Tuesday, May 2, 2023


Against my instincts, I was talked into taking a dog a few years ago for the first time in my life. His name was "Bear." It lasted six days and I gave him back to his owner! "Bear" craved more love that I could give it. He needed a whole family, taking turns, to meet his constant need for affection. 

Even though "Bear" seemed to somehow know how to keep me company, tell time and read books, I couldn't take it after six days! "Bear" would follow me from room to room, sit in the middle of the room and just stare at me until I moved to another room! No matter when I set the morning alarm, about five minutes before it would go off, "Bear" would enter the bedroom and put his nose close to my ear and pant until I woke up! One day I came home and he had pulled a book off my bookcase and chewed it up! It was a book about "loneliness!" 

It would have been impossible to keep him, especially when I started travelling a lot with my work doing priest retreats and convocations. Not only could I not have a pet, I could also not have living plants without bothering others to water them while I was gone. As far as I know, I don't have anything in my condo that needs to go to the doctor, needs to be fed or watered or needs to be picked up after, except me!  Presently, I own a few plastic plants and two stuffed animals (sheep) that people gave me. So far, I love the freedom they bring! 

Not just dogs and live plants, but even plastic plants can be problematic for me. I had an artificial plastic cactus at one time, but I had to throw it out! An old German lady (Wilhelmine), that I used to rent an apartment from, would clean my house every few weeks. She thought the cactus was real and watered it regularly without my knowing it until the planter that the plastic cactus was placed in began to give off an awful rotten smell. I could not find the source of the smell for quite a while! Cacti need little water and plastic cacti need none! She had to learn the hard way! 

Sunday, April 30, 2023



The shepherd of the sheep walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. They will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him because they do not recognize
the voice of strangers.
John 10:1-10

As Jesus reminds us in the gospel reading today, the People of God have always been plagued by religious phonies, fakes and frauds who wear the uniforms of a shepherd, but underneath are “wolves,” “thieves and robbers,” preying on the sheep for their own personal benefit. When they are busted, we read about them in the news every once in a while. People run from them!

Maybe an even more serious problem facing Catholicism today is the quality of its spiritual leadership in the face of deteriorating communal values and religious practice. Maybe the bigger problem than fakery is the incompetence of our spiritual leaders. We may mean well and be holy ourselves, but meaning well and being personally holy is not enough these days. We have to not only be good ourselves, but we have to be good at it what we do! I used to tell our future priests at St. Meinrad when I was working over there, “It is no longer good enough for us priests to simply be priests as nouns! We have to be able to be priests as verbs. Being a priest is one thing, but priesting is another! By that I mean, we can never be satisfied with simply being designated spiritual leaders, we must strive, with God's grace, to become real spiritual leaders. For instance, I used to tell the seminarians who loved to wear cassocks that wearing a cassock is OK as long as they had something to go in it! I told them that it’s not good enough to merely dress like a spiritual leader. They had to actually become competent spiritual leaders! 

The personal piety of religious leaders is not good enough either. I don’t know about you, but pietistic, arrogant, religious know-it-alls get on my nerves big time! They make me angry most of all because they attempt to horde God's love and measure it out to people in little thimbles, as if God's love was in short supply. Resembling the twisted God they believe in, they tend to project onto the real God their own self-loathing. One of the things that saddens me most is that I know that some young people think they have to become bible-thumping, body-hating religious fanatics in order to be serious disciples of Jesus Christ. Since many young people can't wrap their minds around that tired off-putting approach to religion, many of them throw the baby out with the bathwater, yawning at what they hear as they dismiss religion altogether. 

The shepherd of the sheep walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. They will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.

I define "spiritual leadership" as the ability to influence people – to influence people through invitation, persuasion, example and the skillful use of the Church's rites and rituals - to move from where they are to where God wants them to be.

We surely know today that organized religion has lost its power to impose unquestioned rules on the behavior of its members. This turn of events frustrates a few priests, leaving them with a propensity to blame the laity for their lack of faith and the culture for its "secularism" and its "moral relativity" in increasingly shrill denouncements. I am convinced that the “lack of faith” “secularism” and “moral relativism” that they condemn is really the result of years of incompetent spiritual leadership! Those spiritual leaders who have failed to influence people, not only tend to blame the laity, they are now turning to the government to make laws to force people to be good because they themselves were not able to inspire them to be good!

No amount of ranting and raving, however, about how we ought to be listened to is going to fix this. The fact of the matter is, that in a society where "a consumer" is a primary self-definition, we religious leaders have to not only know what the truth is and believe the truth ourselves, we also have to be able to sell that truth to others. We have to be able to convince people to see it, accept it and live it. We need to be more than "right." We need to be "convincing" as well.

The more we priests fail in their ability to influence people, the more we tend to blame, criticize and condemn. Silly and counter- productive rants about "secularism" and "moral relativism" merely expose our lack of spiritual leadership abilities. The truth is there is an amazing lack of dynamism in the Church's designated leaders and in its pastoral structures for evangelization in a changing cultural climate - and that culture seems to be telling us that it is time for us to "shut up or put up."

What is needed are priests who are capable of telling people about the love of God in language that no longer sounds hackneyed and archaic, but in convincing language that resonates with authority and conviction. It is not good enough for shepherds, our religious leaders, to believe that "grass is good" and "water is necessary," they have to be able find it and to lead people to it - sometimes in a barren spiritual landscape. In short, our people need for their spiritual leaders to be what John Paul II called "incarnations of the Good Shepherd's love."

The shepherd of the sheep walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. They will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.