Catholic Men Organization

THE FATHER AS THE SHEPHERD OF THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY

Rev. Fr. Christopher Nnubia

1.0 Introduction

The family is said to be the "domestic Church" and the "cell of society". With this in mind, the family therefore, needs to be well grounded because of its role in the particular and universal Church as well as the society at large. If it is not well grounded then it will end up as being described by St. Augustine:  "A disordered person produces a disordered family and a disordered family produces a disordered society". The father of the family has many responsibilities to carry out in order to have a sound, ordered and productive domestic Church and the cell of the society entrusted to him by God.

One of such responsibilities is what today's paper will be treating, namely, the father as the shepherd of the family. The questions are: Who is a shepherd? Are the fathers of today aware of the attack on the family by Satan? If yes, what are they doing to fight this battle? If not, then this paper will expose it for your awareness and immediate action as shepherds.  How can the father be an ideal shepherd in today's society?

2.0 Who is a Shepherd?

Let us try to understand a shepherd from the perspective of the Old and New Testaments.

Shepherd in the Old Testament

The word shepherd is used hundreds of times in the Bible. Notwithstanding, the word shepherd is used as a metaphor for the first time in Gen. 48 v 15— Jacob refers to God as “the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day”. The shepherd leads his sheep to shelter in inclement weather and defends them against beasts of prey and bandits. The life of the shepherd is described by Jacob in his plea to Laban (Gen. 31: 38-41). David boasted that he killed lions and bears with his naked hands when they attacked his father's flocks (1 Sam. 17: 34-37). The shepherd establishes a remarkable rapport with his flock; they recognize his voice and distinguish it from others and learn to obey commands given by voice. The sheep seem to have perfect confidence in their shepherd and follow him wherever he leads. The shepherd keeps the flock together, going to great trouble to search out strayed sheep, knowing that the flock will docilely remain together until he returns.

The title of shepherd is given to the rulers of the people, who include the king, the royal officers, the elders, all who have authority. It includes also judges, the heroes of judges (2 Sam. 7: 7). Almost all of the uses of the title find fault with the shepherds for failure to meet their responsibilities (Jer. 2: 8); they are stupid (Jer. 10:21), they scatter the flock (Jer 23: 1-2), they lead the people astray (Jer. 50: 6), they are unfaithful (Ezk 34: 2-10), they have no understanding (Is. 56: 11f). As the shepherds of the Old Testaments failed in their responsibility to lead the people, Yahweh promised to give His people shepherds after His own heart (Jer 3: 15; 23:4); the prince from Bethlehem will feed his flock in the strength of Yahweh (Mi 5: 3).

Yahweh is the true shepherd of Israel (Gen. 49: 24), who leads Joseph like a flock (Ps 80: 24), carries His sheep (Ps 28: 9), leads them (Pss 77: 21; 78: 52), guards Israel (Jer. 31: 10), restores Israel to its pasture (Jer. 23: 3; 50:19). As the Shepherd, Yahweh gathers the strays, leads them to their own pasture, binds up their wounds, and keeps them in peaceful order (Ezk 34: 11-22).

Shepherd in the New Testament

The figure of the shepherd is applied to Jesus both by Himself and by others. Both His own mission and the first mission of His disciples is exclusively to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 10: 6; 15:24). He is the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep alone in the desert to search out one stray, and His joy at the recovery of a single sinner is like the joy of the shepherd who finds the stray (Mt. 18: 12-14; Lk 15: 3-7).  His arrest and His passion leave His disciples scattered like sheep when the shepherd is struck (Mt. 26: 31f; Mk. 14: 27f, quoting Zc 13:7). In the final judgement He acts as a shepherd who separates the sheep and the goats after they have shared a common pasture (Mt 25:32). He is the great shepherd (Heb. 13:20), the chief shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).

The figure of the good shepherd (Jn. 10:1-6, 10-16) is interrupted by the figure of Jesus as the door of the sheepfold (10:7-9).

3.0 Awareness of the Attacks on the Family by Satan

Satan attacks the family in so many ways by sowing weeds of complacency (self-satisfaction), complaining, criticizing, condemnation, confrontation, conflict, closing down. Deceit,  simulation, and lack of commitment is on the increase in the families as a result of the plot of Satan to destroy families. Some Catholics are leaving the faith, catechism instruction is becoming for the reception of sacraments only and not for education in the faith. Statutory societies, pious societies and movements/associations in the Church are places for the survival of the fittest and quest for fame and positions without service and humility. The introduction  of compulsory religious studies in the New Education Curriculum in Nigeria thus exposing our children to the other religion which negates the principles of our constitution, the Child rights act and our code of Canon Law. Kidnapping our young girls and forcefully marrying them out to other religious men to mention but a few. All these are the disguised ways to destroy the Christian family.

According to Bishop Hilary Okeke of Nnewi Diocese, "unfortunately, the faith of many Christians in our area is founded on sand. Many became Christians by being baptized as infants and so did not hear and accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour. Such grew up and were introduced into the mysteries of the faith. Many ended with social Christianity, that is, they are Christians because others are Christians. Their family is a Christian family. It is customary to do what others are doing. Family solidarity more that personal conviction accounts for some members who are and remain in the Church as Christians. Even some elderly people became Christians in order to be where their children are. The problem with many people who turned to Christianity without proper motives and authentic conversion is the they hold on firmly to the tenets and beliefs of the African Traditional Religions and half-heartedly to tenets and beliefs of  Christianity,  Christianity being like a veneer.  Such people do not see any problem holding both positions. But the Christian faith suffers." (Faith Rooted and Built Up in Christ, Pastoral Letter 2011, 8).

Pope Francis observed: "Nowadays, fathers are often so caught up in themselves and their work, and at times in their own self-fulfilment, that they neglect their families, They leave the little ones and the young to themselves. The presence of the father, and hence his authority, is also impacted by the amount of time given over to the communications and entertainment media. Nowadays authority is often considered suspect and adults treated with impertinence. They themselves become uncertain and so fail to offer sure and solid guidance to their children. A reversal of the roles of parents and children is unhealthy, since it hinders the proper process of development that children need to experience, and it denies them the love and guidance needed to mature." (Amoris Laetitia 176).

Bishop Thomas J, Olmsted of Phoenix Diocese in USA once said: "Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. The battle is often hidden, but the battle is real" He further said that "one of the key reasons that the Church is faltering under the attacks of Satan is that many Catholic men (fathers) have not been willing to 'step into the breach'- to fill this gap that lies open and vulnerable to further attack.  A large number have the faith, and many who remain "Catholic" practice the faith timidly and are only minimally committed to passing the faith on to their children."

4.0 The Father as the Shepherd of the Family

In order to have an ideal family, the father must be a good shepherd. There are three things pointed out by Tom Lewellen that are attached to the idea of  being a good shepherd:— shepherding as leadership, shepherding as management, and shepherding as nurture. That’s what we want to think about. A shepherd is a leader, and manager, and a nurturer. As a father who is a shepherd, you are your family's leader. Leadership means to set direction and to point people toward that. You might feel that’s too vague. After all, what’s the product in family life? I sup­pose the goal is a happy, godly wife and loving, secure, active children; everything the par­ents do is meant to move toward that goal. Marriage is a partnership and in it decisions are made— especially significant decisions — by consensus. However, you must always agree that, if you come to a decision where you do not agree and yet a decision has to be made, you as a shepherd should make it.

However, another point to note is that that you are responsible to lead and to make sure that important things are discussed and decisions are made.

Being a leader does not mean making all the decisions or always being right — it means making sure the decisions are made for the benefit of the family.

Shepherding is leadership. To be your family’s shepherd, God wants you to lead your family.

 

The second image you should adopt as your family’s shepherd is that of being your family’s manager. This overlaps with leadership, but is distinct from it.

When David organized the priesthood in divisions for service  in the temple, when he created guilds of singers and musicians, when he organized political districts and courts for the country, in every case, he “shepherded them and guided them with a skillful hand” (Psalm 78.72).

That gives us insight into the qualifications for elders. You would think that leadership and management in the marketplace would be a good qualification for someone who is going to lead the church but nothing like that is listed. Instead here’s the qualification:

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?  (1 Timothy 3.4–5)

Management experience is important for an elder, but the experience necessary isn’t found in the workplace. It’s found in the home. The reason is that, at the heart of things, the church is not a business, it is an extended family.

Like leadership, managing your home means working with your wife, and leading to make sure that things are done, to allow the home to function without friction and conflict. Part of management is financial — which when you are raising children is a huge project. Part of it is caring for the home and getting chores done, part of it is getting children to and from places they need to be.

Don’t leave all this to your wife — lead and manage your home.

And lastly, shepherding is nurture. To be your family’s shepherd, you must see yourself as responsible to nurture your family.

It is interesting that the idea of shepherding as nurture is less prominent in the Old Testa­ment than in the New. The coming of the Savior, Jesus, brought a personal, caring aspect of shepherding. If you’ve ever seen the image of Jesus carrying a little lamb wrapped around his shoulders you won’t forget it —it draws to itself like a magnet feelings of protecting, providing, feeding, and caring.

As a shepherd, you should be able to be involved the marriage preparation of your children especially the remote preparation: Transmission and basic growth of Christian and Human values; Catechetical formation, Sexuality education, craft or manual skills education etc.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis says that "a father helps the child to perceive the limits of life, to be open to the challenges of the wider world, and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort. A father possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity who demonstrates affection and concern for his wife is just as necessary as a caring mother. (Amoris Laetitia 175).

The prevailing philosophy of our day is “materialism”. It says that, ultimately, physical matter is all there is. But the fact is that, as popular as it might be, it has terrible impact on children who are raised that way. You see, the basic idea of materialism is that a human being is just a living machine — very complex, more complex than we understand, but if we keep at it we’ll understand it. Mate­rialism says there is no “soul” or “spirit”. There is no mystery to a person, no immaterial part. If someone is depressed, or anxious, or angry it is only the chemistry of the brain mis­firing. We may not understand it yet, but we are getting there. And when we do we’ll solve every problem.

To be your family’s shepherd you really need to abandon that way of thinking — rather your wife and your children are living souls. They are material and it is true that there are biological functions that need to be addressed. But they are more than that.

To nurture your family means to enter into what is ultimately God’s work of seeking to shape a human soul to reflect him. It means to provide for your family…but not stop there. It means to lead and manage your family…but not stop there. It means to be the one who seeks to spiritually nurture them for God.

Fathers – God calls you to be a shepherd to your wife and children. He calls you to lead, and manage, and nurture your family.

5.0 Conclusion

In conclusion, using the words of Pope Francis, I say "God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be "close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow -when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present." I urge you to be a good shepherd who is a leader, manager and nurturer so as to be always present to your wife and your children -your living souls. I trust you and I love you all.

 

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