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Rod and staff

A Xt3 Member asked at 9:48am on December 14th 2017
Hi Father,

Have a happy and holy Christmas.

I just wanted to ask a quick question. Hypothetically if Jesus held out a rod and staff to a person what might it mean? I can only find protestant interpretations.

Thank you.


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Hi Camilla, that's a tough question to answer, since we've no record Jesus ever did such a thing! But Psalm 22 (or 23), the one beginning with 'The Lord is my shepherd,' addresses the Lord with great confidence: 'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.' For Christians, that's a beautiful reference to the hands on care of the one who said of himself, 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep... I know my own and my own know me...' (Jn 10: 11, 14).

I was in St Peter's Square for the homily Pope Benedict XVI gave at the Mass for the Year of the Priest on June 11th, 2010, and what he said I think fully explains the meaning of that reference you're asking about:

The shepherd points out the right path to those entrusted to him. He goes before them and leads them. Let us put it differently: the Lord shows us the right way to be human. He teaches us the art of being a person. What must I do in order not to fall, not to squander my life in meaninglessness? This is precisely the question which every man and woman must ask and one which remains valid at every moment of one's life. How much darkness surrounds this question in our own day! We are constantly reminded of the words of Jesus, who felt compassion for the crowds because they were like a flock without a shepherd. Lord, have mercy on us too! Show us the way! From the Gospel we know this much: he is himself the way.

Then there is the phrase about the "darkest valley" through which the Lord leads us. Our path as individuals will one day lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where no one can accompany us. Yet he will be there. Christ himself descended into the dark night of death. Even there he will not abandon us. Even there he will lead us. "If I sink to the nether world, you are present there", says Psalm 139(138). Truly you are there, even in the throes of death, and hence our Responsorial Psalm can say: even there, in the darkest valley, I fear no evil. When speaking of the darkest valley, we can also think of the dark valleys of temptation, discouragement and trial through which everyone has to pass. Even in these dark valleys of life he is there. Lord, in the darkness of temptation, at the hour of dusk when all light seems to have died away, show me that you are there. Help us priests, so that we can remain beside the persons entrusted to us in these dark nights. So that we can show them your own light.

"Your rod and your staff - they comfort me": the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church's ministry, of the priest's ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd's rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love.

Wishing you and all who visit the xt3 website a grace-filled and hope-renewing Christmas, Fr Brendan
Xt3's Ask a Priest answered at 5:57am on December 22nd 2017 reply

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Hi Fr Brendan,

Thank you that was beautiful. I got a lot of meaning from that - thank you for your detail and effort. May God protect all priests/shephards and may they receive special consolations and family time this Holy season.
A Xt3 Member answered at 11:57am on December 25th 2017 report reply

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