While Catholic priests are called to imitate the Good Shepherd, they are at the same time sheep of Jesus' flock.
Priests have a special role in the Catholic Church, charged with the task of leading the people of God closer to Jesus Christ.
They are even called to act “in the person of Christ” through the sacraments of the Church.
One of the most common titles of priests in the Catholic Church is that of, “pastor,” signifying their role as a “shepherd.“
How priests are shepherds
However, priests are not by themselves the “Good Shepherd.” Only Jesus can claim that title for himself.
Priests are shepherds only in so far as they let Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lead his flock through them as an instrument.
Pope Benedict XVI pointed this out in a homily for the ordination of priests on Good Shepherd Sunday in 2006.
Jesus now proclaims that this time has come: he himself is the Good Shepherd through whom God himself cares for his creature, man, gathering human beings and leading them to the true pasture.
St. Peter, whom the Risen Lord charged to tend his sheep, to become a shepherd with him and for him, described Jesus as the “archipoimen” – “Chief Shepherd” (cf. I Pt 5: 4), and by this he meant that it is only possible to be a shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ through him and in very close communion with him.
Priests can certainly be known as shepherds, but they must let the Chief Shepherd work through them.
How priests are sheep
At the same time, priests are also human and in need of a savior. Priests are also sheep, part of Jesus’ flock.
Priests should recognize that they also need to be cared for and taken on Jesus’ shoulders.
This means that priests are also the Prodigal Son, who need to be embraced by the Loving Father.
While priests certainly deserve respect and honor as Christ’s chosen instruments, they also need to take care that they let themselves be led by the Chief Shepherd to a green pasture of repose.