Jesus tells us “harvest is abundant, but laborers are few.” We often hear about the job shortage (unemployment is a terrible reality), but we must also recognize that, in certain areas, there is a labor shortage. I became painfully aware of this on May 13, Friday the 13th. My principal informed me that he was applying for a position closer to his home. My heart sank. I remembered seven years ago when Dr. Bob Scripko left us. We did an extensive search and turned up exactly one candidate. Fortunately he was young, enthusiastic and capable, but now Mr. Morissette is leaving us.
Shortly after Mr. Morissette broke the news to me I began forming a Search Committee composed of school parents and representatives of the Parish and Finance Councils. We did a survey of parishioners, faculty and parents. As you can imagine, people have many expectations:
The list goes on. Perhaps our high expectations indicate why candidates are so few. Superman only exists in comic books and movies. The rest of us are weak human beings with many limitations. But I believe there is another reason the paucity of candidates. When you boil it all down, what we are looking for is a shepherd. Nobody we surveyed said that they wanted a bureaucrat - you know, someone who focuses on keeping the machine well oiled. No, they want a person who cares for human beings, their families, their problems, their heartbreaks and joys. Being a shepherd demands total engagement. It is not a nine to five job.
This was illustrated last week in our ordinations: the priestly ordination of Fr. Edward White on Saturday and the episcopal ordination of Bishops Eusebio Elizondo and Joseph Tyson. In the ordination homily Archbishop Brunett quoted St. Gregory Nazianzus: “Not even the night should interrupt your works of mercy. Compassion and care for other is one thing that cannot admit delay.”
I saw this lived out by Bishop Tyson when he was a seminarian. He spent a summer with me at St. Mary’s in Seattle’s Central Area. I came back to the rectory one evening to find the kitchen table covered with slices of bread, jars of peanut butter and jam open on the side. Seminarian Joe Tyson entered. Now, at that time he was as skinny as a pole and, like every seminarian, constantly hungry. But I knew he could not eat that many sandwiches. I asked him, “Joe, what are you doing?” He explained to me that a number of homeless men lived under the freeway bridge. He was going out to talk with them and was bringing some sandwiches in case they were hungry. I was impressed, in fact, deeply touched. I have to admit, however, that I did not go with him. I went to bed.
Bishop Tyson was inspired by St. Vincent de Paul. He taught people not only to give to the poor, but to affirm their dignity, the image of God inside them. That care for the most abandoned – as Jesus indicates in today’s Gospel – is an essential part of being a pastor. We need to pray for such pastors.
Another St. Gregory, Pope St. Gregory the Great, expressed this with a touch of humor. He told his people to pray for their pastors. Then he complained that although he had many priests in the diocese of Rome, 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 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. As I hope to acknowledge next Sunday, this applies in very particular way to fathers of families. They have a unique and irreplaceable shepherding role. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send the good shepherds we so badly need. The harvest indeed is abundant, but laborers are few.
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Fr. Ed White, New Principal, Bishops Eusebio & Joseph)