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PREFACE OF HOLY PASTORS
This preface is used for commemorating holy bishops and priests.
The presence of holy Pastors in the Church
In the Old Testament, the kings of Israel were described by the Lord as the shepherds of Israel, and a lot of them did a rotten job, using their position for their own gain at the expense of their flocks (see Ezekiel 34). In the light of this, the Lord promised that he himself would come to shepherd Israel. He also promised that he would send Israel shepherds after his own heart (see Jeremiah 3:15). Our Lord fulfilled this promise by laying down his life for us, his sheep, as the Good Shepherd (see John 10). He also entrusting his flock to the care of Peter and the other apostles, apostles who would later appoint successors who would continue the pastoral care of Our Lord’s flock: hence our “pastors” were born, not monopolizing their flocks, but caring for them as the flock of the Good Shepherd so that his pastoral care and concern would continue leading us to greener pastures.
“For, as on the festival of Saint N. you bid your Church rejoice, so, too, you strengthen her by the example of his holy life, teach her by his words of preaching, and keep her safe in answer to his prayers.”
It’s no coincidence that bishops all bear a shepherd’s crook as a symbol of their pastoral office. Sometimes the sheep need the stick, sometimes they need the hook, but the greatest results and respect come when the pastor leads by example. When we consider saintly bishops like Martin of Tours or saintly priests like St. John Vianney, we see pastors whose holiness lit the way for their flocks and continue to light the way for us.
When pastors preach they know that it is not their word that their flocks need, but, rather, the Word. They preach the Word of God and help us all put it into practice, applying it to the ever-changing challenges that arise in human history. Sometimes they preach it through their martyrdom, like St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, or their compassion, like St. John Bosco, because Our Lord did not just speak with words, but with actions, laying down his life for his sheep.
When St. Paul at Miletus bid farewell to the men who would soon shepherd the Church at Ephesus he warned them that, “…after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…” (Acts 20:29). Pastors know that if not for them wolves would quickly ravage their flocks. Every Sunday pastors celebrate the Eucharist with their flocks and then send them back out into the world, exposed to countless spiritual dangers, but fortified by the Word and the sacraments. Saint John Paul II often prayed intensely for his flock and kept a large sheaf of papers in his kneeler containing all the prayer intentions people had sent him. Every pastor prays the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day not only for the Church but for the world.
Even when their earthly ministry has ended these saints continue to pray for us, inspire us with their example, and teach us the Word through their imitation of the Good Shepherd. Let’s help all our pastors lead us to greener pastures and pray for them as well.