Daily Reflection
February 22nd, 2001
Roc O'Connor, S.J.
Theology Department and Campus Ministry
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Chair of St. Peter, Apostle
First Peter 5:1-4
Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Matthew 16:13-19

"God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care.
Watch over it willingly as God would have you do, not under coercion;
and not for shameful profit either, but generously.
Be examples to the flock, not lording it over those assigned to you,
so that when the chief shepherd appears
you will win for yourselves the unfading crown of glory."

I find it so much easier to discover the faults of others and to miss my own.  For example, in the first reading proposed for this feast of the Chair of Peter, I find it easier and much more comforting to stand in the position of a "prosecutor" whose job it is to recite the faults of others.

My question today is this:  How do any of us live with ideals when, often enough, our own realities miss the mark by so much? 

In this passage from 1 Peter, the writer exhorts those caring for the flock to "watch over it carefully... not under coercion... not for shameful profit... not lording it over those assigned to you."  The person calling these shepherds to an ideal of service asks them to be "willing... generous..." and ready, if not looking for, the reward of the "unfading crown of glory." 

This letter addresses real shepherds who do not seem to be careful, who seem to attend their flock under coercion, who seek shameful profit, and who lord it over those assigned to them.  The writer presents an ideal of service to very real shepherds.

So, what happens when the ideal meets the real?  Well, inasmuch as a person does NOT integrate the real into his / her ideals, the road seems to lead directly to pretense and hypocrisy.

Today, I'd like to suggest that this is a question suitable for anyone who publicly professes to be religious in any way.  And, while it is important to notice and challenge hypocrisy among those who are in political and religious leadership, I want to raise this as an especially pressing question for those of us who work in the helping professions - religious, clergy, nurse, doctor, lawyer, social worker, what have you.  We are very real shepherds who are given a high ideal to live up to.
What happens to our very human impetus toward "coercion, profit, and power" (Ignatius' riches, honor, and pride) when it encounters the ideals of "willingness, generosity, and surrender?"  Or, further, how does one continue to profess these ideals as one grows in a recognition of his / her ulterior motives?

In the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius has the exercitant pray for the grace of "shame and confusion" as he / she confronts the disorder in one's personal life.  But, he doesn't leave it there.  After each meditation, he sends the one making the exercises to Christ on the cross to meet the One who brings salvation.  Through this encounter with Christ, the person does not become "perfect and unassailably good," but receives the grace of being loved as a sinner.

I would like to humbly recommend that, as we approach Lent, we "helpers" in the Church would find some profit in an examination of conscience concerning the ideals to which we are called and the reality with which we live them - so that we might more truly become loved sinners.

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