[ ^ ]
Chief Shepherd of the Flock
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; this is because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. (Jn 10:11-151)
The fact that Jesus the Good Shepherd has laid down His life for each and every one of us should fill us with the greatest confidence, with the greatest trust. As St. Paul tells us: We were still helpless when at His appointed moment Christ died for sinful men. It is not easy to die, even for a good manthough, of course, for someone really worthy, a man might be prepared to diebut what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Having died to make us righteous, is it likely that He would now fail to save us from Gods anger? When we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, we were still enemies; now that we have been reconciled, surely we may count on being saved by the life of His Son? Not merely because we have been reconciled but because we are filled with joyful trust in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have already gained our reconciliation. (Rm 5: 6-11).
Those words of Paul remind us that we have every motive to have the greatest trust in Our Lord. One of the major reasons we fail to progress in the spiritual life as we should is that our trust is deficient. We should pray for an increase in this extremely important virtue each day of our lives. We should pray for an increased awareness of how much Jesus loves us as unique individuals. The more I am convinced how much Jesus loves me, the easier it is to surrender to Him in trust.
I would like to begin this column by sharing with you material from two letters we have recently received.
Fr. Vaughn Winters writes from St. Raphaels Church, Santa Barbara, California: Thank you for giving of yourself to minister to priests throughout the country through the Shepherds of Christ newsletter. As a priest just two years ordained, sometimes when I look around and see so many troubled priests, and also hear dire forebodings about the coming priest shortage, I wonder what Ive gotten myself into, but your newsletter helps me refocus on what it is all about, and also a reminder that I am part of a vast fraternity of many healthy, solid, and holy priests. Thank you for your ministry of encouragement and strengthening. And thank you, Fr. Winters, for your inspiring words!
The following is part of a letter from Fr. Guillermo Arias, S.J., who has volunteered to help us distribute the newsletter in Puerto Rico: I thank and praise the Good Lord for having inspired you and your associates to begin this most urgent apostolate among Christs priests You are doing one of the most important services anyone can do for the Church today with Shepherds of Christ Ministries. And I would like to be of as much help as possible. And thank you, Fr. Arias!
The above continues the feedback we have received which helps assure us that the Lord has given us a very important ministry. We would very much appreciate your prayers for the continued success of this ministry.
Also, with this issue we are making a special plea for your financial assistance. As you know, the newsletter is sent to you free of charge, although donations are always welcome. Our expenses are paid through donations received from the laity and yourselves. At this particular time, we are making it especially easy for you to financially assist Shepherds of Christ Ministriesand the chief expense of this movement is the publication of the priests newsletter. Our expenses are increasing as we are now beginning to distribute the newsletter in other countries. Enclosed you will find a self-addressed reply envelope for donation purposes. Thank you very much for taking our appeal under consideration.
There follow further thoughts on the attitude of trust which we should strive to possess in greatest measure:
The Eucharist is our chief source for growth in trust. We should pray for a deepened awareness of this magnificent Gift.
Jesus, in revealing His Heart as symbol of His life of loveincluding His overwhelming love for each of us as unique personsinvites us to have the greatest trust in Him. Here are some quotations which can help us in developing trust in the Heart of Christ:
All authentic articulations of Christian spirituality are Trinitarian. Indeed, we go to the Father, through and with Christ, in the Holy Spirit, with the assistance of Mary our Mother. However, certain spiritualities highlight the Trinitarian framework of Christian spirituality more than do others. One of these is the spirituality of St. Augustine. Sr. Mary T. Clark, R.S.C.J., in commenting on Augustinian spirituality, observes: Christ is the perfect image of the Father, equally God. The human person is an imperfect image of the Trinity, not equal to God but having a capacity for communion with God. The journey to God is by way of becoming a more perfect image of the divine Trinity. The Fathers perfect image, his Son, is the only way to likeness with God. This likeness is best achieved through wisdom, the crowning gift of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is the love and awareness of Him who is always present (Exposition, Ps 135.8). On it depends the souls loving intimacy with the divine Persons. It is the final fruit of a living faith that acts in love (see Gal 5:6). It presupposes an eager search for God, but its proper activity is contemplation, that is, the finding of God and rejoicing in Him.
This indirect perception of God will become in heaven a direct face-to-face vision of God. The contemplation of God is the destiny of every Christian (City of God, 19.19). Here on earth wisdom expands into loving action. The Christian thereby acts out Gods love for all creatures, just as Christ in His actions manifested Gods love for them. The source of wisdom, the divine love poured into human hearts by the Spirit arouses in persons the acts of remembering, understanding, and loving God.
Thus Augustine saw the essential process of the spiritual life to be the re-formation of the image of the Trinity in the human person by the grace of Christ freely accepted. Transformed into children of God, human persons enter into union with him not merely as creatures with Creator but as friends. The Father offers this grace of friendship to all through Christ, the universal way.
So convinced was Augustine of the centrality of the Trinity in the living out of Christian faith that he wrote fifteen books on the Trinity
We are certainly seeking a trinity, not any trinity at all, but that trinity which is God, the true, supreme, and only God We are not yet speaking of heavenly things, not yet of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather we speak of this unequal image, an image nevertheless, which is human being. For the minds weakness perhaps looks upon this image with more familiarity and facility Let us attend as much as we can and call upon the heavenly light to illuminate our darkness so that we might see, as much as we are permitted, the image of God in us (On the Trinity, 9.1.1; 9.2.2). This human imaging of God is a call to authenticity, that is, to truth in word and action. The Son, the Word of God, was made flesh so that we might imitate Him in living rightly 22
Fr. Robert Schwartz, a theologian and spiritual director at St. Pauls Seminary in St. Paul, MN., offers us these meaningful words on the Church and the world: The church exists in the world, yet claims, as integral to its mission, an ultimate goal lying beyond the sphere of historical growth and human evolution. It participates in the human enterprise and contributes to the well-being of society while seeking completion in a realm which surpasses human creativity. The ecclesial community witnesses to human values at the same time that it locates the foundation of these values in a God who transcends history and material reality.
The church is by definition a pilgrim, for its source of life and its goal transcend visible reality. Linked to the material world by human nature and by the very words and signs which mediate its life, the church seeks its true home in a kingdom which is yet to come. Although its members see temporal words and actions as important factors in attaining future beatitude, they do not propose themselves and their activity as the primary determinants of the kingdom nor earthly happiness as the fulfillment of human life.23
The theologian Jean Galot, S.J., has some insightful thoughts on the priest as shepherd: As a mediator, the priest is a shepherd in the name of God, or more precisely, in the name of Christ, and through Christ, in the name of the Father. In the priest is realized the prophetic oracle of Ezechiel in which Yahweh promises to be the shepherd of his people (Ezek 34).
Some implications of this principle must be underlined. The priest does not draw the inspiration for his pastoral zeal from his own feelings, from his own personal resolve to create a better world. He is shepherd on the strength of Gods pastoral intention and represents specifically Christ the shepherd. Consequently, he is called upon to fulfill his pastoral mission not according to ideas of his own and his own personal ambitions, but in keeping with Gods own dispensation and the design of salvation devised by the Father and carried out by Christ. Like Jesus himself, the priest is at the service of the Father.24
Christian prayer is rooted in the personal relationship that exists between the Christian and the triune God. Prayer is becoming conscious, in a special way, of the fact that the life of grace brings us into a deeply intimate union with the divine Persons, a union that is so intimate that Father, Son and Holy Spirit actually dwell within us in the most personal fashion.
During prayer we are especially aware of Gods presence to us and, reciprocally, of our presence to Him. This attitude of personal presence in love should dominate prayer. In prayer we are engaging in a love-dialogue with God who is so concerned with us. The personal presence of prayer should be rooted in our openness to God, in our willingness to listen to Him.
Being open to God in prayer, listening to Him, is based on the theological reality that God takes the initiative in the spiritual life. We never have to fear that God will fail to take the initiative. The danger lies with us, with the possibility that we will be deaf to Gods call, that we will not listen properly, or that our openness to Him will be marred by our selfishness.
To be open to God in prayer means to listen to what He has to tell us about both Himself and ourselves. To be open to God in prayer means to be willing to allow God in His love to possess us more and more, to be willing to allow this love to direct our lives. To be open to God in prayer means a deepening desire to allow Gods will to possess us entirely in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
We can be tempted to tell ourselves that we are too busy to pray. We are speaking about set, formal periods of prayer. We are not speaking about prayer in action or that prayerful attitude which should permeate our daily activity. This contemplation in action, far from distracting us from the proper attention we must give to duty, allows us to bring a deeper Christian awareness to what we are doing and why we are doing it.
In reference to formal, set periods of prayer, extremely busy schedules can lead us to tell ourselves that we dont have time for this kind of prayeror at least not very often. If we say we dont have time to pray, something is wrong.
We cannot tell ourselves that we are busier than Jesus was, that we have more important work to accomplish than He did. Yet Scripture tells us that Jesus consistently set aside special times for prayer: His reputation continued to grow, and large crowds would gather to hear him and to have their sickness cured, but he would always go off to some place where he could be alone and pray. (Lk 5:15-16). Many, many outstanding Christians of all states of life have likewise always found the time to pray. Moreover, they were more effective in their work precisely because they did pray.
Prayer helps us to be effective workers in various ways. Prayer helps us control worry and anxiety. Prayer has a significant contribution to offer in making us Christians who are basically permeated with the peace of Christ, who, because we realize what it means to be loved by Jesus, are in a position to control worry and anxiety. Prayer also aids us in our work and activity by giving us the motivation to do the right thing at the right time. Sometimes we can fail to do the work of the Lord precisely because we are not properly motivated. Prayer can also aid in making our work of a higher Christian qualityprayer can help permeate our work with a deeper faith, hope, and love. These are some of the ways prayer assists us to go about our work more efficiently. When we pause to analyze the situation, then, we have to admit that we are not too busy to pray. Indeed, we are too busy not to pray.
Thomas Merton tells us: The contemplation of God in nature, which the Greek Fathers called theoria physica, has both a positive and a negative aspect. On the one hand, theoria physica is a positive recognition of God as he is manifested in the essences (logoi) of all things. It is not a speculative science of nature but rather a habit of religious awareness which endows the soul with a kind of intuitive perception of God as he is reflected in his creation. This instinctive religious view of things is not acquired by study so much as by ascetic detachment. And that implies that the positive and negative elements in this contemplation of nature are really inseparable. The negative aspect of theoria physica is an equally instinctive realization of the vanity and illusion of all things as soon as they are considered apart from their right order and reference to God their Creator
Does all this mean that the theoria physica of the Greek Fathers was a kind of perpetual dialectic between the two terms vision and illusion? No. In the Christian platonism of the Fathers, dialectic is no longer as important as it was in Plato and Plotinus. The Christian contemplation of nature does not consist in an intellectual tennis game between these two contrary aspects of nature. It consists rather in the ascetic gift of discernment which, in one penetrating glance, apprehends what creatures are, and what they are not. This is the intellectual counterpoise of detachment in the will. Discernment and detachment are two characters of the mature Christian soul. They are not yet the mark of a mystic, but they bear witness that one is traveling the right way to mystical contemplation, and that the stage of beginners is passed.25
The Directory of the Ministry and Life of Priests tells us: There is an essential rapport between the Mother of Jesus and the priesthood of the ministry of the Son, stemming from the existing one between the divine maternity of Mary and the priesthood of Christ.
In light of such a rapport, Marian spirituality is rooted in every priest. Priestly spirituality could not be considered complete if it were to fail to include the message of Christs words on the Cross, in which He conferred his Mother to the beloved disciple, and, through him, to all priests called to continue his work of redemption.
Like John at the foot of the Cross, every priest has been entrusted, in a special way, with Mary as Mother (cf. Jn 19:26-27).
Priests, who are among the favored disciples of Jesus, crucified and risen, should welcome Mary as their Mother in their own life, bestowing her with constant attention and prayer. The Blessed Virgin then becomes the Mother who leads them to Christ, who makes them sincerely love the Church, who intercedes for them and who guides them toward the Kingdom of heaven
But they are not devout sons if they do not know how to imitate the virtues of Mary. The priest will look to Mary to be a humble, obedient and chaste minister and to give testimony of charity in the total surrender to God and the Church.26
Lord Jesus, Chief Shepherd of the Flock, I consecrate my priestly life to Your Heart, pierced on Calvary for love of us. From Your pierced Heart the Church was born, the Church You have called me, as a priest, to serve in a most special way. You reveal Your Heart as symbol of Your love in all its aspects, including Your most special love for me, whom You have chosen as Your priest-companion. Help me always to pour out my life in love of God and neighbor. Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You!
Dear Blessed Virgin Mary, I consecrate myself to your maternal and Immaculate Heart, this Heart which is symbol of your life of love. You are the Mother of my Savior. You are also my Mother. You love me with the most special love as this unique priest-son. In a return of love I give myself entirely to your motherly love and protection. You followed Jesus perfectly. You are His first and perfect disciple. Teach me to imitate you in the putting on of Christ. Be my motherly intercessor so that, through your Immaculate Heart, I may be guided to an ever closer union with the pierced Heart of Jesus, Chief Shepherd of the Flock, Who leads me to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
We thank all those who have taken the time to write to us. We very much appreciate your letters. Space limitations permit us to publish only a few of these.
It gives me special pleasure to share the following letter. It comes from my doctoral dissertation director, Fr. Ernie Larkin, O. Carm. He is one of the leading experts on the spiritual teaching of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. He has also been one of my most influential teachers, and for this I am most grateful to him.Editor
I am embarrassed not to have been one of the first to congratulate you on your obviously successful newsletter for priests. It is solid, inspirational, and founded in the best of our tradition. I am very proud of you. May the Lord touch many of our hearts through this ministry. All the best to you!
Ernie Larkin, O Carm. Phoenix, Arizona
Dear Father Ed,
Prayer is truly the food of faith and faith is the foundation of our priestly lives. Through your Shepherds of Christ newsletter you remind us through your insights and prayers that emotion does indeed feed devotion and that we are all only a heartbeat away from the face-to-face presence of the Father through the Son in the Spirit! Thanks for all your letter means to all of us.
Msgr. Jeremiah F. Kenney Baltimore, Maryland
Dear Father Ed,
The enclosed is a small way of thanking you for the articles in Shepherds of Christ.
The article Thoughts on the Eucharist (July-August) reminds me of the overwhelming love of Christ for me, fellow Catholics and the world. I pray in the vein of St. Peter Eymard that I might return my all and answer Christ with this is me for you.
Fr. Joe Kenlon, O.F.M.Cap New Paltz, New York
Dear Father Ed,
I must sincerely tell you how enjoyable your newsletter is. I find it spiritually uplifting. Many times in our earnestness to be of help we forget our own spiritual needs.
You are doing a great service to the American priesthood. May God bless you and sustain you in your endeavors. My prayers are with you, because I (and I am sure many other priests) feel enriched every time I read your newsletter. Thanks.
In Jesus love,
Rev. William Bonnici Clinton Township, MI
Shepherds of Christ
Shepherds of Christ Ministries
P.O. Box 193
Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193
Shepherds of Christ, a spirituality newsletter for priests, is published bi-monthly by Shepherds of Christ Ministries, P.O. Box 193, Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193. While distribution is free of charge to all priests in the U.S., and growing internationally, donations are still very much appreciated. Inquiries and comments are welcome, as are address changes and addresses of the newly ordained. Permission to reproduce intact is granted for non-commercial use. Editor Father Edward Carter S.J. is Professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. John Weickert is President. Good Shepherd illustration is by Brother Jerome Pryor, S.J. Layout and design are by Cathy Ring. Also dedicated to the spiritual advancement of priests is a worldwide network of lay/religious prayer chapters, Shepherds of Christ Associates, headquartered at 2919 Shawhan Road, Morrow, Ohio 45152, telephone toll free 1-888-211-3041, fax 513-932-6791.