One of the more powerful moments in pastoral ministry as described in Scripture is Paul’s farewell speech to the presbyters (priests) of the early Church. Here is a skilled bishop and pastor, exhorting others who have pastoral roles in the Church.

Lets take a look at this text and apply its wisdom to Bishops and priests as well as to parents and other leaders in the Church.

Paul’s Farewell Sermon – The scene is Miletus, a town in Asia Minor on the coast not far from Ephesus. Paul, who is about to depart for Jerusalem summons the presbyters (priests) of the early Church at Ephesus. Paul has ministered there for three years, and now gathers the priests for this final exhortation.

In the sermon, St. Paul cites his own example of having been a zealous teacher of the faith who did not fail to preach the “whole counsel of God.” He did not merely preach what suited him or made him popular. He preached it all. To these early priests Paul leaves this legacy and would have them follow in his footsteps. Let’s look at excerpts from this final exhortation. First the text them some commentary:

From Miletus Paul had the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus summoned. When they came to him, he addressed them, “You know how I lived among you the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia. I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me…., and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus…..But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem……“But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the whole counsel of God….. (Acts 20:1-38 selected)

Here then is the prescription for every Bishop, every priest and deacon, every catechist, parent and Catholic: that we should preach the whole counsel (the entire plan of God). It is too easy for us to emphasize only that which pleases us or makes sense to us or fits in our worldview.

There are some who love the Lord’s sermons on love, but cannot abide his teachings on death, judgment, heaven and hell. Some love to discuss liturgy and ceremony, but the care of the poor is far from them. Others point to Jesus’ compassion, but neglect his call to repentance. Some love the way he dispatches the Pharisees and other leaders of the day, but become suddenly deaf when the Lord warns against fornication or insists that we love our neighbor, enemy and spouse. Some love to focus inwardly and debate over doctrine, but the outward focus of true evangelization to which we are commanded (cf Mat 28:19) is neglected.

In the Church today, as a whole, we too easily divide out rather predictably along certain lines and emphases: Life issues here, social justice over there; strong moral preaching over here, compassionate inclusiveness over there. When one side speaks, the other side says, “There they go again!”

And yet somewhere we must be able to say with St. Paul that we did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

While this is especially incumbent on the clergy, it must also be true for parents and all who attain to any leadership in the Church. All of the issues above are important and must have their proper place in the preaching and witness of every Catholic, clergy and lay. While we may have gifts to work in certain areas, we should learn to appreciate the whole counsel and the fact that others in the Church may be needed to balance and complete our work. It is true, we must exclude notions that stray from revealed doctrine, but within doctrine’s protective walls, it is necessary that we not shrink from proclaiming and appreciating the whole counsel of God.

And if we do this we will suffer. Paul speaks above of tears and trials. In preaching the whole counsel of God, (not just your favorite passages and politically correct and “safe” themes), expect to suffer. Expect to not quite fit in with people’s expectations.

Jesus got into trouble with just about everyone. He didn’t just offend the elite and powerful. Even his own disciples puzzled over his teachings on divorce saying If that is the case of man not being able to divorce his wife it is better never to marry! (Matt 19). Regarding the Eucharist, many left him and would no longer walk in his company (John 6). In speaking of his divine origins many took up stones to stone him, but he passed through their midst (Jn 8). In addition he spoke of taking up crosses, forgiving your enemy and preferring nothing to him. He forbade even lustful thoughts, let alone fornication, and insisted we must learn to curb our unrighteous anger. Preaching the whole counsel of God is guaranteed to earn us the wrath of many.

As a priest I have sadly had to bid farewell to congregations, and this farewell speech of Paul is a critical passage whereby I examine my ministry. Did I preach even the difficult stuff? Was I willing to suffer for the truth? Did my people hear from me the whole counsel of God, or just the safe stuff? In my time with these good people, did they hear clearly from me as to the critical moral issues of our day? Do they know what the Church teaches and her scriptures announce? Have I been clear with them not just what is taught, but also why?

How about you? Have you proclaimed the whole counsel of God? If you are clergy when you move on…..if you are a parent when your child leaves for college…..if you are a Catechist when the children are ready to be confirmed or have reached college age…..If you teach in RCIA and the time comes for sacraments……Can you say you preached it all?

God warned Ezekiel that if he failed to warn the sinner, that sinner would surely die for his sins but that Ezekiel himself would be responsible for his death, (Ez 3:17 ff). Paul is able to say he is not responsible for the death (the blood) of any of them for he did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. How about us?

The whole counsel of God; not just the safe stuff, the popular stuff, not just the stuff that agrees with my politics and those of my friends. The whole counsel, even the difficult stuff, the ridiculed things. The Whole Counsel of God.

This video contains the warning to the watchmen (us) in Ezekiel 3. Watch it if you dare.

18 Responses

  1. Loreen Lee says:

    I think I ‘got it’. The video like what saint Paul says, holds that the sinner must be ‘warned’ but that the responsibility for actual repentence is not with the ‘watchman’. This would seem to recognize the God-givenness of free will. The difficulty often is seeing the sin within oneself, and as the passage from the bible says: it is not easy to pick the ‘mote’ from one’s own eye. This is very difficult, for that individual who is always ‘telling stories’, the gossip, could inadvertently make the discovery of somebody’s sin known to them, while someone who warns of sin on principle alone, may cause psychological distress, say, because someone has not the self-esteem, the healthy love of self needed to change a life-style, to give up drugs, for instance, and repent. But these are all psychological issues. These difficulties are generally no dealt with in confession for instance. I am mentioning this, becuase I can’t help feel that there is a kind of chasm between sin and the issues as they are placed within the context of mental health. Perhaps someday, dear Monseignor you could explain this distinction, and whether and if so how it is justifiable to associate these issues, Does the church for instaance condone such psychological measures as the taking of cannabis, for instance, for mental health issues, etc. etc. etc. Over what issues does the watchman need to watch!!!!! How responsible is the watchman to for sins and psychologies of the world.

  2. Loreen Lee says:

    The above comment was prompted by an issue within my current life. Please excuse. I realize now the ‘truth’ that evangalization is best done as by example as with the saints, or in the case of verbal warning, in both love and truth, as I read recently on a New Advent blog. It was about the Pope’s homily on the speaking by Jesus on ‘Give onto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” It is very difficult to bring all of these teaching into a congruent whole, I find.

  3. Annette Strachan says:

    If our candle is removed, we will all be falling around in the dark.

  4. Mike says:

    Thank you, Monsignor, for the reminder that we Christians must proclaim (and live) “the whole counsel of God.”

    Your reference to the false dichotomy between life and social justice issues will illustrate your point very soon. We will soon enough be challenged to proclaim the whole gospel of life as the Obamacare rollout advances the specter of government rationing and the HHS mandate threatens to impede our ability to perform the corporal works of mercy according to our conscience.

    Let us hope that the consequences of our ill-considered embrace of socialistic systems will remind us of the counsel (rarely, if ever, proclaimed at Holy Mass): “Do not be yoked with those who are different, with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14, NABRE)

    It is the present and daily duty of each of us to serve our neighbor. If we pass the buck to the State today when to serve our neighbor would be relatively easy, what will we say to our neighbor when the State lets them down?

    Let utopians dream as they will. Each of us is about to become (as we should already be) his brother’s keeper, in ways no bureaucrat or visionary would dare admit.

  5. Donna says:

    In life, I have seen what you are referencing. Many will confine their homilies to just explaining the Gospel and readings and will not go further in giving present day examples of life issues that correlate to these scriptural teachings. Many are the funerals in which the remarks of the clergy give the impression that the deceased is already in heaven with no mention of purgatory, thus eliminating the need for prayers for this poor deceased person. An RCIA program that I went through with a friend who had very limited knowledge of Christianity let alone the Catholic faith, left a lot to be desired in content and the truths of the Catholic faith and leaving me extremely frustrated after each session. It seems they truly don’t anticipate encountering anyone who is in such great need of catechesis, rather their main focus is more in making the candidates feel welcome, hence a lot of multiple opinions and personal comments on material covered with half of the time period discussing the upcoming Sunday readings. Raising three boys i’ve encountering numerous times where advise given was met with rejection or ridicule and, not a total division, but division nonetheless. I’ve seen how our life, or more specifically my life in Christ, brought much suffering for them by the comments of their peers. Division, the work of satan. Yes, you are right Msgr.Pope, there will be suffering. Thankfully all my boys still go to Mass and they are in their mid 20’s to 30. Also, I always try to encourage and congratulate priests and deacons on their homilies and most especially when they step out of their comfort zone and address some truths of our faith that are hard to accept. On a positive note, I do see more and more priests and deacons speaking on Catholic hot-button issues, thanks be to God. And I do know there are a lot of excellent RCIA programs out there. But there is a fault line in a diocese where some people get good catechesis and others do not.

  6. PadreNYC says:

    a very good challenge for me to consider as well!!! I wonder if I’m giving the people the whole package? I recall recently preaching on the commandments and mentioning abortion and having someone walk out on me. It’s a disturbing feeling. But overall, can I honestly say that I’m giving them the whole box of goods? When I die from this word will I receive the “good and faithful servant” medal or the crown of “depart from me you worker of iniquity”. Have mercy on my soul, Lord, and help me to preach your word with clarity, truth and courage. Amen.

  7. RichardGTC says:

    St. Paul says that some people shouldn’t teach.–or I think he says that. I think it is most likely that St. Paul–oh, that guy–had the passage from Ezekiel in mind when he says that he isn’t responsible for their blood. On one occasion St. Paul says to some people who won’t listen, “Your own blood is on your head!” This can be read only has fulfilling the demands placed on us in the passage from Ezekiel and another way of reading, “Your own blood is on your head!” is that St. Paul is saying that these people who won’t listen are each trying to be the Messiah unto himself.

  8. Steve B says:

    I always ask a group “Who wants to get to Heaven?” and everyone raises their hand. Then I ask “Who wants to die?” and all the hands go down. So if you don’t die how you gettin to Heaven?!?

    “Everyone wants to get to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

    God Bless you Msgr. Pope for allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire you in your ministry.

  9. Donna L. says:

    I see there’s another “Donna” so I will now be “Donna L.”

    Great video – it does a good job conveying a sense of urgency. Truly, people will end up in the fire if we don’t warn them, and we might even join them! I must ask myself, have I been faithful in communicating this urgency?

    Thank you, Monsignor, for reminding us how critical it is to our own souls to be on the lookout for others’.

  10. Repent and Believe the Gospel ! says:

    I’m sorry I’m going off to a different topic, but this is an excellent read (it just came out!):

    “Charles Darwin knew that there was a significant event in the history of life that his theory did not explain. In what is known today as the “Cambrian explosion,” 530 million years ago many animals suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent ancestors in earlier layers of rock. In Darwin’s Doubt Stephen C. Meyer tells the story of the mystery surrounding this explosion of animal life—a mystery that has intensified, not only because the expected ancestors of these animals have not been found, but also because scientists have learned more about what it takes to construct an animal.” – from Darwin’s Doubt

  11. Lee says:

    Your column brought to mind Msgr. Eugene Luke, pastor of St. Petronille in Glen Ellyn, Illinois in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s .

    I remember him mounting the pulpit Sunday after Sunday like Moses coming down from the mountain. He was a fountain of lava, enormously eloquent, Spirit-filled and holy, pouring out wrath upon our civilization and upon our sins with hard scriptures, Church history, priestly lore, and with total rhetorical competence. Among other things I remember his telling of a man who eventually became a saint, and who was set on that journey by discovering one morning in his bed the woman he had been living with dead and with her bowels burst open. With such tales and with the Gospel, that pastor was salt and light in the post-war years in suburban Chicago, and he bore great fruit. During his tenure fourteen priestly vocations came from that parish. Every Mass was standing room only. We were a well-salted and well-enlightened congregation, both evangelized and evangelizing the culture. His message surely was, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation,” and, “If you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile” 1 Peter 1: 17 . Surely, no one in that parish could say that we were not warned.

  12. Cathy R. says:

    Yikes!!!!!!

    Fear & Trembling!

  13. one anonymous says:

    Thank you

    1 Peter 4:8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

  14. TaillerHews says:

    Got it! Thank you. You have a great talent.

  15. Peter Wolczuk says:

    What is one to do when most of society derides the watchman for even going out on watch? When a generation of the faithful are told to keep their message to themselves and go off to observe their faith in an isolation which tempts us to indulge in a smug feeling of elitism? Who are the spokesmen who say this? The majority which they portray themselves as or, a vocal minority who use amplified drama as if it were true emotion in order to draw so much attention to their small group that they appear to be a majority? I wonder what a few polls (by qualified and objective third parties) would reveal about belief in Christ’s message. Could the polls ask about several aspects, including that about many being called but few being chosen while some are thrown out into the place of gnashing of teeth? Or would that be too tolerant of the truthful opinions for the leaping screamers?
    Too many questions as those outside the practice of the Christian message, who show an interest, are derided and, if they persist in their interest, are told to go off and hide out inside the churches?
    Then other faiths spring up around us as we’re told to be an imitation of tolerant which calls comparison intolerance. A concept of co-existance (complete with guilt manipulation directed at those whose belief isn’t superficial) is pushed but, when two faiths have incompatible differences then, one or both must change for co-exisance to become possible and co-existance becomes just another belief that insists everyone else must change to adopt their belief system of alleged co-existance. New sub-faiths of co-exisance. Then faith is pushed into abandoning core issues and only keeping the outer shell as the watchman’s gaze is diverted away from even looking at the hazards; let alone warning of them as a wishy washy pantheism of superficial beliefs makes faith nice and comfortable in its broad roominess. Matthew 7:13&14.
    It’s already happening; on our watch.

    • While we rightly lament our culture today, remember that most of the prophets were killed

      • Peter Wolczuk says:

        Thank you for that. I comfort myself with the thought of how great the reward of murdered prophets will be and; when dedication to my faith otherwise criticized, chastized or whatever; I think of the Beatitudes and how much of the wealth of the critics is being placed by them (through their own free will) into my account in heaven.
        I get a number of derisive comments and, I always thank the derider – for about the last six months anyway.
        In this regard, I live in a place with a turnover of people who have problems come and go. Some of us try to help these people but, some leave in their dysfunction and collection agencies and such call looking for people who, often, no longer live here. These people have a job to do and the debt payments which they pursue are real so I try to keep their duty in mind and with hold angry expression.
        There was one persistant agency and, when my employer called (on the house phone) to ask for my cell phone number I gave it to them. Later that day, and since then, the agency has been calling me on my cell phone. I immediately called a member of my support group (again on my cell phone) and expounded on how wonderful persecution is for me in the context of the Beatitudes. I don’t suppose that the seeming information leak has only to do with that particular debt.
        Sometimes my sanity is questioned and I refer the commenter to 2 Corinthians 5:13 and let them look it up.
        Of course my problems are intermittent, small and local and I admire people, such as yourself who go big in the public forum.
        In this regard, my virus guard just switched the rating of this site from zero risk to moderate risk. As the Casting Crowns sing; “We Were Made To Be Courageous”

        • Peter Wolczuk says:

          Erratta on the two comments in brackets about the phone. First is rightly about the home phone and the second should be about the home phone. Missed it in the first proof read.

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