The role of the Priest as Shepherd
The priests are also chosen to be the leaders of the Church as shepherds. The priest performs the functions of the bishop with other communities when the bishop cannot be present to all the assemblies under his care. The priest, then, seems to symbolize the same aspects of ministry that the bishop does, but in the local community rather than the whole diocese. One can say that the priest is a ―sub-bishop‖. His role as a pastor in a parish is seen as revolving primarily around three areas, preaching the word of God, presiding at Mass and the sacraments, and fostering the growth of the Christian community.
In the context of the priest‘s call to imitate Christ, as the good shepherd, Pope Francis‘s urges in his homily at the Chrism Mass to be ―like shepherds living with the smell of the sheep. With this Pope Francis reminded the priests to be close to the people they are living with, especially to those who are poor and marginalized and to know their daily struggles. As mentioned above that a good shepherd is the one who is with the sheep seven days a week, thirty days a month and twelve months in a year in imitation of Christ the good shepherd who knows his sheep (John 10:14) and accompanies them (cf. John 10:11).
As shepherds, priests ought to realize the need for them to acquire holiness by performing their pastoral duties sincerely and tirelessly in the spirit of love and service. Christ, the Good Shepherd, who has mandated them to continue His mission in the world will accompany them until the end, in fulfillment of His promise, like in the Gospel of Mat 28:20 ―I am with you always; yes to the end of time‖. 91 When someone becomes a priest he does not any more belong to himself, to his family, or to a selected group of people, but a priest belongs to all people, especially to those who are directly entrusted to them by the bishop, for instance in the parish, school, hospital, prison, seminary, and the poor.
The priest has been called to be visible and living sign of the good shepherd to the people that they live with. The priest, as the sign of the good shepherd‘s love for his people, should strive for holiness through his commitment to pastoral work or to his duties. For example like the twelve Apostles, he leaves everything so that he can fully belong to Christ and take up his mission of evangelizing the whole world. He has been called to be Christ the good shepherd‘s visible sign.
The priest is another Christ, is the visible sign of Christ‘ to the people especially in performing the Sacraments. The Sacraments are the visible sign of God‘s invisible presence includes people as well as things, thus taking God‘s people as a sacrament makes every person living any vacation: marriage, single, priest or religious a sign of Christ‘s presence. A priest as a shepherd is a sign of Jesus Christ when he lives, acts and speaks in Jesus name. According to St. Gregory of Naxiazen speaking on the integrity of the priest says,
We must really walk in the King‘s highway (Num 20, 17), and take care not to turn aside from it either to the right hand or to the left (Prov 4, 27), as the Proverbs say. For such is the case with our passions, and such in this matter is the task of the good shepherd, if he is to know properly the souls of his flock, and to guide them according to the methods of a pastoral care which is right and just , and worthy of our true Shepherd.
Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the Holy Spirit empowers the priest to be Christ’s manifestation, His aroma (2 Cor 2:15) and His witness (John 15:27; Acts 1:8), priests are, therefore, called to extend Christ’s presence in the world. The Synod Fathers made this point very clear when they declared:
In the Church and on behalf of the Church priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, the Head and shepherd, authoritatively proclaiming his word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation, particularly in Baptism, penance and in the daily Eucharist, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit.
Referring to a priest as a shepherd after the example of Jesus Christ, especially in his pastoral responsibilities, Vatican II Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests describes a priest in the fallowing way:
Their ministry itself, by a special title, forbids, that they be conformed to this world, yet at the same time it requires that they may live in this world among men. They are to live as good shepherds that know their sheep, and they are to seek to lead those who are not of this sheepfold that they, too, may hear the voice of Christ, so that there might be one fold and one shepherd.
This message is relevant not just for priests, bishops, and deacons, but for any of us who have leadership positions in church organizations, or who are the face of the church for others. We live with the smell of the sheep. We meet people where they are and we accompany them through all their ups and downs. We have direct experience of their lives and hopes. We know the people whom we serve, and they know us.
Many of you are familiar – literally and figuratively – with the smell of poverty, the smell of illness, the smell of death, but it is only through living with and knowing these smells that you are able to advocate authentically and effectively for the dignity and aspirations of people who are poor or living on the margins of our modern societies. The leaders of the Church when they are ministering the people they should be like Jesus as Richard Innes writes,
When Jesus, the Good Shepherd, sees you and me in a crowd, he doesn‘t see the crowd. He sees every one of ‗his sheep’ as individuals and knows each one of us by name. He knows our joys, our sorrows, our gains, our losses, our successes, our failures—and he loves each one of us devotedly. We are not a crowd to him. We are his individual children.
The development of the spiritual life and ministry of the priest is important so as to become like Christ who is the ultimate Shepherd, He knows the flock, leads, provides protection for, loves and encourages His sheep.