4 Easter – April 21, 2013 – Of Shepherds and Sheep
Last week was a disaster for so many people. The Boston Marathon bombings. The papal reaffirmation of the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The massive explosion in Texas. The defeat of every gun control proposal by the Senate. The first event was a crime. The second one was a huge disappointment concerning the contributions and intuitions of women in the church. The third was an awful accident. The fourth was an unbelievable example of how elected officials, according to some reports, ignored the common sense of 90% of American citizens. But did the Senators actually forsake their flocks?
Other surveys indicate the Senators who voted against the proposals actually represented states where the citizens, not to mention the lobbyists, were against more gun control. Nevertheless, the outcome of the vote raises a question about how elected officials represent the common good of a country. It is about scrutinizing those who have power to make decisions for large numbers of people. It is an issue of leadership and authority. It is a topic that we Catholics are mindful of as we try to be faithful to the gospel and the doctrines of our church.
Today’s scriptures focus on the voice of the good shepherd. In the first passage we heard that if one group was not open to the teachings of Jesus the disciples would turn their attention to others. The lesson in today’s gospel is a familiar one: if we hear the voice of Christ we had better listen. Reginald Fuller writes: “to hear and to respond to Jesus’ word on earth is the decisive factor that will determine acceptance by God.” 
This is good news for the shepherds in our church. The bishops are quite serious about their responsibility to protect the authentic teachings of Christ and the apostolic church and then lead us accordingly.
There are other indicators, however, that a shepherd in ancient times not only led sheep but also listened to the sheep who were not all alike — those who were sick, threatened by wild animals or lost in the night and needed help from the shepherd. The relationship between the shepherd and the sheep mattered. In a similar way, clergy and laity in our church are part of the same flock and need each other. Only Christ is the chief shepherd leading all of us with a mother’s strength and a father’s love. 
We know the Catholic church is not a democracy like our nation state. We do not elect those who make decisions for us nor do we vote on anything that concerns us. In fact, the Second Vatican Council affirmed that the pope and the bishops are to exercise authority over the church. However, this instruction does not exempt our bishops from acting in the spirit of service or from listening to the voices of the faithful  especially when those voices are seeking help, dialog and understanding.
The Second Vatican Council emphasized the dignity of all baptized persons. It said all of us have been called to holiness.  The principle of collegiality was not reserved to the hierarchy alone. It would be a beautiful act of service if all bishops, including the bishop of Rome, found a way to learn what the people of God are thinking before making decisions that would affect them. To use an old Latin expression, what is the sensus fidelium? What is the sense of the faithful on any number of issues? What is it that the same Spirit who speaks to the bishops is speaking to the rest of the church?
The Senators may have ignored the common sense of the American public when voting against more gun control. But Catholic bishops are reminded by Conciliar teachings to recognize the charisms of all members of the church, to treat the people of God as co-workers in the vineyard, partners in maintaining the apostolic tradition.  Yes, the sheep must listen but the shepherds are not to lord their authority over the sheep. (2 Peter 5)
The two Chechen brothers who plagued the City of Boston and its suburbs were caught quickly because the authorities asked citizens for help. They employed something called “crowd-sourcing.” It is the practice of getting information, ideas and solutions by tapping into large groups of people using social media.
All of us are shepherds entrusted with the responsibility for taking care of one another. Why? No one us knows more than all of us.
1 Reginald H. Fuller. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegville: The Liturgical Press) 1984, Revised Edition), 429-431
2 Chepponis, James. “With a Shepherd’s Care” in Gather (Chicago: GIA Publications)1994, 654
3 See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 894-896
4 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 39
5 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 30