, I did it. I think it is amazing how quickly the Church figured out technology because we had to. Many of our local priests have become extremely familiar with the technological landscape because this is what was being called forth out of them through their identification as the Good Shepherd.
Good Shepherds do not fit in with the times but joyfully, bravely, and clearly guide their sheep. Church teachings are not always popular, in fact they are most often unpopular. But are better off now as a culture who has largely rejected God? Are we closer to truth? Are we closer to peace amongst ourselves? God calls forth shepherds after his own heart. Jesus was after the heart of the Father, his will and the Father’s will were in sync. This is how priests must operate. They must be rooted in prayer and relationship with their heavenly Father so that they can be Christ’s voice in the world. Sadly, this is not always the case, for myself included, but this is a wonderful call that can transform you in ways that you never thought possible.
The church has a Good Shepherd: Jesus Christ. But Christ calls forth shepherds after his own heart to serve his flock and to bring more into the fold. Pray for your priests, that they remain faithful to this call and have the strength to minister through their identity as priests of Jesus Christ, and that they reject the lie that they are simply hired men who have a finite skill set. Pray that your priests seek only after the will of the Father, and not after worldly success, acclaim, or acceptance. And pray for more young men to come forward, because they have heard the urgent call for more shepherds and they want to save souls, and they too want to be Good Shepherds, who lay down their life for God’s people.