Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Gut-Check for Shepherds - Homily for the 16th Sunday in OT

This morning is a gut-check for us shepherds.

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture....

Woe. That’s condemning. It means that I who am a shepherd—pastor in Latin—if I do not lead and unify the flock of Jesus Christ given to me, I am going to hell. It means that if I don’t preach the Truth up here, if I don’t then go and live out what I preach as well—if I simply live comfortably and do whatever I want—then I’m in trouble.

So please pray for me. Please pray for all of us shepherds!

*          *          *

Most of you know that I love soccer. Growing up, I played for St. Catherine CYC and for Kolping. And I remember my coach from St. Catherine: Mr. McNutt (… I can’t remember his first name!). Mr. McNutt.  When I was in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, he was my coach. And I remember his kindness. During practice, he would encourage us and spur us on, he was deliberate and reasonable, and after practice he always had a cooler full of soda and Snickers bars that I am certain were frozen the night before. He was generous. He is only one of about two people who I would ever allow to call me “Tony.” (I’m not Italian, I’m German after all)

Little did he know that he was shepherding a future shepherd of the Church. Teaching me about kindness and generosity and calculation and encouragement. I will admit, it was a stark contrast to my dad in the stands. Dad liked to yell—he was good at soccer and a fan—but dad did not know about praise. I recall rides home from games when I was told everything I did wrong, even when we won. I remember one game in particular when I had busted my butt so hard that I actually came off the field, hyperventilating. Dad was yelling from the stands. Mr. McNutt came over to me and said, “Good shift, Tony.” I’ll never forget that. It meant everything.

*          *          *

Often, we don’t realize when we are being shepherds and how important it is to be kind. How many priests—and let’s be honest—how many have been a source of bad example, scandal, and unkindness. We probably know many. And that hurts us. It scatters the flock. We need to pray for them. Again, pray for me!

But it isn’t just about priests. It’s also parents. Yes, you are shepherds too! When you were baptized, you received a share in Jesus’ priesthood. And when you were married, your home became the Domestic Church, a mini-monastery, a small parish. Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony, they go together! They are complementary and mutually illuminating: they are both called Sacraments at the Service of Communion. Communion of what? The flock! The Church!

Did you know that you have parishioners? They are your children! And some of them might be future priests! In your care!

Now, I don’t get a day off. I’m not talking about from work—I mean, I can’t have a bad day. How many people go to confession and they are just waiting for one bad word, one impatient sigh, one speck of imperfection from the priest and they are gone. I can’t have a bad day. I look at my homily and I think, “If I don’t do this right, I might be the last priest that person hears.”

But do we think of our parenting in terms of that kind of priesthood, that kind of shepherding? Where our words can have deep effects upon our children? How many children see our lip-service and our worship here, but then also see our hypocrisy as we discipline with wrath or live with immorality?

We are scandalized by priests who are hypocritical—perhaps we should hold ourselves to that same standard. Integrity. Charity. Kindness.

*          *          *

But it’s not enough simply to be kind. Have you ever seen a kindergarten soccer game? Throw the soccer ball on the field and all the kids run into one big group. (Except for the goalies.... because they're dumb....) J Besides the goalie, there are no positions in kindergarten soccer. It’s just chaos. So, they have to learn. They have to learn that there are positions and rules and things like out-of-bounds.  That’s why, after Jesus took His future shepherds aside, it says

He began to teach them many things.

This is a mark of a good shepherd.

Mr. McNutt wasn’t just kind, he also taught. We learned positions. When to attack, when to defend. We learned to play as a team and to become virtuous in our skill-sets. Don’t kid yourself: the coaching could be challenging. But by 8th grade, we went 12-0. We weren’t kindergartners.

So too in life. Priests and parents both need to instruct the flock under their care—parishioners and children both—that we have a goal, we have strategy, and virtue and that we need to develop these and grow and stop being like kindergartners that just simply run, chaotically, without any knowledge of rules. Because, in life, there are rules and there are things that are really out-of-bounds!

Woe to those priests and parents who have not taught their children! Not taught them to pray “just because” or to go to confession beyond Advent and Lent and “on their own.” How many have simply given the shepherding over to the school—or to no one in particular, like the TV!

Praise-- much praise to you who are teaching! And taking the time out and placing this first. You are our heroes!

As a priest, I must teach. I’m not up here to entertain you. I’m here to help you to achieve life’s goal: your salvation. And so I need to tell you what the rules are and how to play and how we’re going to work as a team and so on.

So parents: life isn’t about chasing after that “soccerball”—whatever that soccerball is: lots of money, a great job, straight-A’s, and so on. No, we are supposed to be getting our kids to heaven and if we are putting grades, sports, careerism, and narcissism ahead of God, then we are simply letting our kids grow up to be adult kindergartners who know nothing and gather in herds that don’t know what’s “out of bouds.” They will be like sheep without a shepherd!

Isn’t that the case in today’s world? The cacophony of this world (there’s the twenty-five-cent Word of the Day!), the chaos, isn’t that a direct result of priests and parents (and professors) surrendering their role as shepherds?

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,

for they were like sheep without a shepherd

*          *          *

Instead of the cacophony, we need the harmony of the integrity of the faith lived in charity. On the cover of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a shepherd with pan pipes—four of them—that harmoniously lead the sheep to fresh waters and green pastures, a foretaste of heaven. The four pipes stand for fidelity to the teaching of the Church, the sacramental life, a moral life in Christ, and a life of prayer. We need to teach and model all of these!

Can you imagine a priest not praying for his parish? Or a priest offering the sacraments willy-nilly?

But a recent survey of Catholics discovered that less than 1 in 5 Catholic families pray together! We’re just talking praying together! We’re not talking about going to Mass every single Sunday or going to confession outside of Advent and Lent—we’re talking about something as fundamental as praying.

Can you imagine a parish or a monastery that doesn’t pray?—you who are the domestic church!

*          *          *

We need to rediscover what it is to be shepherds again. And not only the pan-pipes, but also the staff—the crosier.

The shepherd would use the staff to beat back the wolves. The shepherd would not run from danger, but would protect his flock from danger. Priests and parents both—we need to stand up to the evil in this world and learn to use our staff again! Stand up and drive the devil from our parishes, our homes, our domestic churches!

And we do this “in front.” We stand in front of the sheep, not cowardly behind. We lead. Which means that we need to know The Way.

And that’s Jesus Christ: He who is “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” If we do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that seeks union with Him—a union of our wills with His Will, a union in body and blood, a union in grace, a union in morality, a union in a life of prayer—if we do not “Come away… and rest a while” with Him and sit at His feet and learn what it is to be a shepherd…. then we will not only be too weak to protect the flock, but we will also lead the flock astray! And woe to us!

Do not lead your children into danger by teaching them to seek their every appetite or to sacrifice their life for fleeting goods. What does it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul? But we would lose it over straight-A’s or by “being successful.”

*          *          *

So, I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. If we're going to get to heaven, we have to have a game plan.

So, first, who is my Shepherd? Really. Who am I listening to? Who am I following every day? The radio talk-shows, the latest-breaking update on your favorite news-channel, the stars of God-knows-what television show we are watching? Do you know what your favorite singer/songwriter is actually saying? What are you listening to each day? Who are you following?

Is the Lord really your shepherd? The one who walks you through the valley of the shadow of death and, because he’s leading, you are not afraid—you don’t even have a want. Or, are you full of jealousy and envy and fear …and wants?

Who is your shepherd?

Second, who is following you? People are following what you do—no matter how un-important you might think yourself to be. You are shepherding people. You have something more than Twitter followers. Your children are watching. Your co-workers. Your spouse. Me. We are all affected. Someone is waiting for you to step-up and lead. And who knows the impact that this will have when you do!

I never could have imagined in my life that when I started to follow Jesus, that I would become a shepherd of the largest parish in the State of Missouri. Who knows who we will be called to lead! I could have never imagined this.

And this brings a very powerful truth home: none of us goes to heaven or hell alone. You always bring someone with you.

I hope you hear, then, the great love that I have for all of you. I want you to go to heaven. I want to go to heaven too. I want you to have good things to tell Jesus when He asks you—and all of us—where His flock is. He is going to ask us what we did to bring our children to Him.

I hope all of us will be able to say with clear conscience and full hearts: “Lord, I laid down my life for my sheep. I went to the Cross for them.” For this is what Jesus does for us. He is our shepherd. He is my shepherd. I hope to follow Him to heaven!

If you haven't done well at this-- none of us have, really-- then come to confession. And if you think it is too late, that your children are grown up and far gone and that it is too late for them and for you-- know that it is never too late! Come to confession, make reparation, pray, and invite-- not nag-- but invite your family to rediscover the Love that is setting your heart on fire today. So long as we have breath, it is never too late!

Let us pray for one another! Pray us priests! Pray for mothers and fathers! And for the youth, I pray for you, too, because you have friends who are following you too! Let us ask God to give us the grace to be good shepherds to lead all in our care to heaven! Amen!


  1. Fr.Gerber, this was my first time hearing you speak. I have been struggling in my faith for quite some time. I still attended Sunday Mass, for the most part, but haven't really felt connected. As I sat listening to your homily this past Sunday, I got chills. I felt a fire being lit up inside of me that I have never felt before. Your homily has touched me in such a way that I made some positive changes for our family. I have cut way back on tv time and they are very restricted on what they are allowed to watch when I do allow it. I have changed all the passwords on their tablets and limit what they can play and how long. We are starting to play games, sing songs, like the ones in Mass, and are talking more. In my own personal self, I realized that I was "following" or allowing food to be my Shepherd. The remainder of Sunday after Mass and all day yesterday I felt satisfied in having very little. I didn't have the urge to over indulge. I cannot thank you enough for your words! I feel like I am starting a new path in my spiritual and overall life! You have truly changed me and I thank God for leading us to you and the Holy Spirit for working through you! God Bless You and we are looking forward to hopefully hearing you this coming Sunday as well!

    1. Wow! This is awesome-- and thanks be to God! Prayers for you. And thank you for your kind words. Blessings! FG