by Fr. Peter Preble
Many times in Scripture, Jesus uses images of a pastoral nature. He is called the good shepherd, he asks Peter to feed his lambs, and we have the parable of the sower of the seed. There are many parallels to the pastoral life of the church and her ministers.
About a year ago I purchased six chickens and rooster. I was a little nervous when they arrived, and I am not sure I slept much that first week I had them. Every day, as soon as it was light, I ran out to the coop to check on them and make sure they were okay. These little creatures depended on me for everything, food, water, and safety. About a month ago I lost two of them. One just disappeared in some sort of chicken rapture thing, and the other one was killed by a predator. I have tried not to get emotional about them as they are functionary and not pets, but it did hurt a little. After all, I am the one who has been given care of them, and I neglected to keep them safe.
I spent the next week mending the fence in the parts where it looked like critters could get in. The problem here is the land as a lot of rocks so trying to bury the fence is not always easy or possible. So I wrapped the fence in some wood and nailed it to the ground with six inch spikes. This worked well except for the part of the fence that I did not do this too.
The chicken coop backs up to the garden fence, so I did not think I needed to secure that part of the fence, well I was wrong. All week I have been tracking some critter that has been finding the weak spots in the fence and digging under it. It seemed not matter what I did to secure it that little critter would tunnel under it. Today I bought a new digging tool and worked to bury the fence as best I could. I also put more fence between the garden bed and the coop fence to block the digging. Let’s see how that works.
While I was working I was thinking about my life as a priest. On the day of my ordination I was given the consecrated bread, now the body of Christ, to hold with the words similar to receive this and protect it until I return for it. It is symbolic of the trust that the Church, and the bishop, were placing in me to care for and protect the flock, the parishioners that I was soon to lead. Priesthood is more than a job, it is more than a nine to five , and we are never, ever, off duty. We are held to a much higher standard than most people, and, at times, it is difficult to live up to that responsibility. We are shepherds, with everything that means, of the people we have been given, and we will have to answer for every sheep that we lose.
Our mission is to build a fence, the faith, around God’s family and protect them. No matter how safe we think we have made the fence the evil one seeks out the weak spots and digs under and invades our lives. We have to be ever vigilant to protect those we have been given responsibility for. We have to monitor that fence constantly and fix the holes, and we have to be willing to lay down our lives for those we lead. If you are not willing to do that then I suggest you call your bishop and resign! This is too important, and we need people who are going to be serious about it!
So there I was, mending the fence around the chicken coop working to keep my girls safe, and I thought about all the fences we have to mend as priests. We mend fences between family members in some cases between family members who have not spoken to each other in years. We mend fences between friends who for whatever reason had a falling out. And, we mend the fence between people and God. We do all of this to keep the evil one out and those on the inside safe.
Being a priest, or for that matter a bishop, is to stop living for yourself and truly live for others. We have to put others needs in front of ours and that is a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that we do because we love those we have been given responsibility for.
Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. When Peter said yes Jesus told him to feed his lambs, to care for the people of God, to care for them and to love them, and when the time comes, to lay down your life for them.