Bishop's Column

The Good Shepherd: the face of mercy

“Jesus Christ,” says Pope Francis “is the face of the Father’s mercy.”

Christ, the Good Shepherd, is the face of a mercy that lifts us up from lowliness, that makes saints of sinners, that gives us hope for eternal joy in the presence of God.

Christ is the Good Shepherd because in his mercy, he seeks us out when we are lost, and carries us to the safety and freedom of the Father’s love.

Christ is the face of the God’s mercy because his Church proclaims the meaning of our lives, and proclaims what is true, good, and beautiful.

We are blessed to see the face of Christ, the Good Shepherd, in the face of the good and holy priests who serve the universal Church, and who serve the Diocese of Lincoln. The Second Vatican Council wrote that priests are to “live as good shepherds that know their sheep, and they are to seek to lead those who are not of this sheepfold that they, too, may hear the voice of Christ, so that there might be one fold and one shepherd.”

When priests commit their lives to imitating Christ, the Good Shepherd, they become faces of the Father’s mercy as well. Priests mediate mercy to the world—most especially in the sacrament of penance, and in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. And priests mediate mercy by teaching, by calling sinners to conversion, and by witnessing to Christ with their lives.

But good and holy priests are more than teachers, or witnesses. Good and holy priests are living martyrs for the Church of Jesus Christ.

A good shepherd lays down his life for his flock. A good shepherd travels through any terrain, at any cost, to find a lost sheep. A good shepherd stays cold and hungry through the night to protect ewes who tend to the smallest lambs. A good shepherd stands between his sheep and the prowling wolves beyond the gate.

To become like Christ, the Good Shepherd, a good and holy priest must lay down his life as well.

The priests who have inspired me, and formed me, and helped to sanctify me, are those who have laid down their lives for their flocks. Of course, I think of the great priest martyrs in the Church’s history. But I also think of pastors, and monks, and friars who quietly pour themselves out to be present to families, and to the poor, and to those in need of Jesus Christ.

The profound meaning of a priest’s life is to give himself away so completely, and so profoundly, that only Christ remains visible to the world. The glory of priestly life and ministry is the glory of revealing God’s mercy to a world in profound need of love, truth, and meaning. The glory of priestly life is the glory of God, made manifest in the humble and quiet glory of self-sacrifice.

Among the young men of the Diocese of Lincoln are those whom God calls to become good shepherds, in imitation of Jesus Christ. We are blessed with many good seminarians. But parents, and pastors, and teachers must continue to invite young men to consider the priesthood, to spend time, perhaps, in the seminary, in order to discover their own vocations. God calls many young men to the priesthood. We all have a serious and solemn responsibility to help young men hear and respond to that call.

This Saturday, April 18, 9,000 miles from the Diocese of Lincoln, two young men will be ordained priests of Jesus Christ. They are young men who are known to us, Deacon Asitha Hettiarachchi and Deacon Eranga deSilva from Sri Lanka. (Editor's Note: the men were ordained transitional deacons last year in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ.)

Deacon Asitha and Deacon Eranga studied as seminarians sponsored by the Diocese of Lincoln. Dave and Karen Cronin, their Lincoln hosts, will attend the ordination in St. Lucia’s Cathedral in Sri Lanka, and Father K. William Holoubek, director of our diocesan mission office, will also attend to represent the diocese.

These young men are called to be good shepherds, faces of the mercy of God. 

Several years ago, Bishop Bruskewitz committed to sponsor the formation of four young seminarians from the Archdiocese of Columbo, Sri Lanka. His decision was a work of mercy. It was a witness to the value of helping young men to discern and prepare for their vocations. All of us should imitate his commitment.

Good and holy priests reveal the mercy of God to us. They mediate God’s mercy. They lay down their lives for us. Let us praise God for the gift of our good and holy priests. And let us encourage young men to consider the call to become good shepherds, in imitation of Christ, our Good Shepherd.  

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Bishop Conley

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