Action Alert!

The Good Shepherd and Human Dignity

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 23, 2024

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.” (Jn. 10:14) In contrast, “He who is a hireling and not a shepherd…sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees…He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.” A good shepherd cares for his flock and treats them as, well, human beings, not things. A few short stories may help priests—and all of us—respect the dignity of the human person and become a good shepherd.

Respecting human dignity begins with fulfilling one’s duties. Ninety percent of priestly success is showing up, as the saying goes. A priest respects his people by honoring his ordination promises. He celebrates Mass according to the Church’s liturgical legislation. He preaches the truths of the Catholic faith. He offers a regular confession schedule. The priest should be “a lion from the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.”

Like most people, priests lead reasonably comfortable lives. Barring excesses, there is no need to apologize for that, provided they work for a living. Few priests are martyred for the faith. Observant parishioners (like those who watched Peter) often see a priest’s quirks and failures more clearly than the priest. Priests—like Peter—also make their fair share of observations. Over time, priests and people come to know each other and grow in love, or at least mutual respect. A priest can learn to be a good shepherd with an inquisitive—if sometimes pesky—disposition.

A nosy priest asked a young law-enforcement officer who was seated beside him on a plane if she ever had dangerous encounters. She said her most memorable experience occurred during an inner-city investigation. She knocked on a door, and a crack addict invited her in. A baby in filth sat unattended on the floor. She was conducting a background check, and she agonized over the regulations that prevented her from picking up the child and giving it the attention it deserved. We need more law enforcement authorities who love people in imitation of the Good Shepherd.

Mutual respect is fragile, and it is pleasing to hear success stories. A priest asked a man who worked at an airport ticket counter if he would share some “fun stories.” A winter blizzard caused a mess, and impatient people lined up—in vain—for reroutes. One traveler was a Hollywood celebrity known to most Americans. The airport desk attendant was unable to satisfy his demands. Frustrated, the celebrity screamed, “Do you know who I am? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” The fellow in line behind him dropped his luggage and exclaimed, “Great. I’m in the middle of a blizzard. I’m stuck at an airport and can’t get home for Christmas. And the guy ahead of me doesn’t know who he is.”

The name of the celebrity? We don’t know, and the nosy priest didn’t ask. The attendant thought that even a famous man needs his privacy. The narrator was acting as a good shepherd. He honored the dignity of a human being with his refusal to gossip. Even celebrities have a right to a good reputation.

An air-conditioner technician may also teach us a thing or two about human respect. An inquisitive acquaintance might expect stories about wild raccoons in the attic or creepy copperheads in the basement. But one workman said that in his youth, he dated a young lady who later became a movie star. After she reached stardom, he received a phone call from a television, who wanted to fly him to New York to appear on a trashy TV program to tell his story. He declined. The man honored the dignity of his old flame and didn’t gossip.

Even comedians may be examples of good shepherds because they respect human dignity. The comedian and commentator Bill Maher made a surprising admission about abortion during a recent HBO program. He had the science right. He said:

…I don’t understand the 15-week thing or Trump’s plan to leave [abortion] to the states. You mean, so killing babies is okay in some states? I can respect the absolutist position, I really can. I scold the left when they say ‘Oh, you know what, they just hate women,’ people who aren’t pro-choice. They don’t hate women. They just made that up. They think it’s murder. And it kind of is.

Surprise! A popular mainstream liberal media type follows the science and almost reaches the heights of a good shepherd honoring the dignity of the lives of unborn babies. But with his next breath, he revealed himself as a vulgar hireling. Maher concluded:

I’m just okay with [abortion]. I am. I mean there’s 8 billion people in the world. I’m sorry, we won’t miss you. That’s my position... Is that not your position if you’re pro-choice? You said you’re pro-choice, that’s your position too.

It’s the same old story: Just enough of me, but way too many of you.

Do you ever wonder why so many young people are in despair, mutilate themselves, or turn to a life of crime? They have a deep sense they are unwanted by politicians, the elites, their teachers, and even their parents (and some priests and bishops). So here’s a task for every young person. Ask your parents and teachers whether they oppose the taking of the life of an unborn baby—a new life at conception. If they don’t, ask them why you should trust them to respect your humanity. Indeed, we could all ask the same question. We need good shepherds.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up.” (Is. 49:15-16)

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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