Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Shepherd (Sunday Homily)

This Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,”
because the Gospel is always about Jesus our Shepherd.

Also, in the first reading, during Easter,
we hear from Peter, the shepherd Jesus left in charge.

This has special meaning for us because, in a few days,
Peter will come to the United States,
in his successor, Pope Benedict.

A lot of Catholic churches nationwide
will welcome Peter’s successor
by ringing their bells at 4 pm Tuesday,
when the pope’s plan lands in Washington.
Our bells will be ringing at that time.
When they do, will you pause to pray for our pope?

This is a good time to talk about the priesthood.

Sometimes people will create opposition between the Shepherd Jesus,
and the shepherds he left in charge.

“Listen to Jesus, not the pope,” some will say—
yes, even Catholics.
That reveals a misunderstanding
of the miracle of the sacrament of ordination.

We all know that a miracle happens in the Eucharist:
Through the bishop or priest, Christ speaks,
and the Holy Spirit acts,
and the Sacrifice of the Cross is present and real here;
and the bread and wine become Jesus.

But realize, something very like that
happens in every sacrament!

In baptism, and in a new way, in confirmation,
The Holy Spirit of God is poured out into us!
Is that not a miracle?

In confession, we are immediately made immaculate—
is that not a miracle?

And in the sacrament of holy orders,
a mere man, a sinner beyond doubt,
is transformed into an icon, a living presence,
of Jesus Christ!

As one of those sinful, clay-footed men,
I can attest: it is a miracle!

No one can better stand for all us priests,
down through the centuries, than St. Peter.

I wonder if the events of Peter’s life—
with all his impulsiveness, his rash words,
his slowness sometimes to get it;
but also his zeal, his passion, his longing for Christ,
and above all, his great failure and his great love—

…I wonder if our Lord did not intend it just that way,
so that for every generation after,
all of us, including those of us called to the priesthood,
might be encouraged.
“Jesus made it work with Peter;
He can surely make it work through me.”

Jesus himself is the Perfect Shepherd;
and it is his power, and his Voice,
that is at work through a priest.

Now, this is true at all times.
There is never a moment when a priest is not a priest,
when he is not an icon, a living image of Christ.

Recently, a young man considering the priesthood
came to follow me around one day.
We had Mass, we visited the sick, and—
we had meetings and I worked at my desk.

And I explained to him:
Jesus is priest, prophet and king—
He sanctifies, he proclaims the word,
and, yes, he is an administrator, as well.
It’s all part what Christ does for us,
so it’s part of what a priest does.

Whenever a priest celebrates a sacrament,
that’s a very powerful experience of Christ.
I witness that, when I see the peace Christ gives in confession,
when I see people’s joy at baptisms and weddings,
and I see your faith in the Eucharist.

It’s very tempting for the priest to get a big head.
I’m reminded of the story about the donkey,
who rode into Jerusalem one day,
and everyone got so excited…
and he thought, “wow, I’m a real big wheel!”
No—it was who was riding on his back that counted!

Some wish I would inject more personality into the Mass.
It’s tempting; but the Mass isn’t about me.
I’m the donkey.

And that’s fine.
I get to go where Christ goes, I carry him there.
Because Christ beholds his people through my eyes,
I get to see what he sees;
He chooses to lay hands on the sick with my hands;
With my voice, he chooses to speak words that instruct,
that reconcile, and that transform.

As the priest who inspired me to answer the call, said,
and as I say now to every young man here:
I love being a priest—it’s a great life!
Think about it.


Mary Margaret said...

Father, that was a beautiful homily. I particularly like the donkey metaphor. Indeed, that is the vocation of the priesthood, to bring Christ to the people, humbly.

Thank God for St Peter, and for his current successor, and for all our priests and religious brothers and sisters.

I will pray for the Holy Father, that God will give him the words to best convey Christ, and for all of us, that we have ears to hear.

Anonymous said...

Father Martin,
I am sorry to hear that we are back to the point where the priest is so special and the people are less.  Granted, the priesthood is a blessing, but the priest is not the only person that embodies Christ.  I am a part of that body, and proud of it.  I celebrate His love and life with everything that I do, say, or even hold back – the same as a priest.I minister to others just as Christ did – the same as a priest.I speak the words of forgiveness to others when I have been wronged – the same as a priest.I celebrate His presence in the Eucharist – the same as a priest, and yes, I do mean this.OK – OK, I can hear the arguments – without the priest we would not have Christ’s Body and Blood at the Eucharist so we ALL can partake.  Without the priest, we would not have heard the words of God’s forgiveness of our sins in Confession, Penance, or Reconciliation.  And yes, I do acknowledge and believe the priest is an important part of our faith life and connection with God.Yes, it saddens me that priests are spread so thin that they cannot give to one parish only, but must spread their time among two and three parishes. But, it also saddens me to see and hear the words “And in the sacrament of holy orders, a mere man, a sinner beyond doubt, is transformed into an icon, a living presence, of Jesus Christ!” … “Now, this is true at all times.  There is never a moment when a priest is not a priest, when he is not an icon, a living image of Christ.”I thought that is what Baptism does!!!!  And if the priest is a “mere man, a sinner beyond doubt,” he is still human and there are moments when a priest is not the icon that is purported here.  We are all living images of Christ – when we want to be – including priests.  They are not perfect as Christ is perfect, they cannot be.  I am not LESS than a priest, I am different from a priest.  I try constantly to be “a living image of Christ” and to paint someone who is not a priest as less than that is condescending and certainly not Christlike.Father, please, think about what you said.  I do not NEED you to have a relationship with Christ, but I do ACCEPT you as a means of strengthening that relationship just as I do with my husband, who has been the biggest influence in defining in human terms what Christlike means to me.  I hate to burst your bubble, but at times, I see you as a hindrance to my relationship with Christ.  This is what makes you a “mere man”.  You cannot relate to everyone in the individual ways that they need.  Don’t get me wrong, you do the best you can, and I sincerely believe that, but I do not feel I get from you what I need at this point in my life to progress my relationship with Christ.

Be the best you can, and I will do the same and perhaps we can both be living images of Christ as often as possible.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I did not mean to be completely anonymous, I meant to include my signature - HTM

Father Martin Fox said...


Well, if you're right, you don't need me.

I will be heading off for a long vacation, I'll let you handle the Masses and confessions.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin,The one thing I hate about typing is that you can never quite know if comments are meant with or without humor.So, without humor:If I'm wrong, I need you more than ever?  Why can't it just be a simple mismatch of minds?With humor:I'd love to handle the Masses and Confessions. Oh wait, I can't, I'm a lowly woman in the eyes of the Church!!!HTM

Father Martin Fox said...


I think you are being unjust to me.

I never said you or anyone is "less" than the priest. I fail to see how that follows at all from what I said.

By that logic, insofar as we believe that the sacrament of marriage confers a special identity and reality on those married, we would have to say that single people are "less" than married people.

I never said the priest is the only one who embodies Christ, not even close. But yes a priest and deacon and bishop do make Christ present in a unique way.

The bishop and priest do speak Christ's words of forgiveness in a unique way; either that's true, or else there's no need for the sacrament of reconciliation.

The bishop and priest do make the Sacrifice of Christ present in a unique way, or else the Mass isn't the Mass; or, alternately, there's simply no need, and absolutely no rationale, for the ordained ministry, if the Mass could be offered by any of the baptized.

I didn't invent these parts of our Faith; our Lord did. And I don't know why he didn't include women as apostles.

Yes, the priest is always a priest and yes, he is always a living presence of Christ. This is what the Church teaches in saying when a priest is called "in persona Christi capitis" and "alter Christus."

It seems to me that what you object to is pretty much essential to the Church's teaching about holy orders--if you wish, you can see what the Church teaches in the Catechism, sections 1533-1600.

It's all bound up with everything we believe about the sacramental way God acts for our salvation.

I reject the notion that in highlighting the unique way in which ordained ministry makes Christ present, this demeans the dignity and power of baptism (which I highlighted to some degree in this homily, and often highlight in others--every homily cannot address every point).

I readily acknowledge that I can be a hindrance, that is why I wanted to acknowledge my sinfulness. I hope I don't go to hell for it (and I am totally serious in saying that). But that doesn't change the fact that Christ acts in a true and unique way through a priest.

It seems to me that we can't have it both ways; either holy orders is a uniquely necessary part of the Body of Christ, or else there's no real reason for enter holy orders.

There are any number of people who are better speakers and teachers than bishops, priests and deacons, and certainly better at various administrative tasks, and better at counseling, better at handling various interpersonal relations, better at caring for the poor...

The only real rationale for holy orders is that there is a unique action and presence of Christ through ordained ministry, in the sacraments, in the Mass above all...but if there is a unique action of Christ in the ordained, then it must be present in all that an ordained person does.

Diva Mom Vicki said...

Father Martin, I need you, even through it's only through the spiritual guidance I receive by reading your posts. So yes, that makes you 'special' in my life.

I need my parish priests to celebrate the sacraments. And yes, that makes them 'special' in my life too.

But I have never heard you, or any other priest, infer that somehow I am 'less' for not also being a religious. My vocation is to be a wife and mother. Every priest I've been blessed to know has made me feel that I am 'special' for embracing my calling.

The Church is the only body in today's secular-driven society which does NOT make me feel 'lowly' for my decision to be a stay-at-home Mother.

HTM - Pope John Paul II was such a champion of the role of women. From the CNS website:

The basic elements of his teaching on women are found in his 1988 apostolic letter, "Mulieris Dignitatem" ("The Dignity of Women"), his 1994 apostolic letter, "On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone," and his 1995 "Letter to Women."

After reading these letters I doubt you'll feel that the Church thinks of you as 'a lowly woman'.