23 April 2018

Unexpected Pastures

Fourth Sunday of Easter
This Sunday of Easter is called Good Shepherd Sunday, and it’s not hard to understand why: our Gospel today comes from the Gospel according to John where Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd.  I think that we all see the necessity of Jesus leading us, like a shepherd, and, in fact, probably the most popular Psalm in the Bible is Psalm 23, which usually is remembered for it’s first line, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  
A shepherd is someone who leads us, and sometimes we don’t want to be led.  Often we want to lead ourselves, to determine our own direction and our own destinies.  But we proclaim this weekend that God is the one who is supposed to lead us.  Without God we would be lost and in danger, like sheep without a shepherd.  There are many other hirelings who tell us that they will lead us to good places, but Jesus reminds us today that they run away when danger comes, and they often do not lead us where we truly want to go.

I know in my own life Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has led me places I never imagined I would go.  If I simply think about my assignments as a priest, when I was meeting with Bishop Boyea to be approved for ordination to be a priest, I was wondering where he would send me.  The parishes I thought would be open for a newly-ordained priest would be Queen of the Miraculous Medal in Jackson (where I had interned as a seminarian), St. Gerard in Lansing (where I had lived for a summer in college), St. Thomas Aquinas/St. John Church & Student Center in East Lansing (where I went to middle school and where I had spent a couple of summers in college), and St. John the Evangelist in Fenton, where I was then serving as a deacon.  In my heart, I wanted to stay at St. John the Evangelist in Fenton, as I had grown to love that community, and knew how things operated with Fr. Harvey.  But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, through Bishop Boyea, sent me to St. Thomas Aquinas in East Lansing.  Even though it wasn’t my first choice, I had a great four years in East Lansing, made some lifelong friends, and learned a lot about parish ministry.
Then, when my first four years were coming to a close, I thought I might become an administrator in a new parish.  There were a number of parishes that were open, but none of them really jumped out at me as a place for which I should apply.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, through Bishop Boyea, sent me to St. Joseph in Adrian, on the outskirts of the Diocese of Lansing.  I had never even really visited Adrian before.  And yet, the people of St. Joseph became near and dear to my heart and it was a good, two-year assignment which helped me learn how to be a pastor.
In my second year in Adrian, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, through Bishop Boyea, again led me somewhere I never imagined to go: Flint.  I was very happy in Adrian, but Bishop Boyea said that, because of other moves, he needed me to go to St. Pius X.  I told him that if that’s where God wanted me, then that’s where I would go.  We have certainly had our struggles here at St. Pius X since I arrived, but I love it here, and I love you, my parish family.
In each of my moves, the Good Shepherd has taken me to pastures I never expected.  And in each move, I have found blessings more than I ever would have expected at places that maybe I thought I would do well.  And that extends even beyond my parish assignments: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, continues to guide my formation as a priest.  That is greatly impacted by Bishop Boyea, my immediate shepherd, who, I know, loves me (as he does all his priests), but also challenges me (as he does with all his priests) to grow.
The People of God, the laity, are also called to grow in ways, sometimes that they never expected, and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, exercises his role as Shepherd through His priests.  This is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  Each vocation is a gift from God, and whether a person receives the Sacrament of Matrimony, makes vows in consecrated life, or receives the Sacrament of Holy Order, each is called to build up the Church, along with those perhaps not in one of those vocations temporarily or permanently.  But priests in a special way help make the Church.  Without priests, we do not have the ordinary way that God forgives our sins in the Sacrament of Penance, and without priests, we are not strengthened to live our universal vocation to be saints through the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  
And yet, some parents, or other family members, discourage their sons, grandsons, nephews, etc., to answer God’s call to become a priest.  As far as I know, no son of St. Pius X has ever been ordained a priest, or has even entered the seminary.  That is a very sad statistic.  Priesthood is not always easy; it is a sacrifice; and it requires a real man to step up and give his life away for the good of the People of God.  But it is also rewarding beyond any measure that I ever expected.  And I cannot imagine my life doing anything else (yes, that even includes being a police officer).  
So what can we do?  If you have a son or multiple sons, encourage them to think and pray about becoming a priest.  Always include it as an option for a future.  The same goes for if you have grandsons or nephews.  If you don’t, or can’t think of anyone who would be a good priest, then pray for the Holy Spirit to call one of the sons of St. Pius X to consider this vocation, maybe even if it’s simply trying out the seminary.  And pray for that man to be open to the Holy Spirit’s voice.  Another great way to promote the priesthood is to live married life faithful to the call in Holy Matrimony: a life of prayer, sacrifice for the other, and holiness.  Good priests come from good families.  

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who sends us places sometimes we never expect.  He also sends us shepherds who care for us and help us to follow Him.  Pray for more men to respond to the call of priesthood: to a life of sacrifice, yes,  but also a life of great joy spent in imitation of the Good Shepherd, who calls us all to be saints, and leads us to green pastures.