Our Lord Jesus Christ frequently used the image of the shepherd to describe His vocation and mission in the world. The shepherd is an ancient image for the king who governs his people by caring for all of his subjects, especially the frail. Christ, Who is indeed King of Heaven and Earth, fulfills His royal mission by becoming man, in order to offer His life on the Cross for the eternal salvation of all men, without exception or boundary. He is the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (Jn 10:11). Pope Benedict XVI writes, in a most striking way, about the mission of Christ the Good Shepherd in his recently published book, Jesus of Nazareth:
The Shepherd who sets off to seek the lost sheep is the eternal Word himself, and the sheep that he lovingly carries home on his shoulders is humanity, the human existence that he took upon himself. In his Incarnation and Cross he brings home the stray sheep, humanity; he brings me home, too. The incarnate Logos is the true "sheep-bearer" — the Shepherd who follows after us through the thorns and deserts of our life. Carried on his shoulders, we come home. He gave his life for us. He himself is life (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, tr. Adrian J. Walker, New York: Doubleday, 2007, p. 286).
In Christ, through our daily life in Christ, we come home to God the Father; we share in God's own life.
Christ, the Good Shepherd, Consecrates Shepherds
God the Father promised, through the Prophet Jeremiah, to send "shepherds after [His] own heart" to instruct His people and gather them into the one fold, so that they might conform their hearts to His Divine Heart. The shepherds promised by God are, in fact, to be the images of God Who comes to His people, through the Incarnation, in order to set them free from their sins and to win for them the lasting freedom to love as He loves. The shepherds, after the Heart of God, lead the people to Him, in Whom alone is their salvation.
At the Last Supper, God the Son Incarnate fulfilled the promise of God the Father, made through the Prophet Jeremiah. Christ the Good Shepherd, truly the Shepherd after the Heart of God, consecrated the Apostles as shepherds after the Heart of God, to teach the flock and gather them into the one fold, above all, through the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. He consecrated the Apostles to act in His own person as Head and Shepherd of the flock. Notwithstanding their faults and weaknesses, He poured out the grace of the Holy Spirit upon them for the apostolic ministry of shepherd and head of the flock, in every time and place. In an unbroken line, from the consecration of the first priests at the Last Supper, Christ has never failed to call and consecrate shepherds, after His own Heart, to care for the flock of God the Father.
Those Responding to God's Call Today
In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, we witness, with deepest gratitude, God calling men, in Christ, to be shepherds "after His own heart." Presently, sixty-one men are responding daily to God's call, preparing to present themselves, one day, God willing, for consecration as true shepherds of the flock. Twenty-eight are in the college seminary; twenty-five at Cardinal Glennon College Seminary and three as Basselin Scholars at The Catholic University of America. Thirty-three are in the theological seminary, that is, the last four years of preparation for priestly ordination: thirty-two are at Kenrick School of Theology, and one is at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
We know the needs of priestly ministry in the Archdiocese are great. We must also be conscious of the needs of the foreign missions and of the armed forces of our nation. We, therefore, thank God that a good number of men are responding to His call to the priesthood. We pray for them, that they will persevere in responding to God's call and not give way to discouragement before the sometimes arduous challenges, along the way of priestly formation.
Those Whom God Is Calling
In August, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary admitted eighteen new seminarians for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. I am happy to say that there are a number of men who are hearing the call of God and are preparing to enter our seminary in August of 2008. It is not easy to make the decision to enter the seminary, but, when a man is hearing God's call in a discernible way, the best place for him to respond is in the seminary. I ask you to continue to pray, each day, that more young men will hear the call of God to the priesthood and will respond with a totally generous heart.
In writing to you about both our seminarians and those who are preparing to enter the seminary, I hasten to say that my gratitude to God is not for the number of our seminarians, although it is certainly important that we have a sufficient number of future priests, but for their goodness and dedication in responding to God's call.
It is my hope that you will have the occasion to visit Kenrick-Glennon Seminary or to meet our seminarians who go out to the parishes each week for pastoral formation. God is sending us outstanding young men, and some a little older, who truly have only one desire, that is, to be shepherds of the flock after the Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd.
Next week, I will continue my reflection on the fulfillment of God's promise through the Prophet Jeremiah in our archdiocese and, specifically, through the work of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. I will tell you more about the seminarians from other dioceses and communities of consecrated life who make one community with our seminarians. Also, I want to reflect upon the importance of preparing seminarians for ordination in their home diocese.
Please continue to pray for our seminarians, that they will persevere in responding to God's call, and to pray for those whom God is calling, that they will soon enter the seminary.