this is to appear in my parish bulletin for the weekend of April 20/21 2013
This weekend, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. Around the world, we remember that the Resurrected Christ is the Eternal Good Shepherd who forever provides for and protects His flock. We give thanks that this Good Shepherd loves us, His flock, so much that He offered His life for us to forever protect us from the dual wolves of sin and death that would otherwise despoil the flock. We know that when Christ was taken up into heaven, it was neither the end of his shepherding nor the end of His physical presence among us as the Good Shepherd. We believe that He remains among us through the Eucharist through which He continually nourishes the flock. He also left behind a church whose apostles were charged to continue the teaching of the Gospel and were to encourage the flock to live the Gospel in the most concrete ways possible. This Apostles appointed deacons to help in the service of the flock and appointed successors to them, known as Bishops, to continue the mission to which Christ had set them. These in turn appointed priest to assist them in the service of the flock.
This weekend we ordained 18 men to the permanent diaconate to help in the service of the flock of the Lord. These men will assist the Bishop and the pastors to whom they are assigned in taking care of the flock of Christ. It has been my experience over the years that these deacons have been immensely helpful in such a profound task. However, they are limited in what they can do. As was the case when I was transitional deacon (a deacon who will go onto to be ordained a priest), they cannot anoint the sick, nor can they give absolution in confession, nor can they confect the Eucharist. Those areas of service are to be done by priests and bishops. Were we ever to be in a situation where we were ordaining 18 priests in a year! Were we to have even 18 total seminarians looking at the possibility of such service! Alas, though, such is not the case and it is not to the betterment of the Church and the parishes. We need more to answer this divine call to service.
If we are to expect to ever arrive to such heights it will take a major change of heart. Many will say that we experience such shortages because we only ordain unmarried males. As we saw with the media swarm around the election of Pope Francis, there were many who opined that the Church has to adjust to the modern world and chuck her outdated notions on who gets ordained, the nature of marriage, the goods of human sexuality, and so on. People forget though that the Church is supposed to look different and be different than the world; a light cannot be a light if it looks and acts as the surrounding darkness. Too many times the language of priesthood has been the language of power. Suffered greatly we have with such notions. The priesthood is not about power, as Pope Francis reminds us, but about service. It is to service we must attend, for that is how the flock of Christ is tended and how it is grown.
The purpose of the Church is not to navel gaze. Nor is the purpose of the Church to be a commercial spirituality store disconnected from day to day life. The life blood of the Church is united to the Blood of Christ Himself, a blood spilled in the name of eternal service born out of eternal love. Thus it is wholly necessary that we know the content of our faith for service cannot be an unorganized event. We serve with an end in mind; the salvation of souls! Thus the proclamation of the Gospel and its content is necessary in our service. Church teaching, as Pope Francis remarks, cannot be an end unto itself, but the medium by which we serve and proclaim. We need men who will without exception and distraction, give themselves fully over to the service of Christ’s flock in His parishes and in those in need. Priesthood is not a job but a vocation of service.
When I say ‘men’, I mean more than merely the male of the human species. We need men who will rise to the heights of selfless service to the flock of Christ and act as father to those to whom they are assigned. We live in a society that prefers to keep the male of the species as boys. If we expect things to turn around in our Church and in our society as whole, then this trend must be reversed. This starts in the family.
Dads, you have been given the divine mission through marriage to be the prime teachers of your son in what it means to be a Catholic man. It is your responsibility to show them that we are not slaves to our instincts and that our true dignity does not come from exercising power but in exercising authority. Power and authority are not synonymous! Power is the will to make other do what you want; authority is a delegated responsibility to care for those placed under your care. You show this in how you treat your spouse. You show this in modeling prayer. You show this in making clear that you understand that before your wife and children belong to you that they are God’s and you will be held responsible for how you shepherded them. Moms, you share in this shepherding role as you and your husbands became one when you exchanged your vows and rings in marriage. You are to encourage the heart of a servant, model the empathy so necessary to raising a boy into a man so that he will grow into being part of the next generation of husbands or priests that will be necessary to carry on our Church and our society.
To help with this end, we developed Camp Maccabee so that your sons may hear this same message loud and clear from their Church. We try to teach them that their nobility as a Catholic man comes not from money, power, or pleasure, but from a willingness to stand out in this hostile culture just as the Maccabees did when the Seleucid Empire and Antiochus Epiphanes wanted to destroy Judaism in the centuries leading up to the birth of Christ. We do this because we realize that the trends must be reversed and new evangelization of our youth is central to this goal. We need these young men to grow into the kind of men who will be great fathers, husbands, and priests. We need them to be one with the Good Shepherd to accomplish this goal.
The service of the flock of Christ is desperately needed and we need young men to step up and courageously ask God what is it that He created them to do. We need good men who will serve with courage, knowledge and strength. Too often, so many both inside and outside of the clergy have sought purpose in the trappings of this world and it has caused great damage. Our purpose as followers of Christ is not found in money, power, or pleasure; it is found in following the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. If He say about Himself that He came to serve and not to be served, then that must become our maxim and motivation as well. The time for action is well past, we are already so very behind. Our Good Shepherd is calling you to service! He is calling your children to service! How will we respond?