Priests are Good Shepherds
by Father Peter Iorio
I just returned from a retreat with nine other members of my class of 1993 at the seminary in Chicago. It was a very powerful and important week for us. 38 began. 2 have died. 6 are no longer in active ministry for various reasons. In the Gospels, the Risen Christ told the disciples to go back to Galilee. There they will see me. Why Galilee? That is where they first met. Where the great adventure in God’s love began. So, we went back to our “Galilee,” Mundelein Seminary, where our great adventure in God’s love began as priests.
We shared our stories. Each one was very different. We were trained to be parish priests. For many of us, priestly ministry took us outside the parish: high school and college chaplaincy, vocation work, deaf ministry, even ministry in the chancery.
A Vietnamese classmate told us his story which I had not known. He took a boat to Thailand. He was forced into labor and tortured. Eventually he was allowed to go to the Philippines where he was welcomed. He went to the USA and eventually overcame many obstacles to be ordained a priest. To this day, Father still has a fear of boats and people from Thailand. He works in a multicultural parish as a priest of Jesus Christ, preaching the word and celebrating the sacraments. As he told his story, there was a joy and a love that came out of him even as we strained to understand his accent.
Another classmate was clear that he was second choice of the bishop to go to Rome and study canon law. The priest who was first choice went and returned to the diocese as it was not for him. My classmate now works in the office of the bishop where it is often very lonely. He is an administrator and often makes decisions that are for the good of God’s people. The priest abuse scandal was a very hard time as he had to put priests out of ministry because they had not been good shepherds and had done harm to the sheep. Having heard his story, I have a new appreciation for priests who do not work in parishes. He is a good shepherd in a different kind of way as he lays down his life to protect God’s people. He takes the criticism of brother priests in order to ultimately guard and protect the flock entrusted to him.
All of us are amazed that by the grace of God, we have served as priests for 25 years. Each one of us have had great times and difficult times of suffering, sometimes because of issues in our families. So often the times of suffering were times when God was making us stronger in faith, hope and love. We call these blessings or graces, pure gift from God.
My classmates and I preach the word of God. We share the Good News of Jesus Christ with you. We live the message of Christ in our own lives. Jesus loved all people. Jesus laid down his life on the cross out of love for you and for me. Jesus Christ rose to new life. We priests are honored to bring you Jesus in the Eucharist. We celebrate first communions. Even after 25 years of first communion, is a great privilege and joy. We have a precious responsibility to give you the mercy of Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation, to heal your soul and forgive your sins. We are grateful to be in your lives and anoint you when you are sick or dying.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. I give you four suggestions.
1. Think of a priest who was a good shepherd to you. Maybe he gave you first communion or witnessed your marriage. Maybe father so and so listened to your confession and gave you absolution when you felt like you could not be forgiven. Maybe he helped you through a divorce or the death of a child or parent. The Good Shepherd that Jesus identifies himself with today in the Gospel is a person who loves and cares and goes out of himself for the other. He is willing to go to the extreme, and is not in it for the money, like the hired hand. Pray a prayer of thanksgiving for the priests who are good shepherds in your lives. That is number one. If you think of a priest who hurt you by word or deed, pray for God’s mercy on that priest and forgive him as God has forgiven you.
2. Pray for more vocations to the priesthood. Maybe there are some of you young men out there thinking about becoming a priest. It is a wonderful life. I attest to that. To those of you who are considering a vocation to priesthood: Do not be afraid to follow God’s call.
3. This suggestion is for adults. If you are grateful for priests, encourage young people to consider being a priest. If you see qualities in someone who would be a good shepherd, tell that person. You may be planting a seed or affirming something they have thought about. I can attest to that.
4. Mother Teresa responded when asked what suburban men and women can do to make the world a better place. She said: Love your children as much as you can. Love your children so that they know that you love them. That is the best.
Priests are Good Shepherds