instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pretty clever of Him to think of it first

I was thinking about the relationship between the bishop and the people of his diocese, and trying to come up with a way of saying that yes, he is their servant, but no, they aren't his masters.

After testing several analogies, all of which failed, I finally hit on one that I think works pretty well:

The Bishop is the shepherd of his Church.

A shepherd's work is to serve the sheep, but he does not work for the sheep. He works for someone else, the owner of the sheep, who has appointed the shepherd to tend his, the owner's, sheep.

Sometimes, sheep aren't particularly happy with their shepherd. (I guess. I don't know any more than you do about sheep, and even less about herding them.) They'd just as soon keep doing what they're doing, or not doing what they're not doing. The shepherd, though, serves the sheep by keeping them safe and fed and watered; if doing this requires making them do what they don't want to do, so be it. The sheep will be safe and fed and watered as they bleat their protest.

All this works reasonably well (I presume) for a reasonably competent shepherd herding ordinary sheep. It's considerably more difficult (I think I'm on safe ground here) when the sheep are baptized Catholics. And when those baptized Catholics are educated in the Faith to the point where they have strong opinions about what the bishop should do, forget about it.

And yet, the relationship remains one of shepherd and sheep, even when the sheep are smarter and wiser and holier than the shepherd. It's certainly not easy, and it can be positively lousy, for a sheep to know better than its shepherd, but the promises of Christ don't include ease in this life. And however smart and wise and holy they may be, sheep without a shepherd are lost.