Thursday, September 14, 2023



Shepherds vs Sheep Dogs  



"Pastor" is the Latin word for a "shepherd." There are two very different ways to herd sheep. One way is to walk in front of them, as the Good Shepherd himself did, gently calling to them while they follow behind, leading them where they need to go. The other way is to bark and snap from behind, like a sheep dog, chasing and intimidating them into going where they should go.

This is a true story. In the Middle East there are two countries, separated only by a border, who have large sheep industries. The two cultures are radically different. They have even fought wars with each other. In one country, the shepherds walk behind their flocks. In the other country, shepherds walk in front of their flocks. In the country where shepherds walk behind their flocks, the quality of the mutton and the wool is poor and it is not a profitable industry. In the country where the shepherds walk in front of their flocks, the quality of the mutton and wool is excellent and the profitability is high. Why?

In the flocks where the shepherd walks behind and pushes, drives, corrects, and is always in charge, the young sheep grow up afraid to stray from the flock for fear of being rapped up-side the head by the shepherd’s staff or having dogs sent out to round them up. They have no opportunity to explore for better grass and water, or to play with other young lambs. They simply become obedient, passive and apathetic. By the time they are grown, they have lost all initiative. They are not really healthy.

In the country where shepherds walk in front of their flocks, the young lambs have plenty of opportunity to stray, play, experiment and then catch up with the flock. Instead of being overly controlled, compressed, repressed, depressed and suppressed, they feel free, empowered, enhanced and stretched. They eat more, sleep better and grow up large and healthy. They are truly led. Good shepherds lead by invitation. Sheepdogs drive the sheep. Leaders pull. Bosses push.

Related to this is a tendency in public discourse these days to scold, and this tendency has invaded the words of some of the Church’s pastors. Father Bill Corcoran of Chicago has pointed out that many are worried about the effectiveness of the Church when its leaders are perceived as the Village Scold. If pastors cannot approach their ministry in a positive way, then maybe it is best that they remain silent. Parish priests are sometimes experienced by others as nabobs of negativity to all that society has to offer. Parish priests need to allow themselves to stand in awe of the good God has wrought in our world. They need to celebrate and give thanks for what is good about others, their mission, their vocation and their Church. Dealing with error is necessary, but how one does it is also important. Parish priests need to remain on message and that message is a Gospel of hope. When we lose hope, we scold. Spiritual leaders are dealers in hope, not in anger and pessimism.

In the pre-Vatican II church, the "sheep dog" approach was very popular. During and after Vatican II, the "good shepherd" approach was very popular. Today, some of our young pastors seem to want to go back to the "good old days" of being "sheep dogs" because they believe if they don't, their sheep will keep doing anything they damned well please and must be "herded" back into line or the church will not survive!  Good luck with that, boys! 

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