The heart of the Good Shepherd
April 18, 2019
As good shepherds guarding their flocks, three men ordained to the priesthood June 2 were called by name to carry on the mission of Christ, gathering, protecting and consoling their people.
“Patrick (Moser), Taylor (Leffler), Padraic (Stack): You are called to participate in this mission of Jesus, to proclaim and to bring about communion in our time, in this local church,” said Archbishop George J. Lucas during his homily at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.
In Psalm 23, sung as the responsorial psalm at the ordination Mass, God reveals himself to be more gentle than those without the benefit of revelation might dare to imagine: a shepherd whose “care is refreshing, reviving, protecting, consoling,” the archbishop said. “He provides a banquet, an overflowing cup, unending goodness and mercy.”
And in the Gospel of John read at the Mass, Jesus puts a human face on that image, declaring himself to be the good shepherd, guarding his sheep against the wolf’s desire to instill fear and confusion, even to the point of laying down his life for the sheep, the archbishop said.
“He (Jesus) invites you now to put a human face on the Father’s tender plan for our salvation,” the archbishop told the three transitional deacons, shortly before they made promises to exercise their priestly ministry, obey the archbishop and his successors, and laid prostrate on the sanctuary floor as an act of humility, dying to their former selves and rising to new lives of service.
Addressing a congregation of more than 1,000 people that flowed into the aisles, the archbishop also thanked those who supported the men’s call to the priesthood, including their parents, Dana and Diane Leffler of St. Mary Parish in West Point, Edward and Sandy Moser of St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater, and James and Elizabeth Stack of Manhattan, Kan.
“We are so grateful for the ways you have responded to God’s grace,” the archbishop said.
And he urged the men to remember that many people do not know there is a Good Shepherd, or they believe the lie that the Shepherd is not good, while the evil one seeks to “corner individuals, to isolate them from the flock where they cannot survive.”
Even many who declare themselves Catholic are not found regularly at Mass, or in the confessional, the archbishop said, “not to mention those with no apparent faith.”
That lack of understanding means that as priests, in addition to celebrating climactic moments, sacramental moments such as the Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation, the men should be prepared to encourage people toward faith and salvation on “ordinary days,” the archbishop said.
“We need you to be shepherds even for the troublesome and the lost – especially for them,” Archbishop Lucas said. “There should be your shepherd’s field, your mission field, on most days.”
As part of the ceremony, Deacons Leffler, Moser and Stack also received the laying on of hands and invocation of the Holy Spirit by Archbishop Lucas and the dozens of priests in the congregation. After being vested with stole and chasuble, their hands were anointed with sacred chrism and the archbishop placed in their hands the gifts of bread and wine for the Eucharist, calling on them to “understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”
The archbishop and all of the priests embraced the newly-ordained with a fraternal kiss, and they concelebrated the Mass with their brother priests.
After the Mass, the three priests said they were particularly struck by the call to be good shepherds.
“To hear Archbishop Lucas tell us Jesus is about to make us good shepherds, that’s what moved me the most,” Father Leffler said.
“Being a good shepherd in the likeness of Christ – that’s what we’re called to be,” said Father Moser.
“It’s what I’ve been praying about, laying down my life for the flock,” Father Stack said. “He captured it.”
Their parents also were moved.
“If the Holy Spirit didn’t go through everybody’s heart during this celebration … I don’t know what could penetrate a heart like that,” Dana Leffler said.