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A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep

April 15, 2018
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

“The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” Those of us who have become familiar with the life and witness of Blessed Stanley Rother immediately recognize those words. They were his words.

When his life was in danger, he made the conscious decision to remain with his flock. He laid down his life. Blessed Stanley made his own the words of Jesus that we hear in the Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday.

“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” He was no “hired man” who “sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away.”

Each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church observes Good Shepherd Sunday when we hear the Gospel proclaimed that describes characteristics of the Good Shepherd: fidelity, love unto death, devotion to his flock, concern for the wandering and the lost. It is a portrait of Jesus.

It is a reminder of what priests are called to embody as icons of the Good Shepherd. Blessed Stanley Rother was a good shepherd. We have many good shepherds serving in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

In this issue of the Sooner Catholic you see the images of many of our priests who are accepting new missions within the archdiocese or are moving into a new stage of their priesthood. From the newly ordained to those who have served for more than 50 years, we give thanks to God for these men whose lives are consecrated to God for the service of his people. “You are a priest forever” (Ps 110:4)!

Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us to pray for our priests. They have been entrusted with the pastoral care of God’s flock, which is an awesome burden to bear. They need our support, our prayers, our understanding and encouragement. We priests carry a treasure in earthen vessels.

We are conscious of our weaknesses and limitations, but we also are aware that God has chosen and consecrated us. He uses us as his instruments to bring Jesus to his people and to bring his people to Jesus. We stand in his place at the altar. We are heralds of his Gospel of salvation, channels of his mercy and ministers of the bread of life, the Eucharist. We are witnesses to hope and prophets of his justice.

The fruitfulness of our priestly ministry is directly related to our being united with Jesus who lays down his life for his sheep. Like the grain of wheat that must die before it can produce a rich harvest, our lives also must be patterned on this paschal mystery.

The parish of Saint James the Apostle in Santiago Atitlan where Blessed Stanley Rother served had not had a single priestly vocation in more than 400 years. Since his death there have been nine priests ordained from that parish and at least seven seminarians are currently in formation.

I pray that through the faithful witness of priests such as Blessed Stanley and others that young men will be inspired to offer their lives in service to the Church as priests for our archdiocese.

This year, we already have had a nearly unprecedented number of calls and application requests for seminary.

Please pray for good shepherds. Pray for our priests and seminarians and for an abundant harvest of vocations for the Church in Oklahoma.