09Feb 9 February. (Saturday in the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time)

Hbr. 13:15ff. God raised up Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep

Mk. 6:30ff. Jesus takes the apostles aside to rest, and pities the people, as sheep without a shepherd.

First Reading: Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing – for that would be harmful to you.

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, so that they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

What bishops are for

An article in The Irish Catholic the other day (7th Feb. 2013) by Fr. Martin Brown OSB, headmaster of Glenstal Abbey School n Limerick, considers the recent episcopal nominations to several Irish dioceses, and offers some perceptive reflections on the topic of What Bishops Are For. It struck a chord with me in light of today’s readings, both of which hold up the image of Jesus as the great shepherd of God’s flock. Of course, in the order of priorities the shepherding grace of Jesus is clearly much more central and vital to us than the role of any church official, but still a truly pastoral bishop can greatly enhance our experience of being part of God’s People, the church. In fact, the bishop’s main task is to build and foster among the people both the reality and the perception  of “communion”.

As Jesus looked around on the crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. His loving response was to animate them by his teaching, and then to feed them through the sharing miracle of the loaves and fishes. Responding with love to the people’s deepest needs is the vocation of all who are privileged to have a share in his ministry. On this point, let us hear a few phrases from Martin Brown’s article. A deep sense of communion – he says – “is what will protect a new bishop from becoming too full of himself and too impressed with his status, title or attire. He is to teach and to lead his people as a loving shepherd; to be both father and brother. And he does this most excellently when he presides at the Eucharist… in the midst of the people of the diocese.” Later he says candidly, “a diocese is a local Church and not just an administrative unit. A bishop is a representative of Christ and not just a branch manager. They have lost most of the power they used to have, which is no bad thing … but we need to have a renewed sense of who and what exactly bishops are, if they are to foster communion wisely.”

For the health and coherence of our beloved Church, we should today pray that the spirit and example of the Good Shepherd will deeply animate the bishops who are now charged with shepherding his flock according to his Gospel message.