“Le Bon Pasteur” (“The Good Shepherd”) by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674), painted in 1650, housed in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Tours, France. JEAN LOUIS MAZIERES/FLICKR/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Spiritual Life

FATHER JEFF LOSEKE: The Good Shepherd calls us to walk in his way

“The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.”

Though these startling words of St. John Chrysostom were written in the fourth century, they have been requoted by countless saints and ecclesiastics in every age of the Church’s history. Reminiscent of the rebuke of the Prophet Jeremiah to the leaders of ancient Israel (cf. Jer 23:1-2), they remind us of the terrible consequences of poor leadership and the need always to seek out the Lord Jesus alone as the Shepherd who leads us safely to the Father (cf. Ps 23).

When Jesus embarked upon his ministry, he found his people “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). The children of Israel had languished without good leaders for so long and, as a result, they did not know where to look for peace. They found themselves divided into many camps: the Zealots sought salvation in politics, the Pharisees justified themselves by rigid observance of the Law, and the Sadducees took comfort in worldly power and wealth. To all who were scattered near and far, Jesus offered himself as the remedy that would bring peace to a divided world (cf. Eph 2:13-18).

Though his peace continues to be a promise for us today, many people, both within and outside the Church, still find themselves suffering the effects of poor shepherding. There are scandals that shake our faith, pastors who water down the truth of the Gospel to gain widespread acceptance, and high-profile Catholics in the public square who support causes inimical to the Church’s teachings. When those in authority – civil and ecclesiastical leaders alike – fail to teach, defend or live the faith with integrity, God’s flock is weakened and scattered. The faithful are tempted to look for salvation elsewhere: in politics, religious rigidity or materialistic comforts. They become modern-day Zealots, Pharisees and Sadducees.

We may never be free from poor shepherding and faithless leadership. It has abounded in every age – from the days of the Prophet Jeremiah and St. John Chrysostom to our own day. Nevertheless, we do not lose hope, for Jesus Christ came to shepherd us himself. All who are baptized have been given a share in his threefold office as priest, prophet and king. Therefore, we are called to grow in holiness, to share the Good News and to lead those in our charge according to the heart of the Good Shepherd.

While we must pray for and support our shepherds and leaders, we ourselves must step up and become good and holy ourselves. If we know the truth of the faith and are grounded in the love of Christ, then we cannot be led astray. The road to hell may indeed be paved with the skulls of poor leaders, but we have been given direct access to the Savior, who is the only way to the Father.