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Shepherds of Christ
A Spirituality Newsletter for Priests
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.
Yes, the Good Shepherd has laid down His life for us. Through His life, His brutal and
agonizing suffering and death on the cross, and His glorious resurrection, He has achieved
new life for us. We truly live a new life in Jesus: "You have been taught that when
we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized in His death; in other words, when we
were baptized we went into the tomb with Him and joined Him in death, so that as Christ
was raised from the dead by the Father's glory, we too might live a new life." (Rom
And again Paul speaks to us: "...wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body
the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body."
(2 Cor 4:10).
Christ has come to give us a share in Trinitarian life. In Baptism the Persons of the
Trinity have given Themselves to us in an extraordinary fashion. The intimacy of this
Trinitarian communication imprints upon us the image of the Trinity. Because Christ as man
mediates this Trinitarian gift, this image also possesses a Christ-like dimension. This
Christ-like, Trinitarian image within us is our life of sanctifying grace. This life of
grace, this Christ-life, allows us to communicate with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the
divine Persons who dwell within us. This Christ-life allows us to pour ourselves out in
love of God and neighbor.
The life that Christ has given us is not a type of superstructure which is erected atop
our human nature. Although nature and grace are distinct, they are not side by side as
separate entities. Rather, grace permeates nature. The Christian is one graced person. He
or she has been raised up into a deeper form of life in Christ Jesus. Nothing that is
authentically human has been excluded from this new existence. Whatever is really human in
the life of the Christian is meant to be an expression of the Christ-life. The simple but
deep joys of family life, the joy of being accepted by another in deep friendship, the
wonderment at nature's beauty, the agony of crucial decision-making, the success or
frustration that is experienced in one's work, the joy of being well received by others
and the heartache of being misunderstood-all these human experiences are intended to be
caught up in Christ and made more deeply human because of Him.
Christ, has come, then, not to destroy anything which is authentically human, but to
perfect it by leading it to a graced fulfillment.
There follows various ideas concerning our life in Our Savior, our life in Christ Jesus
- A well known spiritual writer of our day, Fr. William Johnston, S.J. observes:
"Friendship with Jesus has played a central part in the lives of thousands of
Christian mystics who have experienced Jesus walking beside them as he walked beside the
disciples going to Emmaus, or who have experienced him living in them as he lived in
Paul... They have spoken to the Lord about their hopes and fears, about their plans and
projects, about their successes and failures, about their joys and sorrows. They have
realized that he is the friend of friends, the faithful one who will not let them down.
They have realized that this is the friendship in which all other friendships are rooted.
"Intimacy with Jesus has also been central to the lives of thousands, even millions,
of simple Christians who have knelt before him asking for daily bread and for help in
"But now I hear you again. You ask about racial problems and nuclear war. You
complain that this Jesus-and-I spirituality is is a cop-out, a flight from the urgent
problems of our explosive world.
"Well, it could be a cop-out...But properly understood this prayer has a profoundly
social dimension-we know that Jesus is concerned with the poor, the sick, the oppressed,
the downtrodden, the underprivileged, the despised. Not only is he concerned with them; he
identifies with them. If we want to be his friend, we must also be their friend. If we
want to be his friend we must open our hearts to be his friend, his presence in the vast
world of suffering and oppression. Friendship with Jesus is friendship with the
- Building upon Johnston's thought, we should always remind ourselves that our ministry
towards others-whether it be as a social activist or as a scholar in the world of
academe-is effective in direct proportion to our relationship, our union, with Jesus. If
our relationship with Jesus is a mediocre one, then the fruits of our ministry are
relatively mediocre. If our union with Jesus is deep and vital, then our ministry bears
much fruit. Indeed, our service to others is meaningful and effective proportionate to our
love-relationship with Jesus. Let us not foolishly try to tell ourselves otherwise. Let us
not think that the real success in our ministry is necessarily in proportion to the amount
of praise, acceptance, and acclamation we receive. Let us not think that our ministry is
necessarily lacking when we receive little or no thanks for our service to others, when
they ridicule us, when we are misunderstood by those for whom we are taking special
efforts to serve in the Lord. Rather, in all cases the true measure of the success of our
ministry depends upon our love-union with Jesus. In the Gospel of John we read:
"I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:1-5).
- Father Edward Leen, C.S. Sp., gives us these inspiring words: "The...knowledge we
have acquired of the Heart of Jesus stimulates us to penetrate further into its depths,
and is accompanied by the ardent desire to eliminate the unlikeness that exists between
the movement of His Heart and those of our own. The study of Him excites in us the desire
to become like Him as man. And then when our life and acts bear a resemblance to those of
Jesus, God comes and pours His Divinity into our souls in abundance, lavishes on them the
gifts of His grace, and gradually breaking down the barriers that exist between creature
and Creator, initiates souls into the happiness that accompanies union with the Divinity.
Great happiness results from this union, even in the imperfect mode of it that belongs to
the condition of our state of exile on earth. This is the whole theory of sanctity. The
initiative in the giving of grace comes from God. He gives to all who do not present an
obstacle to His giving. ...Accordingly, as Our Heavenly Father sees the souls of His
adopted children assuming the features of the soul of His Only-Begotton Son, He dispenses
His treasures more freely. He gives in proportion to the degree of resemblance what He
discerns us to bear to Jesus in the conduct of our life. This is the meaning of those
mysterious words that were heard from Heaven on the occasion of the Transfiguration, 'This
is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him' (Mt.17:5). It is also the
explanation of St. Paul's teaching, the whole burden of which was that the Christian
should learn of Christ."3
- And, elsewhere, Fr. Leen educates us as to what it means to live in Christ Jesus:
"To believe in Jesus Christ is not the same thing as believing Him. Belief in Him is
something more than accepting His statements as true, on His word; it is even more than
yielding assent to certain mysterious propositions relative to His origin, His life, and
His dual nature. Belief in a person is not equivalent to believing a person or believing
things about that person. It means a complete going over, and a whole-hearted surrender of
ourselves, to the man in whom we place our belief. It is to substitute His principles and
views for our own. Hence, to believe in Jesus Christ is to subscribe to His entire theory
of life and to accept it as our own. It means to make His values ours. Life for such a
believer has that inner meaning, that significance, that purpose which it has for the
divine Master. If He, with His insight into things, declares that the ideal human life is
such and such, His true followers most warmly embrace that ideal, as being the only one.
In a word, to believe in Jesus Christ, is to accept His guiding principles of life, to
renounce all theories of the 'good life' that are in opposition to His and to submit not
only our whole conduct but our judgments as well, to His ruling. It is to make His mind
ours in those matters that pertain to the working out of our life on earth. 'For let this
mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,' writes the Apostle in his letter to the
Phillipeans (Phil 2:5). It is to be noted that we do not rise to this transforming belief
by merely holding that the Savior's theory of life is, indeed, praiseworthy, admirable,
sublime and incomparable if, at the same time, we regard it as one that admits of more
humble alternatives. We do not 'Believe in the Saviour wholly, unless we have the
practical conviction that His theory of life and life's conduct is the only one
- Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical, On Human Work, observes: "The Christian finds
in human work a small part of the cross of redemption in which Christ accepted his cross
for us. In work, thanks to the light that penetrates us from the resurrection of Christ,
we always find a glimmer of new life, of the new good, as if it were an announcement of
'the new heavens and the new earth' (cf 2 Pt 3:13; Rev 21:1) in which man and the world
participate precisely through the toil that goes with work. Through toil-and never without
"On the one hand, this confirms the indispensability of the cross in the spirituality
of human work; on the other hand, the cross which this toil constitutes reveals a new good
springing from work itself, from work understood in depth and in all its aspects and never
apart from work."5
- Again, Pope John Paul II speaks to us concerning our sharing the cross and resurrection
of Jesus: "Those who share in Christ's sufferings have before their eyes the paschal
mystery of the cross and resurrection in which Christ descends, in a first phase, to the
ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence: Indeed, he dies nailed to the cross. But
if at the same time in this weakness there is accomplished his lifting up, confirmed by
the power of the resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings
are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ's cross. In
such a concept, to suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open, to
the working of the salvific powers of God offered to humanity in Christ. In him God has
confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering, which is man's weakness and
emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and
emptying of self."6
- A leading representative of the French School of Spirituality, St. John Eudes, speaks to
us concerning our union with Jesus." "I ask you to consider that our Lord Jesus
Christ is your true head and that you are a member of His body.
"He belongs to you as the head belongs to the body. All that is His is yours: breath,
heart, body, soul and all His faculties. All these you must use as if they belonged to
you, so that in serving Him you may give Him praise, love and glory. You belong to Him as
a member belongs to the Head. This is why He earnestly desires you to serve and glorify
the Father by using all your faculties as if they were His."7
- St. Peter Canisuis, doctor of the Church, was gifted with a special mystical experience
as he received the apostolic blessing prior to his departure for Germany. He has rightly
become known as the second apostle of that country. Here is his description of part of
that mystical experience. His words bring out his deep love for, and union with, his
beloved Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ: "Finally, my Savior, I seemed to be gazing at
the Heart of your Sacred Body with my own eyes. It was as if you opened to me and told me
to drink from it as from a spring, inviting me to draw the waters of salvation from these
springs of yours. I was filled with longing that the waters of faith, hope and charity
should flow from your Heart into me. I thirsted for poverty, chastity and obedience; I
begged you to wash me all over and dress me in fine clothing. Then I dared to touch your
beloved heart and bury my thirst in it; and you promised me a role woven in three parts to
cover my naked soul and help me greatly in my undertaking. Those three parts were peace,
love and perseverance. Secure in the protection of this garment, I was confident that I
would lack nothing, and everything would turn out for your glory."8
- Openness to God. "In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in
Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of
David; and the virgin's name was Mary. He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, so highly
favored! The Lord is with you.' She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself
what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, 'Mary, do not be afraid; you
have won God's favor. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him
Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give
him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his
reign will have no end.' Mary said to the angel, 'But how can this come about, since I am
a virgin?' 'The Holy spirit will come upon you' the angel answered 'and the power of the
Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called
Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived
a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is
impossible to God.' I am the handmaid of the Lord, said Mary 'let what you have said be
done to me'. And the angel left her." (Lk 1:26-38).
God wants the best for us. His love is eager-eager to draw us ever closer to Himself. His
love for us is a transforming love. As we surrender to it more and more, this love
accomplishes our ongoing conversion. It thrusts us forward to become more deeply
Christian. God's love for us contains the absolute capacity to make us happy, to make us
fulfilled persons, to make us what in the depths of our beings we really know we should be
and want to be.
We can put obstacles in the way of God's transforming designs. We can say no to this love.
We can refuse to be open to God's tender, loving touch. We can engage in a process of
self-enclosedness. We can determine to map out our own path to happiness, forgetting that
plans for happiness which exclude God are ultimately plans for experiencing frustration
At other times it is not so much selfishness which leads us to say no to God, it is rather
fear. We hear God's voice calling us higher. We hear His voice asking something which
seems very difficult. We hear His voice asking something we had not at all expected. Yes,
we hear all this-and we draw back. We draw back because we are afraid. We refuse God
because our fear focuses our attention on what we are rather than on what God is. We look
too much at our own weakness, rather than at God's power which can transform our
inadequacy into a mighty strength.
In all this Mary offers an example. Selfishness was totally foreign to her. She did not
belong to herself. She belonged to God. She was not closed in upon herself. She was
completely open to God. When God spoke, she listened. When God pointed the way, she
followed. She realized that life is not a process a person masters by carefully mapping
out one's own self-conceived plans of conquest, but a mystery to be gradually experienced
by being open to God's personal and loving guidance.
Selfishness, then, did not close Mary off from God's call. Neither did fear. God asked her
to assume a tremendous responsibility. He asked her to be the Mother of Jesus. Mary did
not engage in a process of false humility and say that such a great role was above her.
She did not say that she did not have the proper qualifications for this awesome mission.
Briefly, she did not waste time looking at herself, making pleas that she was not worthy,
telling the angel he had better go look for someone else. No, Mary did not look at
herself. Her gaze was absorbed in God. She fully realized that whatever God asked of her,
His grace would accomplish. She fully realized that although she herself had to cooperate,
this work was much more God's than hers.
Mary's words, then, truly sum up what is the authentic Christian response at any point of
life, in any kind of situation: "I am the handmaid of the Lord," said Mary,
"let what you have said be done to me".
- People are Looking at Us. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a
hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the
lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must
shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to
your Father in heaven" (Mt 5:14-16).
Jesus taught by word and action. He talked to huge crowds, to small groups, to various
individuals. He talked about love and friendship, about joy and suffering, about life and
death. He had a message to spread, His Father's message, and He did not miss His
opportunities. It was not enough for Him merely to talk about His Father's message. He was
also constantly teaching by the total event of His life, death and resurrection. Not only
His words, but also His actions spoke out loud and clear. He not only talked about the
love we should have for one another. He incarnated this teaching in the laying down of His
own life for the salvation of all. His words spoke eloquently of brotherly love. So also
did His bloody and bruised body nailed to a cross. His words sounded so convincing. The
way He went about living could also pierce the hardest heart.
Jesus invites us to assist Him in the continuation of His teaching mission. The method of
procedure remains the same; we, too, like Jesus before us, are to teach by both word and
action. The opportunities for teaching by word are more numerous than we might expect. For
it is not only bishops and priests and teachers of religious studies who teach by word.
Parents, as they rear their children, have numerous opportunities to teach Jesus' message.
Friends talk about all sorts of things. If one is sincerely Christian, his or her friend
will eventually know.
The opportunities to teach about Jesus by the way we act are even more numerous than are
the occasions for variously speaking about the message of Jesus. People are looking at us.
We cannot long hide the life-vision which thrusts us forward, which motivates so much of
what we do. If we live according to the pleasure principle, this becomes evident. If we
live according to the money principle, this also becomes manifest. If we are close
followers and friends of Jesus, this too becomes clear to people. They will know by the
way we work and play, by our attitude towards life and death, by our refusing to become
bitter despite even great suffering, by the way we treat others, especially those who are
poor, or ridiculed, or discriminated against, or passed over as unimportant and of little
worth. If we are deeply Christian, Christ's way of thinking and doing will necessarily
affect our own way of thinking and doing. We are called to project Jesus and His message
through our own humanities. Either we do, or we don't. Either we seize the numerous and
daily opportunities for helping to preach Jesus by the way we live, or we do not. Either
we respond to Jesus' invitation to be a light for the world, or we do not. This invitation
goes out to all, but to priests in a special way. Jesus, through Holy Orders, has given
Himself to the priest in a most special way. If the priest, realizing Jesus' precious love
for him as this unique priest-companion, surrenders to Christ, this gives Him special joy.
For the priest, because of his special union with Jesus, can be a light to the world in a
most extraordinary way.
- The Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests tells us: "It is necessary to
recall the irreplaceable value that the daily celebration of the Holy Mass has for the
priest...He must live it as the central moment of his day and of his daily ministry, fruit
of a sincere desire and an occasion for a deep and effective encounter with Christ, and he
must take the greatest care to celebrate it with intimate participation of the mind and
"In a society ever more sensitive to communication through signs and images, the
priest must pay adequate attention to all that which can enhance the decorum and
sacredness of the Eucharistic celebration. It is important that, in such ceremonies,
proper attention is given to the appropriateness and cleanliness of the place, the
structure of the altar and tabernacle, the dignity of the sacred vessels, the vestments,
the hymns, the music, the necessary silence, etc. These are all elements which can better
contribute to a better participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In fact, a lack of
attention to the symbolic aspects of the liturgy and, even more, carelessness and
coldness, superficiality and disorder...weaken the process of strengthening the faith.
Those who improperly celebrate the Mass reveal a weakness in their faith and fail to
educate the others in the faith. Celebrating the Eucharist well, however, constitutes a
highly important catechesis on the Sacrifice...
"The centrality of the Eucharist should be apparent not only in the worthy
celebration of the Sacrifice, but also in the proper adoration of the Sacrament so that
the priest might be the model for the faithful also in devote attention and diligent
meditation...whenever possible done in the presence of our Lord in the tabernacle. It is
hoped that the priests entrusted with the guidance of communities dedicate long periods of
time for communal adoration and reserve the greatest attention and honour for the Most
Blessed Sacrament of the altar, also outside of the Holy Mass, over any other rite or
gesture. 'Faith and love for the Eucharist will not allow Christ to remain alone in his
presence in the tabernacle.9'"
- From a person's spiritual journal we read: "When a priest is filled with the love
of Jesus, he will unite more deeply with Christ in the great sacrifice being offered to
the Father. In the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the faithful will see Jesus through the
priest offering sacrifice to the Father. We will lift our eyes and we will feel, at this
great sacrifice, the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We unite in offering
sacrifice to the Father. We all unite as one and give ourselves in such oneness with
Jesus, in such love to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. We die to all those things that are
not of Him and join in this great miracle taking place. The Father looks down and He sees
the sacrifice of His beautiful Son through the consecrated hands of His holy priests.
Heaven unites to earth. Earth cries out in such jubilation at the great gift given from
the Almighty God and we unite as creatures giving ourselves as a sacrifice to our beloved
Creator. Do we experience the presence of God as His power flows through the hands of a
man, the priest who takes ordinary bread and wine and changes them into the Body and Blood
of Our Lord? Do we hear Jesus cry out, as He did at the last supper, with the intensity in
His voice reflecting all knowledge of the upcoming events of His passion and death?"10
- Father Edward Farrell tells us: "It is necessary each day to spend time alone with
the Lord if one desires to know him more intimately. The rhythm of our prayer is given to
us by the Gospel itself. Ultimately, the reason why a Christian prays is because Christ
commands it. He commands it with his life; and if we are Disciples of Jesus, then we must
pray as he did."11
- No realistic person expects to avoid a considerable share of distress during the course
of human events. Times of distress are obviously an inevitable aspect of life within the
human condition. They are as certain as the summer's sun, the winter's snow, or the spring
rain. The question, then, is not whether a human life will encounter distress. The
question is rather how often, to what degree, what form will the distress assume, and what
will be the person's reaction.
We all consistently experience the lesser distresses of everydayness. The varied array of
petty annoyances, the agonizingly slow pace at which our efforts to accomplish good must
often proceed, being misunderstood, being passed by unnoticed, bearing with boredom,
experiencing the times of ordinary depression, bearing with the common variety of physical
aches and illnesses-these are some of the more consistent and ordinary distresses
afflicting everyone without exception.
At rarer moments in the course of life, distress can assume much greater proportion. We
feel overwhelmed, crushed, perhaps tempted to despair. So great is our distress that each
moment seems like an hour, each hour like a day, each day like an eternity. Whatever the
varied cause of deep distress, they commonly produce the feeling that, although the
trouble has made but recent entry into one's existence, it seems as if the distress has
already been so long-lived.
Whether our distress is moderate or severe, God invites us to pray-not only then, but
certainly then. Our prayer can be varied. We can pray for patience to bear with the more
moderate trouble of every day. We can pray for much needed courage to bear with the kind
of agonizing suffering which can make one weep. We can pray for light to remind us of the
purpose of suffering, and strength to live accordingly. We can pray to ask for God's
removal of the suffering if such is His good pleasure, and for loving conformity to His
will in the matter if He permits the distress to perdure. Prayer, then, is a varied remedy
for times of distress. The power of distress variously to affect us is great. But the
power of prayer, which variously allows us to cope properly with distress, is even
- Our prayer is mediated by Christ-this is simply an application of the fundamental truth
that Jesus is the mediator between the Father and us in all things. Our prayer, then
should be rooted in Christ. It is important to realize that, varied as the manner of our
prayer may be, we always approach the Father through and with Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.
"We can implement the Christo-centrism of prayer by prayerfully considering the
mysteries or events of Christ's life, allowing their consideration to penetrate us,
allowing these events to shape our lives more according to Christ's image. Also, our
Christ-consciousness during a period of prayer may take the form of allowing a particular
teaching of Jesus to take deeper hold of us. While obviously not comprising an exhaustive
list, these are a few examples of how our prayer can be Christo-centric. Yes, in prayer
the Father wishes to speak to us through His Incarnate Son. Under the Spirit's guidance we
open ourselves to the Father's Christ-centered, love-centered message, and respond with a
love of our own: "At various times in the past and in various different ways, God
spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has
spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and
through whom he made everything there is." (Heb 1:1-2)
- A well-known spiritual writer of our times, Don Hubert van Zeller tells us: "The
question arises as to how the simple prayer of faith relates to attendance at Mass. Does
not the mind, when following the movement of the Mass, have to let go of the simplicity
and take up a more diversified prayer? Admittedly the mind ranges over a number of
subjects presented to it by what is going on at the altar, but its focus is still on God
alone. The thought of God, and union with him, holds the essential part of the soul while
attention is given by the interior and exterior senses to the action of sacrifice.
"In praying with Christ at the Mass we are not complicating our prayer but in fact
simplifying it. If Christ's prayer is unified, and if we share that prayer, our prayer too
is unified. His is direct, immediate, simple, as offers himself to the Father in
sacrifice. So can ours be. The senses perceive in diversity, but the soul receives and
responds in unity.
"This is not an academic but practical matter. In the history of Catholic
spirituality the idea has been put forward that interior prayer is something so still and
secret as to be incompatible with the act of assisting at Mass. The Mass would disturb the
soul's tranquility. The Mass is one kind of prayer (so the argument runs) and the silent
search after God in the heart is another. The implication is that the soul has to come
down from the mountain to witness the sacrifice in the plain. Since the sacrifice is
Christ's, and since but for Christ's sacrifice we Christians could not pray at all, such a
theory is surely inadmissible."12
Although death has recently taken him from us in one way, Henri Nouwen will always
remain with us through his written words. There follow a few excerpts from these writings.
- "I vividly remember how I had, at one time, become totally dependent on the
affection and friendship of one person. This dependency threw me into a pit of great
anguish and brought me to the verge of a very self-destructive depression. But from the
moment I was helped to experience my interpersonal addiction as an expression of a need
for total surrender to a living God who would fulfill the deepest desires of my heart, I
started to live my dependency in a radically new way. Instead of living it in shame and
embarrassment, I was able to live it as an urgent invitation to claim God's unconditional
love for myself, a love I can depend on without any fear."13
- "The joy that Jesus offers his disciples is his own joy, which flows from his
intimate communion with the One who sent him. It is a joy that does not separate happy
days from sad days, successful moments from moments of failure, experiences of honor from
experiences of dishonor, passion from resurrection. This joy is a divine gift that does
not leave us during times of illness, poverty, oppression, or persecution. It is present
even when the world laughs or tortures, robs or maims, fights or kills. It is truly
ecstatic, always moving us away from the house of fear into the house of love, and always
proclaiming that death no longer has the final say, though its noise remains loud and its
- "But it is exactly in this willingness to know the other fully that we can really
reach out to him or her and become healers. Therefore, healing means, first of all, the
creation of an empty but friendly space where those who suffer can tell their story to
someone who can listen with real attention. It is sad that often this listening is
interpreted as technique. We say, 'Give him a chance to talk it out. It will do him good.'
And we speak about the 'cathartic' effect of listening, suggesting that 'getting it out of
your system', or 'getting it out in the open' will in itself have a purging effect. But
listening is an act that must be developed, not a technique that can be applied as a
monkey wrench to nut and bolts. It needs the full and real presence to each other. It is
indeed one of the highest forms of hospitality."15
- "Who thinks that he is immortal?-Every time we search anxiously for another human
being who can break the chains of our loneliness, and every time we build new defenses to
protect our life as an inalienable property, we find ourselves caught in that tenacious
illusion of immortality. Although we keep telling each other and ourselves that we will
not live forever and that we are going to die soon, our daily actions, thoughts and
concerns keep revealing to us how hard it is to fully accept the reality of our own
"Small, seemingly innocent events keep telling us how easily we externalize ourselves
and our world. It takes only a hostile word to make us feel sad and lonely. It takes only
a rejecting gesture to plunge us into self-complaint. It takes only a substantial failure
in our work to lead us into a self-destructive depression. Although we have learned from
parents, teachers, friends and many books, sacred as well as profane, that we are worth
more than what the world makes us, we keep giving an eternal value to the things we own,
the people we know, the plans we have, and the successes we 'collect'. Indeed, it takes
only a small disruption to lay our illusion of immortality bare and to reveal how much we
have become victimized by our surrounding world suggesting we are 'in control'. Aren't the
many feelings of sadness, heaviness of heart and even dark despair, often intimately
connected with the exaggerated seriousness with which we have clothed the people we know,
the ideas to which we are exposed and the events we are part of? The lack of distance,
which ex-cludes the humor in life, can create a suffocating depression which prevents us
from lifting our heads above the horizon of our own limited existence."16
Life, in its basic orientation and purpose, is really quite simple. However, this
fundamental simplicity of life is expressed in a multiplicity of ways. There are, as a
consequence, many pieces which compose the varied and complete picture of human existence.
It is not always easy to keep each piece in its proper place. To try to keep all aspects
of life in balance requires consistent effort. To maintain a proper sense of perspective
offers a challenge which makes persistent demands upon our powers of Christian maturity.
All sorts of human experiences, some pleasant, some exciting, some painful, can make
inroads on our sense of perspective. These experiences, if not correctly handled, can
detract from a balanced vision of life. What are some of these experiences?
Episodes of failure have a peculiar power to distort our sense of perspective. The
failure, especially if it is of more extreme proportions, seems to spread its cloak over
our entire consciousness, trying to make us forget those many times we have experienced
success. Failure can be a source of growth. But not automatically. It takes a rather
painful effort to make the experience of failure a positive factor in our quest for
At the other end of the spectrum we find states of happiness and success. These, for
different reasons, can also make us lose a sense of proportion if they are not properly
assimilated. During times of success and happiness, particularly at moments of ecstatic
happiness, we have to hold our hearts with a gentle but firm grasp lest they lead us down
undesirable paths. Happiness can be an impetus and inspiration for noble and successful
living. But if not properly controlled, moments of success and happiness can be a heady
wine. In our desire to continue to bask in the glow of happiness, we can block out other
aspects of our lives-the call of duty or whatever-which rightfully demand their proper
share of time and attention.
Experiencing failure-which we mentioned above-is one kind of suffering. But there are
other kinds also. As we look at suffering with a faith-vision, we see that it is meant to
be expansive. It is intended, through its process of purification, to deepen our capacity
for real living. If properly assimilated, suffering has a special capacity to make us
capable of deeper love toward God and neighbor. If, however, we try to immaturely flee the
suffering, if we rebel under its purifying thrusts, then suffering has an opposite effect.
It tends to make us bitter.
Rather than expanding us, it narrows us. It turns us selfishly in on ourselves. It
makes us engage in a process of continual self-pity. It narrows our vision, making us
morbidly gaze at our pain in a way which distorts the experience of suffering. We fail to
see the place of suffering in the broader scheme of things. We fail to see that suffering
is an inevitable dimension of life. Because we have lost perspective, we fail to see that
unless one is willing to accept suffering properly, he or she is really refusing to
continue in the quest for maturity. To refuse suffering is to refuse personal growth.
Anxiety concerning a particular task or goal to be achieved is another kind of
experience which can narrow the broad vision which is our balanced view of life. Because
of the importance the matter has for us, we begin to think as if the very success or
failure of life itself depends on whether or not we properly perform the task or achieve
the goal in question. We tend to lose perspective. We tend to narrow down our gaze almost
exclusively to this one matter at hand, forgetting that, while it is important, it still
makes up but one point in the long journey which is the totality of our human existence.
The above examples chosen from the many possibilities of life's experiences, are
sufficient to make us realize that to maintain a consistent and dynamic sense of
perspective is no easy task. Yet the pursuit of such a balanced view of life is well worth
the effort. People who maintain a proper perspective of life manifest a certain calm. They
can experience failure, success, suffering, joy, happiness, and apprehension. But their
experience of all this is channeled through the prism which is a balanced view of life. As
a result they seem to be basically at peace with themselves, and consistently so. They are
persons who drink deeply of the peace of Christ, this Christ who always maintained that
perfect perspective of human existence.
St. Augustine has these words for pastors: "Certainly, if there are good sheep
there are also good shepherds; good sheep give rise to good shepherds. But all good
shepherds are one in the one good shepherd; they form a unity. If only they feed the
sheep, Christ is feeding the sheep. The friends of the bridegroom do not speak with their
own voice, but they take great joy in listening to the bridegroom's voice. Christ himself
is the shepherd when they act as shepherds. 'I feed them', he says, because his voice is
in their voice, his love in their love...
"All shepherds should therefore be one in the one good shepherd. All should speak
with the one voice of the one shepherd, so that the sheep may hear and follow their
shepherd; not this or that shepherd, but one shepherd. All should speak with one voice in
Christ, not with different voices...The sheep should hear the voice, a voice purified from
all schism, freed from all heresy..."17
These words of Augustine emphasize the profound union which exists between Christ and
His shepherds. Building upon Augustine's thought we should always strive to grow in the
conviction that the closer the shepherd is united with his Savior and Master, the more
fruitful is his ministry. Vatican II tells us: "Priestly holiness itself contributes
very greatly to a fruitful fulfillment of the priestly ministry. True, the grace of God
can complete the work of salvation even through unworthy ministers. Yet ordinarily God
desires to manifest His works through those who have been made particularly docile to the
impulse and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Because of their intimate union with Christ and
their holiness of life, these men can say with the apostle: "It is now no longer I
that live, but Christ lives in me.'" (Gal 2:20)18
Father Arthur Culkins, a contemporary Marian scholar, offers us these words on Mary and
"If every Christian ought to see himself in the Apostle John, entrusted to Mary as
her son or daughter, how much more ought priests to recognize themselves as sons of Mary,
as the subject of a 'double' entrustment to her. I say 'double' because they are
successors of John by a twofold title: as disciples and as priests. This is beautifully
drawn out by our Holy Father in his "Holy Thursday Letter to Priests" of 1988:
'If John at the foot of the Cross somehow represents every man and woman for whom the
motherhood of the Mother of God is spiritually extended, how much more does this concern
each of us, who are sacramentally called to the priestly ministry of the Eucharist in the
"Although Jesus had already entrusted every priest to his Mother from the height
of the Cross and the Pope has done it even hundreds of times, it is still necessary for
the priest to do so himself if he would truly experience the power and the protection of
the Mother of God in his life as her Divine Son intends it. Priests who have done so know
the difference it makes".19
Pope John-Paul II speaks to us concerning the action of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
towards us: "The truth, revealed in Christ, about the 'Father of mercies,' enables us
to 'see' him as particularly close to man, especially when man is suffering, when he is
under threat at the very heart of his existence and dignity. And this is why, in the
situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups guided by a
lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost spontaneously, to the mercy of God.
They are certainly being moved to do this by Christ himself, who through his Spirit works
within human hearts. For the mystery of God the 'Father of mercies' revealed by Christ
becomes, in the context of today's threats to man, as it were, a unique appeal addressed
to the church."20
The Institute for Priestly Formation, founded to assist in the spiritual formation of
diocesan priests in the Roman Catholic church, invites diocesan priests to a time of
spiritual renewal. Inspired by the biblical-evangelical spirituality of Ignatius Loyola,
this program seeks to give diocesan priests a time and place in which they can allow the
Holy Spirit to touch their hearts with a deeper experience of his love.
Going beyond programs of continuing education, this program offers a time of spiritual
formation intended to help foster the spirituality of diocesan priests, a spirituality
that can inspire, motivate and thus sustain the busy daily lives of contemporary diocesan
The 26 day program is conducted in an atmosphere of rest and leisure.
Following some initial days of rest, orientation and foundations for prayer
participants will engage in:
- An eight day silent directed retreat
- Ongoing spiritual direction
- Prayer and finding God in everyday busyness
- Sexuality, celibacy and priestly life
- Discernment and everyday decisions
- The spirituality of diocesan priesthood
- Personal prayer and liturgical prayer
- A staff member is also available for consultation, particularly for those seeking help
in the personal integration of psychology and spirituality.
Rev. George Aschenbrenner, S.J., S.T.L.
Rev. Richard Gabuzda, S.T.D.
Rev. John Horn, S.J., D.Min.
Kathleen Kanavy, M.A.
Margarett Schlientz, Ph.D.
The program will be conducted at The Oratory Center for Spirituality, Rock Hill, South
Carolina. Located just south of Charlotte, N.C., with its cultural and athletic
opportunities for leisure, the center is situated on six acres in a residential area of
Rock Hill. The grounds, the neighborhood and two nearby parks offer opportunities for
meditation, prayer and relaxation. Pool facilities of the local Y.M.C.A., located next
door to the Center, are available.
Rooms are single occupancy with private bath. Room and board is included in the total
The total cost for room, board, program fees and materials is $1,763.00 due to a grant
received! Limited financial assistance is available.
For further information/registration contact:
Rev. Richard J. Gabuzda
The Institute for Priestly Formation
320 N. 20th Street, #1208
Omaha, NE 68178
Phone: (402) 449-6384
Fax: (402) 280-2423
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 a 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.
- Scriptural quotations are taken from The Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday & Co.
- William Johnston, Christian Mysticism Today, Doubleday Harper and Row, p. 88.
- Edward Leen, C.S. Sp., In The Likeness of Christ, Sheed & Ward, pp.
- Edward Leen, C.S. Sp., Why the Cross? Sheed & Ward, pp. 46-47.
- Pope John-Paul II, On Human Work (Laborem Exercens), United States Catholic
Conference, No. 27.
- Pope John-Paul II, On the Christian Meaning of Suffering (Salvific Doloris),
United States Conference, No. 23.
- St. John Eudes, Lib. 1,5: opera omnia 6, 107. 113-115 as in The Liturgy of the Hours,
Catholic Book Publishing Co., Vol. IV, p. 1331.
- Supplement to the Divine Office for the Society of Jesus, published by the
English Province of the Society of Jesus, pp. 21-22.
- Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests as in Inside the Vatican,
November 1994, Special Supplement. For quotation within the excerpt, see C.I.C. can. 929;
Missale Romanum, Institutio generalis, nn. 81; 298; S. Congregation for the Divine Cult,
Instruction Liturgicae instaurationes (5 September 1970, 8c; AAS 62 (1970), 701.)
- Rita Ring, Mass Book, Shepherds of Christ Publications, p. 103.
- Edward Farrell, The Father is Very Fond of Me, Dimension Books, p 96.
- Dom Hubert van Zeller, More Ideas for Prayer, Templegate, pp. 35-36.
- Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, Crossroads, pp. 80-81.
- Henri Nouwen, Lifesigns, Doubleday, pp. 98-99.
- Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out, Doubleday, p. 67.
- Ibid, p. 82.
- St. Augustine, Sermon 46, 29-30: CCL 41, 555-557 as in The Liturgy of the Hours,
Catholic Book Publishing Co., pp. 305-306.
- The Documents of Vatican II. "Decree on the Ministry and Life of
Priests", America Press, Ch 3, No. 12.
- Arthur Culkins, Soul Magazine Jan-Feb, 1995, p. 30.
- Pope John Paul II, Rich in Mercy (Dives in Misericordia), United States
Catholic Conference, No. 2.
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.
© 1997 Shepherds of Christ.
Rights for non-commercial reproduction granted:
May be copied in its entirety, but neither re-typed nor edited.