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Good Shepherd: Living Christ's Own Pastoral Authority | Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, Bishop of Fargo | Ignatius Insight | March 29, 2011

Keynote address presented at the 10th Annual Symposium on the Spirituality and Identity of the Diocesan Priest co-sponsored by The Institute for Priestly Formation and Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary Philadelphia, PA on March 18, 2011

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Christ’s Authority in the Gospels
As we begin this morning, let us quietly in our hearts turn to Jesus and let him speak to us. "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11)....I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (Jn 10:14-15)....For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father (Jn 10:17-18)....I and the Father are one (Jn 10:30)."

Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd who is in union with the Father. We know in faith that his mission comes from the Father. He reveals the love of the Father for the world by laying down his life for all humanity (Jn 3:16). Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise given by God in Jeremiah, "I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer 3:15). Jesus is the shepherd whose heart is one with the heart of the Father. His very food is to do the will of the Father (Jn 4:34). Jesus is the shepherd who teaches, us as bishops and priests and future priests, how to shepherd, how to live his own pastoral authority bestowed upon us by him and the Holy Spirit on the day of our ordinations.

We know from the Gospels that Jesus conferred his authority on the twelve. "[Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal every disease and every infirmity" (Mt 10:1 and see Mk 3:14-15; Lk 9:1). Further, in Luke's Gospel Jesus shared his authority with the 72, who rejoiced upon returning from their mission that "even the demons are subject to us in your name" (Lk 10:17)! While Jesus acknowledges the authority he has given to them, he also reminds them "...do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you (emphasis added); but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:20). He takes their eyes away from themselves, "the demons are subject to us", and places them on heaven, on the Father, from whom all authority comes because their names are written in heaven. He reminds them to keep their eyes on the gift they have received, their salvation and communion with the Father in heaven.

Jesus' authority comes from his Father. In John 14, when Philip asks him, "Show us the Father" (Jn 14:9), Jesus replies, "The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves..." (Jn 14:10-11). The authority that Jesus exercises is received from the Father. He is at the service of the Father.

Jesus faithfully proclaims what he has received from the Father. His teaching comes from the Father. "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood" (Jn 7:16-18). The teaching authority of Jesus stems from his intimate union with the Father. Even Jesus, the Son of God, did not act and speak in his own name, but in the name of the Father. His authority is received from the Father.

The New Testament uses the word exousia to indicate that the authority of Jesus is one received rather than inherent. His authority is not simply a self-sufficient authority but rather one which recognizes the sovereignty of the Father. While Jesus has the authority of God to lay down his life and to take it up (John 10:18), in humility and obedience, he recognizes that the power is from the Father. In his death and resurrection, his ultimate act of love and obedience, all authority in heaven and on earth is bestowed on him (Mt 28:18). Jesus recognizes that authority is a received gift from the Father in the Spirit.

In his book, A New Song for the Lord, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of the "authority of obedience" as Jesus seeks to do only the will of the Father. Jesus completely surrenders himself to the will of the Father. Ratzinger first cites Romano Guardini's reflections on Jesus' obedience, "Obedience is not secondary for Jesus, but forms the core of his being...' For his power there is therefore no limit coming from the outside, but only from the inside...: the will of the Father freely accepted'" (page 42, A New Song for the Lord). Jesus, interiorly united to the Father in his human heart and will, receives and accepts the will of the Father and is not constrained by it. Thus Jesus freely exercises his authority in loving union with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Ratzinger declares as a part of his reflection on the authority of obedience that, "...Jesus' power is power based on love, love becoming powerful. It is power that shows us the way from all that is tangible and visible to the invisible and the truly real of God's powerful love. It is power as way that has as its goal setting people on their way: into the transcendence of love" (page 43, A New Song for the Lord). Love is always obedient as it always looks to the beloved, not the self. Jesus authority of obedience is grounded in his eternal unconditional love of the Father.

Just as Jesus, in exercising his authority, has the desires of the Father in both his divine will and human will, we, as Jesus' disciples are called to have Jesus' desires in our human wills in order to exercise his authority. The source for the desires of Jesus comes through contemplative prayer, where, in loving surrender we enter into the heart of the Trinity. Intimate prayer with our eyes on our beloved leads us to obedience. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love (emphasis added). These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (Jn 15:9-11). Obedient, abiding love, leads us to die to ourselves so that we may have the joy of Jesus in our hearts. Only if Jesus and the Father make our hearts their home (Jn 14:23), will we be able to cry out as St. Paul, "...it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20).

Four Ways to Develop Receptive Hearts in Seminarians to Exercise the Authority of Christ
In listening to the voice of Jesus, we observe that at the heart of authority are obedience and love. In this light, let us now turn to the present day formation of seminarians. Seminaries must be those places that form receptive hearts in seminarians, hearts ready to enter into intimacy with each person of the Trinity in order to receive love and to desire obedience to the will of the Father. This formation of the seminarian's heart will help them to receive the desires of Jesus in their own hearts, and prepare them to receive, in obedience, the authority that Christ will hand on to them on the day of their ordination. Let us look at four practical ways for seminaries to form hearts receptive to the desires of Jesus. The four are lectio divina, the school of Nazareth, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the daily celebration of the Eucharist.

Lectio Divina
The first way to develop the desires of Jesus and nourish intimacy with the Trinity for future priests is through lectio divina. Pope Benedict XVI, in last year's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini, urged that seminarians "must learn to love the word of God" which should be the soul of their theological and spiritual formation (82). Seminarians must develop a deep growing love for the Scriptures, for they are the place where the Father has revealed himself to us, most especially in his Word, Jesus.

In speaking on lectio for the spiritual formation of seminarians, soon to be Blessed John Paul II reminded us in Pastores Dabo Vobis (47) "Familiarity with the word of God will make conversion easy, not only in the sense of detaching us from evil so as to adhere to the good, but also in the sense of nourishing our heart with the thoughts of God (emphasis added), so that the faith (as a response to the word) becomes our new basis for judging and evaluating persons and things, events and problems." He further stated that the seminarian must experience prayer, "as a living and personal meeting with the Father through the only-begotten Son under the action of the Spirit, a dialogue that becomes a sharing in the filial conversation between Jesus and the Father (emphasis added)." Sharing in this "filial conversation" the seminarian grows as a son in the Son, and through Christ makes himself a gift to the Father (PDV 47). The seminarian through lectio comes to know in his heart the words, actions and desires of Jesus, deepening his awareness of his true identity as a beloved son of the Father. The seminarians' desires will become Jesus' filial obedience to the will of the Father and in freedom will lay down his life for those whom he serves.

The School of Nazareth
A second way to nourish the desires of Jesus is for the seminarian to experience the school of Nazareth. Pope Paul VI spoke of the silence and simplicity of this school in 1964 when he visited Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation. "Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ's life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God's Son came to be known, profound and yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him" (Office of Readings, Holy Family, Address by Paul VI, January 5, 1964).

At the school of Nazareth seminarians learn to desire to imitate Jesus and learn too from Mary and Joseph. Prior to the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are docile and receptive to the Word of God. Mary, in Gabriel's invitation, becomes the Mother of God. Through her obedient receptive love the Word is made flesh in her womb. She carries Jesus for nine months, gives birth to him and teaches him. She silently ponders in her heart all that is said about her Son (Lk 2:19 and 51). Her pondering on the word leads to a deeper, more receptive love, which eventually places her at the foot of the Cross, making a total self gift to her Son in his death.

Joseph, at first reluctant because of his unworthiness, after all he was a man like us, a sinner, opens his heart in loving surrender to the message of an angel in a dream, and takes Mary as his wife (Mt 1:24). He protects Jesus and Mary, cares for them, and teaches Jesus a love for the Passover, the Hebrew Scriptures, and his trade, so that Jesus is known as "the carpenter's son" (Mt 13:55). The seminarian learns from Joseph what it means to be a husband and father in chaste celibate love, and how to "father" Jesus present in the souls of the baptized, who will be entrusted to his pastoral care.

Jesus, in his humility, goes to Nazareth where he is obedient to Joseph and Mary, and "grows in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:51-52). The silence of Nazareth is the place of contemplation in the heart of the Holy Family, which leads the seminarian to the heart of the Trinity. As seminarians ponder in their hearts Mary, Joseph and Jesus they discover the attributes necessary to be a true disciple and most especially a priest. Those qualities are docility, receptivity, trust and confidence, embracing the divine in the ordinary, real work, cooperation in community life, and most importantly, humility and obedience.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation
A third way of growing in the desires of Jesus is through the regular celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Every seminarian must know himself as a sinner, and my sons who are present here, know that not a one of you will be perfect on the day of your ordination, nor does the Lord demand that you achieve self-perfection. Conversion is constant in the life of the faithful priest. This conversion is well assisted through the regular celebration of Confession. When I did my graduate studies in Rome from 1987-1990 I recovered the practice of celebrating Confession once a week. I discovered the beauty of the sacrament, not as a place of judgment, guilt or shame, but rather as the personal encounter with the merciful, loving, forgiving Jesus.

Seminarians, I urge you to learn too about mercy and forgiveness from the encounters of Jesus with Peter. Just one example, after Peter's denial, Jesus does not condemn Peter, but he asks Peter a question of the heart, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" (Jn 21:16 ss). Love is what Jesus desires of every apostle, and now is the time for you to be trained in love. Each time you go to Confession, even with your habits of sin, the one question Jesus asks you is "do you love me?" Only in receiving ever more deeply the love of Jesus, trusting in his grace, will you become free from your sins, habits, wounds, and hidden lies that you so tenaciously hold on to.

Confession helps the seminarian grow in obedience to the Father as he no longer hides in shame; but, with transparency, brings his personal sin and weakness into the light, love, and mercy of the Father. Self-will and ego are transformed into dependence and communion. In each Confession you make the Father goes to you, his heart filled with compassion, and embraces you and welcomes you into communion with him (Lk 15). Through this experience, the seminarian's heart will grow more receptive to the unconditional love of the Father, thus leading him to union with the obedience of Christ.

The Celebration of the Eucharist
The final and most important way for the seminarian to grow in the desires of Jesus is to have a deep love for the daily celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the place where obedient love, and therefore authority too, is renewed. The greatest revelation and act of obedient love is found in the Cross of Jesus. In love, Jesus surrenders to the will of the Father while turning away from the preference of his human will, "not my will be done, but yours" (Mt 26:39 and 42; Mk 14:36; Lk 22:42). Benedict XVI reminded future priests on the day of their ordination in 2006, "One enters the priesthood through the Sacrament, and this means precisely: through the gift of oneself to Christ, so that he can make use of me; so that I may serve him and follow his call, even if it proves contrary to my desire for self-fulfillment and esteem (emphasis added)" (Homily at Mass for the ordination of priests, May 7, 2006). The seminarian learns through the Eucharist the desire of Jesus, not a mere desire for self-fulfillment, but true fulfillment in seeking the Father's will, even if it means completely dying to one's own personal desires.

In the Eucharist we learn to lay down our lives with Jesus and offer them to the Father. As future priests, when you, the seminarians present here, pray the words of consecration over the bread and wine, while they are Christ's words, they must also become your personal words. You, in union with Christ's spousal gift, offer your body and blood with Christ's to the Father and the Church, to carry on the work of Christ, for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls. As Christ laid down his life for his bride the Church, you in spousal love are called to lay down your life for those entrusted to your pastoral care.

These four steps and many others prepare the heart of the seminarian to be configured through the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church so that the future priest may act in the person of Christ, Head and Shepherd, Servant and Spouse of the Church (PDV 3). The seminarian, in having the desires of Jesus, is called to desire to make himself a total self gift to the Father and the Church. Thus, "through, with, and in" Christ alone, does he make a total self gift to the Father. Seminary faculty, in preparing receptive obedient hearts and minds in the seminarians, teach them to desire the authority of the Father and to exercise that authority in union with Christ in the Church and world today.

Read Part Two of "Good Shepherd: Living Christ's Own Pastoral Authority"


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