The first reading from Wednesday of this week is a significant admonition for priests. Permit in this post for one priest to wonder aloud how this warning from the Lord might apply to us who are priests and shepherds today.

For you who read, who listening to the wonderings of one priest, please pray for priests, for we who have received much will also have much for which to account.

The passage from Ezekiel 34 is in bold blue, italic text, my own reflections are in plain black and bold  text.

The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.

We who are priests owe a great deal to our people. They take great care of us, giving us a place to live, food, a salary, health insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits. They also pray for us and are supportive of so many parish activities we depend on and benefit from. Yes, they are so very good to us.

We who are priests therefore must surely be willing to serve them with love and devotion. And, while there are human limits to what we can do, and while it is important to get proper rest etc., we ought to embrace the truth of offering our lives in sacrificial love and service for them. In the Old Testament the priest and the victim (e.g. a lamb) were distinct. But in the New Testament, the priest and the victim are one in the same, for Jesus, our High Priest offered the sacrifice of his very self. And we who act in his person must also learn to offer ourselves sacrificially to our people.

Cardinal McCarrick, my Archbishop for six years, used to tell us priests, “If you don’t routinely go to bed tired, something is wrong.” It was his way of telling us to work hard for our people, and he often reminded us of the difficult lives they led.

So also,  in this admonition the Lord, through Ezekiel warns his priests, and shepherds not merely to live off the people, not to use them, but to live for them; to give them a shepherd’s care, loving attention, the protection of prayer, the Sacraments, and the truth of God’s word. The Lord does not say the shepherds have no needs. They do indeed need the wool, milk and food the sheep can give, just as we priests need our people’s support. But in the end, we receive these gifts not for ourselves or as an end in themselves. But rather we receive them so as to be able to better serve our people.

Woe to priests who life selfishly off our people rather than sacrificially for them. Most priests I know work hard and do live this, but woe to those of us who fall back from our duties and look more to ourselves than to our people.

You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.

Surely priests do at times tend to the physical weaknesses and illness of our people. But more usually our is a ministry to those who are spiritually weak, and injured by sins, whether their own, or the sins of others who have hurt them. How essential for us to lovingly reach out to those who are hurt, those who struggle with sin and the weaknesses due to sin and temptation.

Sacramental confession ought to be generously and conveniently supplied to God’s people. Early in my first pastorate I realized that the traditional Saturday afternoon confession time, was inconvenient for my people. So I instituted a policy of hearing confessions for a half an hour before every scheduled weekend Mass. Many other priests do the same. It is sometimes a burden on a Sunday to rush from Sunday school to confessions, and then right into the next Mass, but God’s people have wounds that need binding and the medicine of the sacraments.

Counseling and spiritual direction is also needed. Thank God I have a good staff that effectively manage the business and administrative details of parish life. This enables me to do a lot of counseling and spiritual direction for people each day.

But God’s people need care and we who are priests and shepherd ought to do everything we can to become more available and effective in healing the spiritual sickness of sin and helping to bind the wounds of those hurt by the human struggle with sin.

We do this first by seriously tending to our own wounds and submitting our own weakness and sin to others, (our spiritual directors and confessors) for healing. And, as we gain skill in self understanding and make our own journey, we can help others.

We must also do this by preaching charitably but clearly about the reality of sin and the need to repent. Many many Catholics are critical that their pulpits have been “silent” for years on many critical moral topics and that little moral guidance is given God’s people by the clergy. Hence we must commit to speaking the truth in love about sin, morality and the need for repentance. Otherwise we are likened to the absurdity of a doctor who never mentions disease and who merely shrugs when clearly sick people seek his help as to how to get better.

Woe to us if we are too busy to bind the wounds of sinners and bring healing love to those who struggle. We are like the pharisees of Old who simply wrote off “sinners” as the great unwashed. Jesus welcomed and ate with sinners. Yes, woe is us if we fall short in reaching out to sinners. Some of the Lord’s most severe warnings were reserved for the pharisees and other religious leaders who scorned sinners but little or nothing to teach them, help them or bind their wounds.

You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost....

It seems clear that most Catholics today are strayed and lost. on 27% come to Mass at all, and even among them there are those who stray and have been deceived by the world, who have lost their way.

One of the greatest struggles of the modern priest is to know how or what to do with the overwhelming number of strayed and lost Catholics. Too many Catholic parishes have an evangelization program little better than opening the doors and hoping people come. We have to do better. We have to actively seek the lost and straying and call them home.

Yet, often overwhelmed with parish tasks and fewer in number, priests struggle to find the time for active and personal evangelization. Yet some things help:

- Wearing clerical attire when away from the parish, shopping, traveling, etc., and being approachable to those who seek answers and attention.

- Using opportunities like funerals and weddings (where many unchurched, and lapsed Catholics are in attendance) to call people home and to invite and summon them to a closer walk with God.

- Taking walks in the neighborhood and local park to greet people and engage them.

- Asking help from parishioners to specifically ask fallen away family members, to attend instruction programs and to return to Church.

-Asking group leaders to specifically reach out to members of their particular group who may have drifted, to return.

- Priests should also actively teach and engage his people in how to be better evangelizers. In the end, shepherds don’t have sheep, sheep have sheep.

But, however we do it, we priests must bring back the strayed and lost.

So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and high hills; my sheep were scattered over the whole earth, with no one to look after them or to search for them.

I shudder to think of the immense losses the Church has suffered on the watch of we priests who live today. The flock is surely scattered. And while it is true that huge cultural waves have swept through western world and brought devastation, we who are leaders of God’s flock cannot escape any blame. The flock has been scattered on our watch. Vast numbers of our people have been deceived by innumerable errors and too often we have been silent, or, at best, an uncertain trumpet. Often our silence has been due to concerns with remaining popular and accepted. At other times it has been simple laziness in studying the cultural problems and developing a coherent and courageous response to errors. At still other times, it has been our own sin that has blinded us and caused uncertainty, even a cynicism toward the Scriptures and Church teachings.

Whatever the causes, cultural, or clerical, we who are leaders cannot escape significant responsibility for the lost and scattered quality of God’s people today. And neither can we blame the previous generation. We just have to get to work and trust that God will bless us.

I will save my sheep, ….For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep.

And in this is our sole hope, that despite every human weakness of priests, parents, educators and all Church leadership, the Lord God alone can overcome all this and will ultimately bring to perfection the flock who follow him in faith. And we who are priests, who feel so often overwhelmed, do well to remember that the Lord is the ultimate and true shepherd who can overcome our weakness and supply what is lacking. None of this excuses our laxity, it only shows God’s grace and mercy in spite of it.

Disclaimer: most brother priests I know are good, hardworking men. But it is also true that none of us are perfect men and the admonitions of this passage challenge all of us somehow.

Please pray for priests. Much has been given to us and much is rightly expected. Pray, pray, pray.

This video has a song that may not exactly fit for this sort of reflection, but the footage from Fishers of Men shows good priests in action:

12 Responses

  1. Katherine G ERT says:

    This is a great post, and I thank you and other priests for all you have done for me and others. It is by no means an easy vocation. I have personally drifted from the Church for my own personal reasons but I still keep up with this blog and it is inspiring and interesting to me. Keep up the GREAT work and I greatly appreciate everything you and your brother priests do.

  2. esiul says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope,
    This blog “warning from the Lord to priests” is such a heartwarming piece. You really wrote from your heart and
    it makes me happy to see how you really feel about your priesthood.
    Bravo and God’s continued blessings on you.

  3. stefanie says:

    Fabulous post, Monsignor. That passage from Ezekiel really hits hard — for all of us who serve the Church — but especially priests. And I loved your helpful suggestions on evangelizing the community in small personal ways.

    I am always reminding my RCIA and Adult Confirmation folks that they should be praying for our priests regularly.

    People often criticize priests and pastor decisions in particular. I tell these people that priests are only human — and are often trying very hard to bring lost sheep back into the fold…even though it may offend another sheep. It breaks the heart of a priest when someone walks away.

    Priests are also the direct adversaries of the devil who does not give up prey easily.

    FYI — A few weeks ago, my husband was perturbed to find out that when I pray daily during the LOTR at Lauds for my benefactors, I pray for all the priests, religious, deacons, parish staff, and specific parishioners by name WAY before I get around to praying for HIM. :) And I do pray every morning for you, specifically, Monsignor. I’ve no idea how you have the energy to write as frequently as you do, but I do thank you for serving our Holy Church via the internet.

  4. Clinton R. says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Excellent post. I know priests get beat up quite a bit on the blogs, and I, myself, can be hard on the priests as well. Thank you, Monsignor for being a priest. May Our Lord bless you and all His servants He has sent into the harvest. And May He bless His Holy Church be calling more faithful men to the priesthood. +JMJ+

  5. Robbie J says:

    Some time ago Fr. Z (wtprs) blogged about the need to constantly pray for our priests. In my parish, our parish priest Fr. JJ (as we affectionately call him) has the enormous task of shepherding a flock of more than 6500 – no easy task. I pray that he (and indeed all Catholic priests) be filled with a priestly zeal and energy for what must be a herculean task. And of course for you as well, Msgr. Pope. God bless!

  6. Dave says:

    And how can the sheep distinguish a good shepherd from a hireling? Pope St. Gregory the Great answers:

    http://saintlysages.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/shepherds-and-hirelings/

  7. MarkA says:

    Monseigneur,
    I pray for you, and many other priests by name and all priests in general, in my daily Rosary intentions. Besides the challenges you describe, priests are particular targets of the evil one in order to scatter their flocks. I pray for our “soldiers in the army of of Lord”, but also for our colonels and generals who lead our soldiers.

    At my Church, after the Rosary on Sunday (before Mass), we recite the following:
    O Lord, grant us priests.
    O Lord, grant us holy priests.
    O Lord, grant us many holy priests.

    It looks like your parishioners’ prayers have been answered.

  8. Annette Strachan says:

    And as The Holy Spirit calls them back may they have the peace and joy they knew.

  9. RichardC says:

    Priests get some of my prayers everyday, both by name in general. Starting today, they will start getting a few more. Just recently I set all my siblings an e-mail telling them about catholicscomehome.org.

  10. Hegelian Dialectic says:

    I had 3 priests (all traditional) in my father’s family. My great grandmother grew up in the same apartment building as Pius XII. My great grandfather had worked in the Vatican as a young man. I thank God all the time for the graces that flowed to me from my relatives.

  11. Brian M. says:

    When a Priest chooses to humble himself and becomes a “Marian Priest” and consecrates his life to her, then the Holy Spirit fill the Priest with wisdom and knowledge. For all graces flow through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

  12. Cynthia BC says:

    The Lutheran Hymnal with which I was reared had a number of hymns that were essentially prayers for ministers. I can’t say I’ve noted any such thing in the missalette which is a damned (sorry Msgr) shame. Below are the texts from several hymns:

    “Thou Who the Night in Prayer Didst Spend”
    by Christopher Wordsworth, 1807-1885
    1. Thou who the night in prayer didst spend
    And then didst Thine apostles send
    And bidd’st us pray the harvest’s Lord
    To send forth sowers of Thy Word,
    Hear and Thy chosen servants bless
    With sev’nfold gifts of holiness.
    2. Oh, may Thy pastors faithful be,
    Not lab’ring for themselves, but Thee!
    Give grace to feed with wholesome food
    The sheep and lambs bought by Thy blood,
    To tend Thy flock, and thus to prove
    How dearly they the Shepherd love.
    3. Oh, may Thy people faithful be
    And in Thy pastors honor Thee
    And with them work and for them pray
    And gladly Thee in them obey,
    Receive the prophet of the Lord
    And gain the prophet’s own reward!
    4. So may we when our work is done
    Together stand before Thy throne
    And joyful hearts and voices raise
    In one united song of praise,
    With all the bright celestial host,
    To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

    The Lutheran Hymnal #493
    Text: Luke 6:12 ff.
    Author: Christopher Wordsworth, 1862, cento, alt.
    Composer: Dimitri S. Bortniansky, 1822, ad.
    Tune: “St. Petersburg”

    “Send, O Lord, Thy Holy Spirit”
    by unknown author, 19th century
    Translated by Frederick W. Hersberger, 1859-1930
    1. Send, O Lord, Thy Holy Spirit
    On Thy servant now, we pray;
    Let him prove a faithful shepherd
    To Thy little lambs alway.
    Thy pure teaching to proclaim,
    To extol Thy holy name,
    And to feed Thy lambs, dear Savior,
    Make his aim and sole endeavor.
    2. Thou, O Lord, Thyself hast called him
    For Thy precious lambs to care;
    But to prosper in his calling,
    He the Spirit’s gifts must share.
    Grant him wisdom from above,
    Fill his heart with holy love;
    In all weakness be Thou near him,
    In his prayers, Good Shepherd, hear him.
    3. Help, Lord Jesus, help him nourish
    Our dear children with Thy Word
    That in constant love they serve Thee
    Till in heav’n their song is heard.
    Boundless blessings, Lord, bestow
    On his faithful toil below
    Till by grace to him is given
    His reward, the crown of heaven.
    The Lutheran Hymnal #491
    Text: Acts 11:24
    Titled: “Segne, Herr, mit deinem Geiste”
    Author: unknown, 19th century
    Translated by: Frederick W. Herzberger, 1930, alt.
    Composer: Johann Schop, 1642
    Tune: “Werde Munter”

    “Lord Jesus, Who art Come”
    by Eberhard L. Fischer, 1695-1773
    1. Lord Jesus, who art come
    A Teacher sent from heaven
    And by both word and deed
    God’s truth to us hast given,
    Thou wisely hast ordained
    The holy ministry
    That we, Thy flock, may know
    The way to God through thee.
    2. Thou hast, O Lord, returned,
    To God’s right hand ascending;
    Yet Thou art in the world,
    Thy kingdom here extending.
    Through preaching of Thy Word
    In every land and clime
    Thy people’s faith is kept
    Until the end of time.
    3. O blessed ministry
    Of reconciliation,
    That shows the way to God
    And brings to us salvation!
    By Thine evangel pure,
    Lord, Thou preserv’st Thy fold,
    Doest call, enlighten, keep,
    Dost comfort and uphold.
    4. Preserve this ministry
    While harvest-days are keeping;
    And since the fields are white
    And hands are few for reaping,
    Send workers forth, O Lord,
    The sheaves to gather in
    That not a soul be lost
    Which Thou art come to win.
    5. The servants Thou hast called
    And to Thy Church art giving
    Preserve in doctrine pure
    And holiness of living.
    Thy Spirit fill their hearts,
    Endue their tongues with power;
    What they should boldly speak,
    Oh, give them in that hour!
    6. Yea, bless Thy Word alway,
    Our souls forever feeding;
    And may we never lack
    A faithful shepherd’s leading!
    Seek Thou the wandering sheep,
    Bind up the sore opprest,
    Lift up the fallen ones,
    And grant the weary rest.
    7. Bring those into Thy fold
    Who still to Thee are strangers;
    Guard those who are within
    Against offense and dangers.
    Press onward with Thy Word
    Till pastor and his fold
    Through faith in Thee, O Christ,
    Thy glory shall behold.
    The Lutheran Hymnal #485
    Text: 1 Cor. 4:1
    Author: Eberhard L. Fischer, 1741, ab.
    Translated by: composite
    Titled: “Herr Jesu, der du selbst”
    Tune: “O Gott, du frommer Gott”
    1st Published in: Neuvermehrtes Gesangbuch
    Town: Meiningen, 1693

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