Monday, April 23, 2018



I am the good shepherd. I know mine and mine know me.
John 10

I may be retired, but I am not ready to hang up my collar just yet. In fact, so far, I can hardly tell the difference. I am still running around the United States, Canada and the Caribbean leading priests retreats. I have led over 100 of them in 10 countries - 15 of them in Canada alone. The simplest way to put it might be to say that I go to these places to deliver my crash course in "team shepherding." The bottom line is this: to be more effective shepherds today, we priests must learn to work better as teams! 

Because of a couple of little books I put together on the subject of "spiritual shepherding" a couple of years ago, called The Spiritual Leadership of a Parish Priest, Intentional Presbyterates and A Bishop and His Priests Together, I have probably spoken to well over 20,000 priests, bishops and Cardinals in way over one hundred dioceses so far. I've actually lost count, Just this year I have been to Saint Lucia in the Caribbean in February and Crookston (Minnesota) last week, with London (Ontario, Canada) twice, Calgary (Canada), San Antonio (Texas) and one for the Byzantine priests and deacons of the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, to go! 

All these invitations, are not about my great personal talent or ability, but about the crying need the church has for "good shepherding." As you already know, lay people are dying for quality spiritual leadership from their priests and are often left disappointed. For some reason, I was simply able to notice this and try to do something about it by writing about it earlier than a lot of others. I am known for my "simple, hard-hitting, straight forward and direct" speaking style.  From priests, I usually hear something like this: "You hit us right between the eyes, you pushed every one of our buttons and you got away with it!" From bishops I hear, "Thanks for saying things to my priests that I cannot say. They listened to you and they even laughed while you were doing it!" I always try to remember  the words of  Oscar Wilde who said, "If you are going to tell them the truth, you had better make them laugh or they will kill you."       

I am the good shepherd. I know mine and mine know me.

What has my work in dioceses around the world have to do with you?  I would say that it has everything to do with you. Most of you already know, at least intuitively that the most pressing need facing the Catholic Church today is the quality of its spiritual leadership - the ability of your designated shepherds to lead you to holiness. We still have about 67,000,000 Catholics on the books in this country, but we also about 20,000,000 who now call themselves as ex-Catholics, former Catholics or non-practicing Catholics. In the past, organized religion could impose unquestioned rules of behavior on its members, but not today! No amount of ranting and raving from our shepherds about how they ought to be listened to and no amount of new rule books will fix this. We need credible spiritual leaders who have the ability influence people, to inspire people, to move from where they are to where God wants them to be! Ordinations alone, Roman collars alone, new editions of the Catechism or Canon Law alone will not fill this gap. We desperately need spiritual leaders, not just in name, but in fact! Without "good shepherds," the flock will continue to be ravaged by wolves and it will continue to run away from hirelings who are only interested in what the sheep can do for them.

In the gospel we read today, Jesus is called the "good" shepherd. In my teaching at the seminary and to priest groups around the country, I like to point out that there are two possible Greek words for "good." Agathos means morally good as in she was a good person. That is not the word used here.  The word used here is kalos which means good at as in he was good at playing baseball or good at playing the guitar.  When the gospel says that Jesus was the Good Shepherd, it means to say that Jesus was good at shepherding, not just a good person. Jesus wasn’t just a fine person, he was good at finding grass and water – and he was good at keeping the wolves at bay!

When  speak to priests and seminarians, and most of them are very good people, holy people, I tell that that being holy, being good, is not enough! They must be good at leading you to holiness.  I always get a laugh when I tell them that their goal is not to have golden light coming from the priest’s house, but to have golden light coming from the homes of the parish. Their job is not just to become personally holy. They must be able to lead you to holiness.

Most of you will be called to be spiritual leaders as well - maybe not as priests, but certainly as married partners and parents. In fact, the Catechism is clear.  Those in Holy Orders and Marriage are both called to lead others to holiness - priests their parishioners and married persons their partners and their children. So those of you who are disappointed with the spiritual leadership of your priest must also examine your conscience about your own spiritual leadership within your families. You will be called to be good personally, but also good at leading your partner and children to holiness.  You must protect your children from predators, find the nourishment they need and teach them to graze safely in a complicated world, both physically and spiritually. You too must be good at being a marriage partner and good at parenting.  The "Good Shepherd" is a model for those of us in ordained ministry, but also those of you who will be marriage partners and parents. I will say to you what  say to our future priests, "If you are going to marry or be ordained, for God sake make sure you have what it takes to be good at it!" 

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