Follow Me: A time to re-affirm love and support for our shepherds
By Bishop Terry R. LaValley
Family members and friends often ask me, “What do you do on retreat anyway? Is it just a short vacation where you get to sleep a lot and not have to worry about answering the door or the phone? Yes and No.
For me, a retreat is time I have set aside to refocus on my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Typically, I go on retreat armed with tools that I hope will facilitate an increase in my faith, a strengthening of my priesthood and a deepening of my love for God and His Church.
set out on retreat with great hope, carrying my Bible, breviary, and some spiritual reading.
A couple of weeks ago I went on retreat with the intention of spending some time reflecting on St. John’s Gospel and focusing on my duties as a bishop, particularly with regard to my responsibilities to my brother priests.
Blessed John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Gregis, written in 2003, wrote of the figure of the Good Shepherd as the “primary image to which the bishop must constantly refer in reflecting upon his identity and role.”
The shepherd is a rich image for all priests. Archbishop Sheen once wrote, “The priest is not only the shepherd who cares for his sheep; he is also the lamb who is offered in caring for them.” This caring is what distinguishes him from the hireling.
It is so fitting that this Priesthood Sunday 2011 we re-affirm our love and support for the shepherds who lead our parishes in pastoral charity and selfless service. The priest is important and unique to the faithful not because he is a regular guy, another “Joe,” but because he is “another Christ.”
I was privileged and blessed to have been a parochial vicar for two pastors who truly reflected the Good Shepherd for me in my years as a young priest: Monsignor John Pendergast and Father Edward Wright. Monsignor, in spite of the fact that he rooted for all the wrong teams, was my mentor and dear friend.
Among the many things he taught me, I am especially grateful for his example of trying to always be present to his parishioners, even when it might have been inconvenient for him. He felt it was important to enjoy meals together in the rectory, a time to share what was happening in the lives of those entrusted to our care. (All families need to spend mealtime together.) He truly loved his parishioners.
Father Wright always saw the bright side of things. He was filled with such hope and joy. He loved being a priest and it showed. Father Wright loved to entertain and always had a good story to share. His pastoral care for the faithful was especially evident in his role as the Judicial Vicar.
Never was faith and Christian hope more evident in the lives of these two shepherds than in the way they embraced death in anticipation of the glorious resurrection awaiting them.
As I was concluding my retreat, I spent much time reflecting on the last chapter of St. John’s Gospel where we are presented with another of Jesus’ appearances after His resurrection. This time, He asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” Peter’s responded three times: “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.” “Tend my sheep,” was Jesus’ response. (John 21)
These two priests’ love for Jesus was reflected in their tender care for those entrusted to their care.
I invite you to reflect on the priests who have cared and those who continue to care for you and your loved ones.
Pray that their deep love for the Resurrected One will help you to Follow Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We thank God for all of our priests who show us a shepherd’s tender care and love.
**photo by pat hendrick
Bishop LaValley delivers the homily during the Mass for the 2011 Fall Pilgrimage sponsored by the Serra Club and the Vocation Office of the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Pilgrims traveled to St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid Oct. 4 to pray for vocations.**