Sheep-feeding; Not Just for Clergy
“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17
It is the feast day of St. John XXIII, one of my heroes. Elected to be a “stop-gap” pope who would reign for a short, uneventful time, he surprised everyone by convening the Second Vatican Council, an assemblage out of which came breath-taking new understandings, not only for the Catholic church but for all of us.
One of the big changes was in the understanding of the spirituality of the laity. This is how Pope John expressed it: “We were all made in God’s image, and thus, we are all godly alike.” It is not just the ordained who are set apart to live holy lives. Through baptism all of us are.
This cognizance shifted the locus of spiritual authority. We are freed to be self-determining in relationship with God. Some of us are ordained into particular, specialized functions, but everyone, clergy and laity alike, has a ministry. Our ministry is God’s dream for us, voiced by the Holy in our hearts. Our task as God’s people is to live our ministries out.
The story of Peter being called by Jesus to feed his sheep is the story of each one of us. Each of us is part of the Apostolic Succession, for, at baptism we were blessed by someone who was in that lineage of sacramental hands. And each of us carries that blessing into the world and makes of it something peculiar and wonderful.
Vatican II gave us tools. It inspired the monastic orders to make their prayer practices accessible to us, and because of this we began to learn about and to practice lectio divina and centering prayer. We became more conversant with how to establish a rule of life and how to engage in a process of discernment. We learned about spiritual directors, and we decided we were worthy to invite them to companion us. Some of us even decided we were worthy to become one.
The revelations of Vatican II did not originate with Pope John; instead, he was the convener. What he did was notice that the time was right for sweeping changes. The changes themselves were a groundswell of realizations and understandings whose time had simply come. At the Council they had a venue in which they could be named and discussed. (I imagine people saying to one another, “You think of it this way? Well, so do I. I had no idea anybody else was harboring these thoughts!”)
This was the way that Saint John XXIII, good pontiff that he was, followed in Peter’s footsteps and fed Christ’s sheep. But feeding Christ’s sheep is a job for bishops, priests, deacons and lay people alike. Do you know what your sheep-feeding venue is? If not, do you know how you will discover it?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.