Shepherding the Flock in Lent
In order to lead, we must live our ordination promises
On Ash Wednesday, St. Paul reminds us that “we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20) sharing in the work of reconciliation. These words have a special significance for all who are ordained as priests, because they recall the words we heard on the day of our ordination. After the laying on of hands, the bishop prayed that we might be faithful stewards of the sacred mysteries so that the people of God might be renewed in the waters of rebirth and nourished at the Lord’s table; so that sinners might be reconciled and the sick be healed; that we might implore God’s mercy for the people entrusted to our care and for the whole world.
What an awesome responsibility, and what a source of tremendous blessing. This is especially true during Lent, when we journey with the elect to the living waters of rebirth, support the faithful as they prepare to renew their baptismal promises and reflect on our own ministry and the priestly commitment we will renew on Holy Thursday.
Sources of Inspiration
Throughout Lent, the Sunday Gospels provide a wellspring of material for our personal reflection. As we walk with Jesus into the desert, we draw strength from his example to overcome the temptations that can distract or discourage us along the way.
On the mountaintop, we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory that can enlighten our path even as we wander through life’s dark valleys. At Jacob’s well in Samaria, we hear Jesus ask the right questions that can help us grow in faith. At the Pool of Siloam, we discover that it is only with the heart that one sees rightly and learn how to see as God sees. At the tomb of Lazarus, we hear the summons to live fully, here and now, the life God intends. Each of the stories provides an opportunity to reflect on the blessings we have received in our lives and through our ministry. In turn, we draw strength to encourage our sisters and brothers as we walk with them on their journey of faith.
The liturgical rites of RCIA also call us to deeper conversion through prayer and self-scrutiny as we support those named and claimed as God’s elect.
With them, we reflect on what it means to be washed, anointed and fed, and to share in the royal dignity of the priestly people of God. For them, we reflect on how our priestly ordination has given us a special share in Christ’s ministry of teaching and sanctifying.
Faithful to the instruction in the liturgy of ordination, we must meditate on God’s word, “believing what we read, teaching what we believe and practicing what we teach.”
Similarly, as we offer Christ’s sacrifice at the altar for the faithful, we must “understand what we do and imitate what we celebrate,” striving to put to death all that is sinful as we walk in newness of life. In this way, we can carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with “constant joy and genuine love, attending not to our own concerns but to those of Christ.”
Practicing What We Preach
The traditional disciplines of Lent can also be a source of blessing as we strive to pray, fast and share in light of the promises made at ordination: to pray without ceasing, to be obedient and respectful to our bishop and to consecrate ourselves to God for the care and salvation of God’s flock. To pray without ceasing can be a real challenge given the demands of pastoral ministry. But living intentionally with a profound sense of gratitude is one way to deepen our relationship with God.
|Actions in Lent|
As we reflect on Christ’s sacrifice during this
penitential season, let him inspire us in our own
lives to …
• Meditate on God’s word
• Pray without ceasing
• Be obedient and respectful to our bishop
• Consecrate ourselves to God for the care
and salvation of his flock
Seeing prayer as a way of life rather than something we do can draw us deeper into the heart of God as we seek to live each moment of our day in grateful awareness of God’s presence.
Praying for our bishop, writing a note of support to administrators in the diocesan office and fasting from negative criticism might also provide the opportunities to practice the traditional Lenten disciplines in a new light.
It is easy to fall into the temptation to grumble and complain when we disagree with a decision or a policy or a change in assignment, but practicing restraint in our judgment and temperance in our speech can also help us die to self as we allow the light of Christ’s love to shine forth in our words and actions.
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In addition to the many ways we personally give of our time, talents and treasure in service to the Gospel, the season might also invite us to care for God’s flock by giving the benefit of the doubt to someone with whom we have a disagreement, giving a word of encouragement or praise to our co-workers in ministry, or giving some attention in our ministry to the tasks or people we might prefer to avoid.
As faithful ambassadors for Christ, may we take every opportunity that our day-to-day ministry provides to enter more deeply into the death and rising of Christ, sharing in the work of reconciliation and sowing the seeds of peace.
Msgr. Michael J. Begolly is the pastor of Mount St. Peter Parish in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.
Lenten Prayer for Spiritual Renewal
God, heavenly Father, look upon me and
hear my prayer during this holy season of Lent.
By the good works you inspire, help me to discipline my body
and to be renewed in spirit.
Without you I can do nothing.
By your Spirit help me to know what is right and to be eager in
doing your will. Teach me to find new life through penance.
Keep me from sin, and help me live by
Your commandment of love.
God of love, bring me back to you.
Send your Spirit to make me strong in faith and active in good
works. May my acts of penance bring me your forgiveness, open
my heart to your love, and prepare me for the coming feast of
the Resurrection of Jesus. Lord, during this Lenten season,
nourish me with your word of life and make me one with you in
love and prayer. Fill my heart with your love and keep me faithful
to the Gospel of Christ. Give me the grace to rise above my
human weakness. Give me new life by your sacraments,
especially the Mass. Father, our source of life, I reach out with
joy to grasp your hand; let me walk more readily in your ways.
Guide me in your gentle mercy, for left to myself I cannot do
your will. Father of love, source of all blessings, help me to pass
from my old life of sin to the new life of grace.
Prepare me for the glory of your kingdom.
I ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.