Sharing his prayerful insights and reflection on Psalm 21, Bishop Stephen J. Berg, illustrates the true role of the shepherd in a time where the local and universal church need drawn back into the tender arms and green pastures of the Good Shepherd who is the example for all bishops and priests.
In Sacred Scripture Psalm 23 paints a picture of a shepherd. King David describes the Lord as our Shepherd and how he loves and guides us. What are some of the traits of Jesus our Shepherd explained to us in Psalm 23?
- I believe that Psalm 23 speaks directly to the reason why we are here, why we follow our faith. It is the Lord who is our shepherd who provides all that we need or want. It is Jesus who feeds us on the most personal level with his Body and Blood. It is Jesus who gives us all meaning, the reason for all life, Jesus who is our shepherd.
What do you, as our bishop, take from Psalm 23?
- It is humbling to be called to such a great task (of service.) I pray constantly for the graces to be a gentle and loving shepherd and to sustain and protect my flock bringing my people together in gratitude under the one, true shepherd. Jesus’ example is a living presence to me. He protects and guides me too, even or especially in my stubbornness, always leading me to see the goodness he brings to each one of his beloved children which are entrusted to me.
What can Psalm 23 teach all priests about shepherding in day-to-day life?
- In the priesthood, a man is ordained into the person of Christ, in persona Christi, the Good Shepherd. At the priestly ordination the bishop anoints the priest on the palms of his hands with chrism oil. There he symbolically receives the wounds of Christ. This anointing is given for the healing of others, for reaching out to those who are wounded or astray, for reconciliation of the world to the Father. The Psalm echoes then the path the priest is to follow, to lead, to guide, to walk through the dark valleys with others, and to bring solace, comfort and peace to those who are hurting.
How does Psalm 23 apply to the bishop and parish priest in how they are called to serve the people?
- When you study Psalm 23, you learn that “green pastures” isn’t actually what we think it means. Due to the geography of the Holy Land at the time, green pastures refer to little sprigs of green throughout the pasture. It’s not always lush. When trying to interpret this, it can tell us that God always leads us carefully and gives us just enough. He provides what we need, and then leads us further, for our growth into new levels of nourishment. This is the leadership, the shepherding which is called for by bishops and parish priests in our Church. To realize the things which God provides for our daily bread, and to look ahead to the future where God calls us.
In green pastures the shepherd creates closures for the sheep to eat and rest in safety. Recent news has shown us that not all shepherds have sought to protect their sheep. How can we both trust priests and support them as we move through this difficult time for the Church?
- That recent news of the willful and wicked violations of trust by those entrusted to be shepherds is sad, disturbing, and now the cross of shame which our Church must travel through together. We must reach out to those who have been harmed, even to the extent that they may no longer hear the voice of Jesus in their lives. This is no time to forget that we walk with Jesus especially dear as the treasure of our Church. Nor to turn away from those good shepherds who have been faithful to their vows and calling. Jesus died for all sins, none of which he could have ever committed. This path of reconciliation which lies before us is a share in his own passion, to heal and make things right in a way that all can clearly see Christ in each one of us, as shepherds and leaders in our Church.
The shepherd never forces the sheep to eat or lay down. He is just present to be watchful and protect. How are you as bishop, with our clergy, available to be present, protect, nourish, and guide?
- The role of the shepherd is to keep his sheep safe. A good shepherd would never lead his sheep into a rapidly flowing river where they will be overwhelmed with the rushing, treacherous waters. God does not want this fear for any of us. Jesus leads us to peace, rest, and repose. He wants us to be refreshed, particularly refreshed in him and his love. The Church is called to be this place of safety, led by its good shepherds.
What can we learn from God’s desire to lead us through green pastures and along still waters?
- It is always for us to remember that God loved us first. He doesn’t lead us through green pastures and along still waters just for our sake. He created us in his own image, in his name’s sake, in order to one day share in his glory which is far beyond description or imagination. The object of green pastures, and still waters, is to make possible our hearing his constant call to restoration and hope: “He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” God desires to restore our souls, to revive us in him, that we may learn to live in his love. It is only through his power and grace that this is possible.
Do our shepherds need to experience the still waters and rest?
- The Church is at a point once again where not only the sheep need to be shepherded, but those appointed as shepherds of the Church must turn to be shepherded and redirected by The Good Shepherd, Our Lord Jesus. He knows what we need and is guiding us through, he’ll get us there. It is a time for conversion, prayer, and actions of justice and reparation. However painful this time is for those who have been harmed, and for those who are called to reconcile these past sins, our future is now our most worthy vocation. Our treasure, Jesus Christ, is what we must hold fast to. Our green pastures and still waters as a Church might just be closer than we think, for in him all things are now possible, and the road to his glory is open.
To the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their loved ones, we apologize and ask forgiveness. While much has been accomplished in the protection of children, there remains much more to be done. Bishop Stephen J. Berg and the Diocese of Pueblo are committed to the fulfillment of this responsibility as a continuing priority for the work of the Catholic Church.
For information about the Diocese of Pueblo’s commitment to transparency and healing, please visit healing.dioceseofpueblo.org.