Thursday, May 17, 2018

Pope Francis - A Man of His Word

Pope Francis - A Man of His Word

Full disclosure, I’m a fan of Pope Francis. Last night I had the opportunity to see the premiere of his movie.  I had seen the 60 Minutes interview this past, Sunday and excitement grew as we awaited the release of the movie today. Little did I know that my daughter, Faith would score some free tickets to the event from the Catholic Volunteer Network. As luck would have it the director, Wim Wenders, a renowned German filmmaker, would make an appearance at the end of the movie and answer questions from the audience. 

Often times I become suspect of any institutional directed media which could potentially become a public relations puff-piece on an intended promotion. My suspicions melted away as I understood the free reign Wenders was given from concept to delivery. There were no scripts, no assistant on a cell phone prompting Pope Francis. What I came to enjoy was exactly what the title of the movie delivered, a man of his word. 

Just like a 60 minutes interview where the camera draws slowly and ever closer to its subject. I was drawn in on the Pope’s words and facial gestures. Each of us at the theater were drawn into his eyes.  We were treated to the Holy Father’s joy and humanity. A fearless man, grounded in his faith, who challenges the status quo, and calls the hierarchy to task and reminds us all of our mission, to love one another as brothers and sisters. 

No spoiler alerts here, as I encourage people of good will to see this documentary opening in theaters today.  There is an atmosphere of ecumenism, which reflects Pope Francis’ universal appeal.  The essence of this movie is the opportunity to see directly into the man’s eyes and begin to comprehend this Shepherds’s capacity to lead and love. 


Tuesday, May 15, 2018


Of the many annoyances I inflict on others, the one that stands out is my lack of patience and intolerance of being interrupted.

Rationalizing my inability to focus, I give myself misguided permission to be perturbed when someone interrupts my locution, as I wax poetic on some point in a conversation. 

Maybe that’s why I like preaching; very few interruptions, except for my wife who promptly gives me the cut-off sign across her throat when the homily exceeds the allotted time of endurance.

I pray for patience and I’m reminded of the glances from my fellow school mates in the seminary, when psalm 141:3 was recited during morning prayer:

Set a guard, LORD, before my mouth,
keep watch over the door of my lips!

I rested assured that they were all praying this prayer for me. After reading my blogs, I’m sure their prayer intensified.

Receiving spiritual direction has helped me get back on track for my spiritual well-being and continues to be an excellent pit-stop on my faith journey. Keen spiritual directors are always good listeners. If you find a spiritual director who is doing more talking than listening, find another rest-stop. 

In time of trial and struggle they ask us about our prayer life.  One of the most influential statements came from our rector at the time, Fr. Gregg who advised that we allow prayer to interrupt our day.

Let prayer interrupt you day!

Often in the New Testament we read about Jesus going off alone and engaging in prayer.  In the go-go pace of our world, taking or finding a “rest-stop” to gather ourselves up in a quiet, set-aside place can be challenging.  Although it may be challenging, it should not be complicated. 

The discipline of prayer interrupting our day helps us center on the Divine Source of Love, the Lord God who calls us to change things up, by allowing ourselves to hear the whisper of His voice in those quiet inner peaceful moments we steal away from our day.

I had a special moment several years ago. I had been bringing the Eucharist to an elderly man named Joe. Joe had dementia as well as other infirmities that come along with old age. 

I had taken a call from Joe’s daughter, who happened to be a pastor in South Dakota. Linda, called to thank me for ministering to her father, and asked how I was doing. At that time, I was looking for employment and I asked for her prayers.  

Unlike many instances either in conversation or via social media, she did not respond, “okay I’ll keep you in my prayers”. She asked me if it would be okay if we prayed together, right then and there over the phone.

In a moment, Linda’s pastoral mindfulness made her present for me immediately, in fact, a peaceful calm chased away my anxieties, and the Lord was present with us that very moment. 

Linda took the time to let prayer interrupt her day as she ministered to me two thousand miles away.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, where we recall Jesus sending down His Spirit to all those present with the Apostles in the locked upper room.  May we invite the Holy Spirit to perfect our prayer and our laments to the Lord.

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech. He who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints as God himself wills.” (Romans 8:26-27)

Holy Spirit guide us to allow prayer to interrupt our day, help us to be present and actively pray with people the moment we recognize the need for prayer and with other's requests for prayer.

I’m sure I’ll get annoyed again. With God’s good grace I pray for patience.

I know He’s never annoyed about hearing from us!

Propelling Out of the Parish Bubble

The key to the new evangelization is for a parish to build on its historic culture and break out of the parish bubble into the community. A healthy parish will become a resource for the community’s spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and social needs.

During my pre-ordination interview for the permanent diaconate, I had a fifteen minute interview with my bishop. The time together was more or less akin to a speed-dating interview, each prospective future deacon doing his best to impress the bishop.  I was able to express an interest of evangelizing outside of the “parish bubble”.  The bishop expressed interest with evangelization, as most church leaders are concerned about the dwindling numbers in the pews and lack of robust support for the church by millennial’s. 

Having spent my adult married life (twenty-five years) in my home parish, I came to understand the neighborhood so to speak. I’ve interacted with scores of ministry and community leaders and I have gotten accustomed to the ebb and tide of parish functions, from vacation bible school, to the Knight’s of Columbus and Catholic Daughter's sponsored dances and the many ministry meetings, each with their own flavor and atmosphere.  I have been blessed to know many dedicated disciples who donate their time and talent to the parish.

I have seen priests come and go. We have had skillful servant-leaders who collaborated with the laity. We have had pastors who seemed to be aloof. We have traveled from joyus times to scandal and back again.  

The majority of priests and deacons through our doors have been of the highest holy character and have baptized, married, counseled, corrected and taught us.  I have a special place in my heart for these men who have selflessly dedicated their lives in service to bring souls to Christ.  I am always overwhelmed by the faithful women who are the glue in the parish dedicated to speading the gospel by their words and actions.. I hold the office of presbyterate in the highest esteem and will defend the righteous as much as I hold to task those who have brought scandal to the office. 

How would you define your parish?

The “Parish Bubble” is to understand what drives your parish.  Are we defined by a strict adherence to tradition, who’s favorite phrase is “That’s the way it’s always been done here”? Do you see how ministry leader’s work to squash new ideas to maintain the power over “Their Ministry”.  Never forget it’s Jesus ministry, not “Our” ministry. 

Are you in a Celebrity Driven Parish, where the pastor is the driving personality? Often times the problem with this bubble is that the agenda is developed by the personality, rather than God’s will or the need of His people. The big risk is when the celebrity leaves the parish. The fan club tends to follow the leader. 

Do you worship in a Money Driven Parish which was originally built on faith, but then the overriding fact becomes the cost, and what dollars can be saved verses what souls can be saved? Stewardship and finances are essential to the health of a parish, but when finances become the soul driving force, the parish loses its soul. 

Has your parish become an “Event Machine”, seemingly working to keep the people busy from event to event, from mission to mission? We have to be mindful not to have meetings replace ministry. When visiting “missionaries” put an emphasis on the collection basket and selling their CD and DVD collections, it’s time to put the machine to rest. 

Are you in a “Time Machine” parish, where the pastor encourages turning back the hands of time to the “Good Old Day’s” of Pre-Vatican II reforms? Attempting to institute a clerical hierarchy with the intent to return to ritual, and serve the clergy class of laity? This attempt at turning back the hands of time, will help some of the faithful return to the comfort of “Pray, Pay and Obey” but will never open the doors to welcome others who are at various stages of spiritual development, and will potentially shun the new comer, the unchurched. 

Your parish many not fit clearly into each bubble described, but may have a cluster of bubbles. 

This past vacation, I had the opportunity to finally read Dr. Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Church” and I have learned a good deal from my Baptist brother. The parish bubbles defined above are an adaptation from this wonderful resource. 

The common denominator to a Purpose Driven Parish is solid leadership which respects existing parish culture and works to collaborate with existing parishioners to build up a parish. A purposeful parish will extend beyond the bubble out to the "seekers" looking for a church that will provide for their spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and social needs.

(Stay tuned into this blog for some bubble breaking ideas)

Every good leader I know is a good communicator. A good pastor will not impose an agenda and style of church on a community, but is one who understands the many gifts the laity can bring to the health of a parish and the greater community.  A good pastor will lead through collaboration and seldom dictate.

The seeds of faithful parishioners are ready to grow. A parish leader can tend to the plants in his terrarium where growth is stunted, or he can break out of the bubble. God is calling us to bring His love actively out to the community and truly welcome the “unchurched”. 

If you find that your parish is stuck in a bubble, let the pastor know your needs directly. If he refuses to listen, bring a fellow parishioner and wittess to him together. If the pastor stands his ground, it may be time to find a parish where you and your family will be fed.

We are a diverse nation, with diverse communities. The harvest is plenty, yet good leaders few. By living in a parish willing to break out of the bubble, she can evangelize out into the community, spreading the Good News of Salvation and help people turn from sin back into right relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Seeking Harmony

Seeking Harmony on the Seas

It has been a long winter and we decided that a vacation was overdue, so we booked a weeklong cruise through the Caribbean. Adjusting to the ship’s accommodations went smoothly, as we boarded one of the largest cruise ships in the world, “Harmony of the Seas”. 

The warm weather helped melt away the winter blues along with the tensions and trials of life at home.  We enjoyed a warm welcome from the captain and crew as we embarked on our journey from island to island. 

We were amazed at the size of the ship, as well as the diversity of the patrons and crew. Traveling together we met people form India, Australia, Mexico, Hungry, Russia, England, South Africa, and America, all journeying together. 

The technology to keep the massive vessel on course was impressive as each crew member knew their role in bringing us safely from port to port. With the help of stabilizers, and thrusters rocking back and forth was minimized even through turbulent seas. Not surprisingly, when pulling into port, despite all the radar and technology to steer the ship, the captain had to rely on tugboats to guide the ship safely into each local port. 

The work of the tugboat and her crew is a necessary component when assisting ships safely into port, because they know the local waterways and obstacles so well. 

Tugboats remind me of the faithful laity and clergy of a parish who guide us with either a gentle nudge or tow us into safe harbors. The captain, quarter master, cruise director know their unique roles and responsibilities and a crew in harmony executes their functions with precision and pride.

It would seem quite odd for a ship’s captain to simultaneously take on the function of cruise director, port master and tugboat captain.  The idea of a captain as “lord and master” would bring scandal and disharmony, leading the crew to question the captain’s competency and risk the ship’s course.(Thinking about the Cain Mutiny movie right now with Commander Queeg...”I’ll find those hidden strawberries!”) A captain who ignores the assistance of the tugboat and her crew would put souls aboard in great peril. A good captain understands the importance of working together with the crew, and understands the value that each crew member brings to a successful voyage.

The root of disharmony in many Church traditions is the resurgence of a New Clericalism among some pastors. Pastors who place their office above that of the laity and brother clergy often lead their congregations toward disharmony and into dangerous waters.

“In Pope Francis’ homily before the council of cardinals on December 13, 2017, he spoke harshly about what he considers one of the great dangers of clericalism: that it alienates the members of the Church by refusing to be close to them and reinforces the belief that priests are above the laity.” (Hannah Brockhaus/CNA/EWTN News) 

Clericalism is defined as a state of affairs in which there is an unnecessary or exaggerated importance attributed to the clergy. Such a state of affairs where the laity relate to the clergy as subjects to be ruled rather than a people to be lovingly pastored. A clericalist’s ideology is one that places too much importance and emphasis on the clergy and undue importance to their actions.” (

The challenge to Assistant Pastors, Deacons, Lay Ministers and the laity is how to point out the errors of clericalism and the destructive effect on a parish. Retribution on whistle-blowers (brother clergy, and lay ministry leaders is well documented) is common. Clericalism’s affects surface through the disenfranchisement of the laity and disharmony among the parish staff. Behind the scenes fraternal correction often takes place as assisting clergy and lay ministers point out abuse and hope their correction is heeded. Unfortunately those cloaked in the error of clericalism seem to brush fraternal correction aside as they rely on their pursuit of power and control over “their” rectory, “their” parish. 

Excessive Clericalism results in: “... liturgies being remade in the likeness of the pastor. A true cult of personality emerges, from directives on music to elaborate vestments and liturgical decorations in the Church. All sorts of devotions are practiced in a manner which the Mass itself is celebrated by the dictates and whims of the priest. The Holy Mass begins to be personalized as the peak of the celebration is his homily, where a celebrity-priest can go and perform,”...rather than point the way to Christ. (

The effects of clericalism become evident by unrestrained financial shenanigans, cultic practices,  and the disenfranchisement of the laity.  Staff members, and parishioners will be been driven away as a pastor endowed by clericalism wields unchecked power. 

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6)

The bad idea of clericalism prepositions the ordained and religious as the only one’s “fully Catholic” and we should avoid questioning anything a bishop or priest does. Adopting this misguided posture leads to an inertia about reporting clerical abuse. As Church, we need to learn from history to never allow such abuses to flourish and go unreported whether it is to the diocese or in cases of suspected criminal activity to the district attorney. 

We need to pray in earnest for the laity and clergy who are under the cloak of clericalism. Having spoken to the faithful who have been disenfranchised from their parishes, I am compelled to speak out and continue to pray for those who have fallen under the error of clericalism. 

When we look at Jesus’ interactions with people, we could summarize much of His work, and teaching by saying that He comforted the afflicted, and afflicted the comfortable.  As misguided pastors become comfortable with their clericalism, it is our duty to bring their wayward practices to light, first directly to them in charity and fraternal correction. If their behavior goes unamended, then to the Vicar for resolution.  

Fear seems to be a common denominator as ministry leaders who seem to be held captive as no one dares to speak about the “Elephant in the Room”. As the tactics of divide, conquer and lord over parishioners becomes evident, the clericalist will assume a narcissist posture, believing he is above any rules or correction. Unsuspecting parishioners, hopeful to gain favor with the pastor will become unwitting participants in “protecting” the pastor’s misguided actions.

Mark P. Shea, a popular Catholic writer and speaker summarizes clericalism this way:

“The error of clericalism (and its real desire) is not ministry, but power. Clericalist's, both lay and ordained, see the priesthood as a place of power, and hunger for it. But Jesus saw the priesthood as a place of service. So does the Holy Church. That is why the sacrament of Holy Orders is described by the Catechism as a “sacrament at the service of communion.””
As the struggle against clericalism continues, I gained a new perspective from J.R.R Tolkien
“What punishments of God are not gifts? 

I see Clericalism as a detriment to the Church and paradoxically, I can see it as a blessing, and a gift. We are called to act on social justice with charity.  Recognizing power unchecked, both the laity and the clergy have an obligation to act and right the ship, saving souls in the process.

When obstacles arise in life, and in the life of the Church we are called to action, and help our misguided brothers and bring them back to the right path. In pointing to the abuses of clericalism we are professing our fidelity to the Holy Church and our call to return all to the Good News and Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We have our mission and command from Christ: 

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I command you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matt. 28:18-20.

By the anointing of our Baptism, we are sent on mission to make disciples, baptize and teach. 

What has started out as a cross, should lead us to resurrection. When clericalism seeks to divide, we need to unite and call out for justice, with a loving hand of charity. 

When we booked our cruise, I had confidence in the cruise company, even though we had heard of the various mishaps at sea on cruise ships over the years. Prevalent on our trip, were procedures directed by the company regarding hand washing before each buffet station and restaurant. Purell stations seemed to be everywhere to help combat bacterial and viral  infections which could cripple the inhabitants of any ship. 

As we raise our voices in prayer and as we petition the authorities, let us remain hopeful that corrective action may come to the weary and wellness to those afflicted in error. 

Through trials and tribulations both within the Church and in the world, we should put our trust in Jesus. It is Jesus who built the ship of the Church, He is her foundation and guide. 

I understand the perils of the human condition, where the pursuit of power can corrupt in any institution. However I also understand that our metal is often tried in the fires of tribulation as our edges are sharpened for action. As we all hope for “Harmony of the Seas”.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Homily – Family Mass – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Deacon Stephen Yusko 4/29/18

Today I would like to focus on three spiritual truths* we can get out of today’s first reading in the Acts of the Apostles.  St. Paul is the most important figure in the life of the Church besides Jesus.
Saul (now St. Paul) Had just had a fantastic conversion experience on the way to Damascus.
Looking at Saul’s life prior to his conversion we see him as “a bully” a terrorist, hunting down early Christians. Breeding murderous threats… totally opposite of Jesus Christ.

#1 Never, ever give up! Never think that you are permanently beyond the pale and cannot be forgiven and sent on mission. (I’ve done things that I can never be forgiven for.)
Yet look what God did for Saul, never ever give up!  Christ can change you. Don’t doubt it.
Saul was “On Fire” to destroy the followers of Christ…. Saul the Bounty Hunter – He’s a Spy!
Barnabas – “Son of Encouragement” - took charge of him and brought him to the Apostles…

#2. We are Never in this thing alone!  Paul’s experience is intensely personal – but lived it out in community. Without Barnabas, the mission would have never got off the ground.  He needed Barnabas to get him integrated into the community.  Encourage him to “Get on the move”.
Be on the look-out in the mystery of divine providence for the people who help you along.  We have lots of Barnabas’ around to encourage… who are they in your life? People sent to take charge of you and guide you.

Paul knew his life in Christ meant life in community. This powerful individual of God knew that his great need was to be with other followers of Christ, often.
The power of actively working within the parish community will help you recognize the divine providence at work in your life, and the lives of your children.

Paul Spoke out boldly – Debating / Challenging 
I’d like to tell you a story of My best friend Bob. Bob was not always my best friend. He was more of an acquaintance of mine in High School. To be honest, Bob irritated me. He was obnoxious, argumentative and a knucklehead… in my humble opinion at the time.  And only over time, did things change and evolve, and in hindsight, it was through our most personal sufferings and over time, our relationship evolved into something deeper. Maybe we both had an epiphany of sorts about each other.

We shared each other’s trials and tribulations, joys and good times. We grew in a community of tight-knit friends.  Today I appreciate his forthright manner at which he could get to the heart of the matter and envied his ability to challenge and encourage.   You see, Bob is my Barnabas, my “Son of Encouragement”.  Bob is the richest guy I know, who’s wealth is not measured by a bank account, but the gift of empathy, a gift God provided him through suffering.  Bob has the uncanny ability to sense when someone is hurting, and most importantly, acts on the moment with Christ-like charity.  I am very blessed by Bob.

This brings us full circle back to Paul.  This radical bounty hunter, experiences the Risen Christ, then is under Barnabas’ charge, brought to the Apostles, speaks boldly … and then is sent on a cruise…to Tarsus, where he would be formed on sabbatical for ten years, and become the greatest missionary in the Church.

Many times, when we are tried and tested, and suffering. We call out. “Hey, God, I didn’t sign up for this”.  And here’s the mistake we make. We demand to always understand. “OK God, I’ll do the suffering, if you are willing to explain!”
God first calls us to Himself and then to a task, a mission. We are called to drawn closer to Him in our suffering. To become his instruments and recognize the significance of what he is doing in us as well as though us.

#3. Speak Out Boldly   when Saul received Christ, he understood one thing clearly – he could not / would not keep Him to himself! Saul, this remarkably strong, vibrant disciple of Jesus, shared his faith wherever he was, however he could.
Many of us are forged in the fire of suffering. We are all in formation and need to look to deepen our faith and act according to it.   Let Prayer interrupt you day. Take time to read the scriptures, if not the daily readings, prepare tonight for next Sunday’s scripture.  Most of all, prepare yourself to receive the Eucharist, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. Do a daily examine of conscious each evening and frequent the sacrament of penance / confession.

Never give up, ask for God’s mercy forgiveness and his mission for you. Remember we are not alone is this and be Bold and Set the world on fire with the Love Christ.

*The framework of this homily was influenced by a podcast from Bishop Robert Barron on the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

I'm a Wondering 

If, as a Deacon, I am called to wonder; would it really be a source of scandal and confusion for me to express this wonder? I hope not. I believe if we are to deepen our faith, we must continue to wonder and ask questions, even if the pope or a bishop has not “asked for discussion on the matter”.

I recently wrote a blog about the question of woman deacons, which I also submitted for the weekly church bulletin. Within a day, my article was rejected from the bulletin’s “Deacon’s Corner” and I was sent an email stating that the article would be potentially scandalous and could sow seeds of confusion among the faithful.  

Perception does not equal intent.

Let me be clear on my intent, which is to encourage constructive conversations on how we as Church are called to serve.

According to the powers that be, “perception is everything”. I complied with the removal request by immediately deleting the article from this blog. Since Palm Sunday, I have had the time to reflect and pray on the situation. I hope I have taken the criticism constructively, as I have edited my remarks below as so not to confuse.

I ask you, should we remain silent and cease to wonder?

“I know I must be one of the wonders, of God’s own creation.”  Is the refrain from the Natale Merchant song “Wonders”  The music video captures the beauty of many different women lip-syncing the song as it celebrates the diversity of women as God’s gift. I stand in awe of the wonderous gifts women bring to the Church, from Religious Sisters who fight for social justice and the many women who are the backbone at the parish with which I serve.  I can’t help but wonder about women deacons.

I have been instructed that as a deacon, the faithful look to my words has having some authority. To be truthful, I am hardly an expert about the question on woman deacons, but I still can’t help but wonder. I don’t subscribe to the outcome that women should or should not be ordained as deacons. I am just happy to hear that Pope Francis has formed a papal commission to study the question.

Being happily married for twenty-five years with my beautiful wife Debbie and blessed with my daughter Faith, who has preached the Gospel by her words and actions, I continue to wonder how she will continue to serve the Body of Christ. 

Faith has never asked the question: “Dad can I be a deacon?” But I still wonder.  I wonder about all the laity and clergy and our role to serve the people of God. I understand Apostolic succession and the call of the baptized to be anointed priest, prophet and king. I see where we can be called to serve Jesus Christ in many roles.

Let there be no misunderstanding, the Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women as deacons, but many may not be aware that women deacons existed in the early Church.

I have been advised that the ordination of women deacons “has not been substantiated by theologians, nor is there any evidence that their historical ministry has any equivalent or similarity those of male deacons in the Church.”.  

Today a deacon is a steward of the Word and carries the Gospel to the People of God in works of charity and action. In exploring the question of women deacons, it would be fascinating to study the impact a female perspective could have on the preaching of the Word.

(Is. 50:4-7) The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them

During Vatican II, the diaconate was re-commissioned and stirred quite a debate on the role of deacons and the relationship with the rest of the clergy and laity. I am sure study of women deacons will last long beyond my years.

Deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the Word, Liturgy and Charity, with a passion for Social Justice.  Someone in the Church deemed it appropriate to wonder about this question of woman deacons, why else would the Holy Father call to study the matter?

Recently I read a wonderful article, “What’s the problem with women deacons?” from Phyllis Zagano, who is an internationally acclaimed Catholic scholar and a member of the Papal Commission for the study of the diaconate of women.  

I think it’s good to wonder and continue the discussion.  Deacon Steve

Monday, April 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter Homily –  April 22, 2018

Why follow Jesus? Why follow Him? Will our lives be easier, will there be less trials and tribulations? Many seem to think that faith in God, and following Jesus comes with a guaranteed freedom from adversity. Not so. If as followers of Christ, we believe that our pastures will always be green and paths smooth, and suddenly turmoil strikes, our faith can be severely shaken.
As an old man, and yet still an infant Deacon, I have been blessed by the encouragement of good clergy, like Fr. Francis and I have also confronted wolves in sheep’s clothing.
John 10:12-13: “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, see the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep”.
Jesus is contrasting His own sacrificial love and care for His sheep with the false shepherds of Israel, whom He here calls “hired hands,” who only cared for themselves.
So ask yourselves: “Who do we follow?”  Do we allow ourselves to be caught up with charming characters who entertain, or should we tune our ears to the voice of the Good Shepard?
As our psalm says: “It is better to take refuge in the LORD, than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD, than to trust in princes.
“God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
And when I doubt, when I am tested, when institutions fail those they are meant to serve, when I am let down, the good people of St. Joseph’s remind me of whom I follow… I follow Jesus.
There is a very powerful word in the New Testament: AGAPE
AGAPE...the Greek word for love. It is sacrificial seeking to serve. It appears 320 times in the New Testament.
Agape is sacrificial. It says, I love you when you are not very lovable. Agape is represented by Christ on the cross, extending His arms to embrace all humanity.
"I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Agape loves when it is not always convenient and when it is not reciprocated.
 It extends to both the deserving and the undeserving.
Agape in practical terms is welcoming the stranger, feeding the poor, restoring dignity which is stolen, taking a step-in sacrifice to benefit the other.
Agape is wonderfully illustrated throughout Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.
Many know the story, Jean Valjean spent 19 years in prison for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. By the time he was released, all that he had and knew in life beyond prison was gone.
Desperate and alone with no place to go, Jean Valjean, knocked on Bishop Bienvenue’s door.
The Bishop welcomes this stranger, feeds this poor soul, restores his dignity, calls him brother. He provides sacrificial care for him.
Jean Valjean spent a night at the Bishop’s house., But in his fear and desperation, Valjean stole some silver place settings and fled.
Apprehended by police, Jean Valjean was returned to the Bishop’s house to answer for his new crime.
However, the Bishop sensed his crime was minuscule next to the real crime – the years stolen from Jean Valjean’s life.
To the astonishment of the police and Jean Valjean, the Bishop declared the silver to be a gift freely given, and then threw in two silver candlesticks that the Bishop claimed Valjean had left behind in error.
It was an act of altruism and kindness, this Agape Love, that in the developing years set in motion Valjean’s transformation into a man of heroic virtue who in turn would transform others. New Life – Resurrection
Today we are faced with all sorts of strange teachings, self-centered help, and an unhealthy desire for mystical experiences and pious-like entertainment.
We can fall into the trap where ritual replaces self-sacrificial care for the stranger, the poor and the outcast. 
At each Mass, He leads us to the scriptures where we recognize His voice. On this altar of sacrifice we are invited to participate in Jesus’ gift freely given in the Eucharist.
Recently I tuned into a “Super Soul Conversations” interview conducted by Opra Winfrey and the Late-Night Show host, Stephen Colbert.
I was struck by his bold proclamation as a practicing Catholic and the common-sense advice he cherished from his late mother:
” When faced with hardships in this life, try to look at this moment in the light of eternity.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to everlasting life. “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”
Why follow the Good Shepherd? Follow Jesus because he cares for you more than His own life. Follow Him because He saves us from our sins, follow Him because He transforms your life, here and now.
As one of His sheep. He promises (10:28), “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish, an no one will snatch them out of My hand.”