Praying for Good Shepherds in Our Church

User’s Guide to Sunday, July 18

Jesus ‘came as our shepherd to guide us in truth and to love us as the Good Shepherd.’
Jesus ‘came as our shepherd to guide us in truth and to love us as the Good Shepherd.’ (photo: Pixabay)

Sunday, July 18, is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34. 

The readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time focus on those who shepherd the Church and the importance of us being a united flock. St. Paul, in the second reading from Ephesians (Ephesians 2:13-18), speaks of how Jesus through his blood has drawn the Gentiles to him. Jesus has made it so all humans are called to be one in him, no longer separating out the Chosen People. He made it so that we can live in peace within the Church. 

While we have many good shepherds in our bishops and priests, there are still others who scatter God’s sheep and drive them away. The Lord speaks of bad shepherds through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture” (Jeremiah 23:1). How often do we hear of someone who has become disillusioned with the Church because of something a priest said or did to them personally or bishops’ extreme conflicting views over moral practices? How often have we been horrified and saddened over the acts of men with holy orders and the ways in which they were covered up by the shepherds of the Church?

The Lord promises through Jeremiah that he will appoint shepherds who will guard his flock well so that “none shall be missing” (Jeremiah 23:4). He speaks of raising up a righteous shoot for David who will reign as king. This prophecy has been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, a son of David. He came as our shepherd to guide us in truth and to love us as the Good Shepherd.

In Psalm 23 we pray the familiar words, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” The Lord refreshes us, guides us, protects us in the dark valley, and anoints us with the oil of grace. He shepherds us each individually in our prayer. Further, when Christ appointed his apostles and instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper, he made it so he would shepherd us through those who received holy orders. They are meant to act in persona Christi — in the person of Christ — for us. Christ still gives us grace through the weak hands of these men. The words of Jeremiah and the Psalmist are reminders that Christ is guiding the Church in truth and pouring out grace, despite the sins of some of our shepherds.

In the Gospel this Sunday, the apostles, who are the first to receive holy orders, are returning from their mission of being sent out two by two to preach and heal. They come back excited at what they accomplished, but they are also exhausted. Jesus sees their need for rest and invites them to spend some time quietly with him. 

“Come away by yourself to a deserted place and rest awhile,” he beckons them (Mark 6:31). The Lord at that moment gave his apostles a precedent: Jesus knows that even when his appointed shepherds go into ministry with the greatest of enthusiasm, they cannot persevere without spending quiet, restorative time with himself. They need to go away with the Lord in daily prayer, rest in him, and ask him to refresh their souls. We need priests, deacons and bishops that go to the Lord and seek restoration in his love, so that we will never be without good shepherds. For ourselves, we also need to seek this advice of the Lord’s to rest awhile with him, for he sends us all as Christians out into the world to do his work. 

Let us offer up our Communion this week for our bishops and priests, praying that they will seek to follow the Lord more closely, to take time to rest with him, and that he will form them into shepherds who will truly shepherd his Church.