Shepherds and the need of prayer
Recently, I had occasion to search the web for postings of current
openings for Catholic school presidents. Some schools were looking
for the ideal candidate – Jesus Christ – while others
were more mundane accepting the fact that most candidates would
have weaknesses to accompany their strengths. A composite of the
more realistic job descriptions would look something like this:
Looking for a strong Catholic, loyal to the Magisterium, who
the faith in his daily life. A compassionate, caring leader who
can bridge gaps between parents and teachers, school and parish.
Works well with the ethnic diversity. Promotes academic excellence.
Able to use limited resources creatively.
The list goes on. Perhaps our high expectations indicate why candidates
are so few. But I believe there is another reason. When you boil
it all down, what we are looking for is a shepherd who is compassionate.
No job description indicated they wanted a bureaucrat, someone
who focuses on keeping the machine well oiled. No, in addition
to providing a good education they wanted a person who cares for
human beings, their families, their problems, their heartbreaks
and joys. Being a shepherd of a Catholic school demands a total
human being. A shepherd is one who Jesus calls in his sinfulness
and redeemed in his brokenness.
Matthew states that Jesus was moved with pity and compassion when
he saw that the crowds were troubled and abandoned, like sheep
without a shepherd. Interestingly enough, he did not form a blue
ribbon committee or do a study. Rather he told his disciples to
pray. So must we. Obviously, I believe that committees and surveys
have their place. But they can never replace prayer – first,
foremost and always. Over the years I have seen groups generate
wonderful documents which have made zero difference. At the same
time I have seen people, apparently having less talent and resources,
who did things which really mattered. Their secret: prayer.
Prayer begins with God’s initiative. Gervase Corcoran, O.S.A.,
an Irish Augustinian, shares a rather poignant understanding of
how God is the author of our prayer life:
People, left to their own, cannot find words to pray. The words
prayer are received, put into our mouths by God…Prayer then
speaking to God but the words are received from God. These words
bring an opening of the self to the one true God.
Today’s scripture passages clearly reveal the theme that
God takes the initiative in our lives. God took the initiative
in the reading from the Book of Exodus in forming a covenant with
the Israelites. Paul states in his letter to the Romans that God
took the initiative in loving us because Christ died for us while
we were still unrepentant sinners. Finally, in Matthew’s
gospel we see Jesus once again taking the initiative in reaching
out to the people who were troubled, abandoned and without a shepherd.
We must pray for our shepherds. For sure, we are asking that God
will send us the right person to shepherd our schools as well
as other ministries. But, you know, sometimes we stop praying
when the person assumes his task. We need to pray that God continues
to guide those who responds to his will.
In a passage that perhaps contains a bit of humor, Pope Gregory
the Great spoke about the need for laborers in Lord’s harvest.
While asking the people to pray for their priests, he complained
that even though he had quite a few priests, he did not have many
workers! Now, I doubt that St. Gregory intended his priests to
become frazzled workaholics. But he did want them to focus on
what was most essential: “Pray for us that we may be able
to labor worthily on your behalf.” Then he added, “That
we may not grow weary of exhortation.”
As shepherds we priests whether in schools, parishes or other
ministries must encourage and inspire others. For that reason
we need the people’s prayers so that we do not become downcast,
bored, tired. In the same way other shepherds need our prayers.
One class of shepherds that need our continuous love, prayers
and support are fathers of families – happy Fathers Day.
They have a unique and irreplaceable shepherding role at the very
heart and nucleus of society, the family.
Shepherds called by God to service, whether schools, parishes
or other ministries, need our prayers. God once again takes the
initiative to provide them for our benefit and edification through
love. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send the good shepherds
we so badly need. The harvest indeed is abundant, but laborers