So, my favorite sport is basketball. I love to watch basketball as much as. I like to play it. One of the funniest evenings over the past year was during March Madness. Fr. Tony came back in the evening, and saw another college basketball game on the TV. He said jokingly with a tone of seriousness, “Seriously man, again? Basketball again? Do you watch anything else?!?”
But anyway, I love basketball and one of my favorite players is Stephen Curry. Early on in Stephen Curry’s career, he was no where near the player he is today. And he asked his coaches this question: What do I need to do to become a better player? His coaches gave him two things specifically. They said, become a better defender, and a better ball handler. If you do that, you will be great. Today, he is maybe one of the most crafty ball handlers in the league, and he has become an above-average defender. His improvement in his dribbling skills enabled him to become the MVP caliber player he is today.
Ok, why I am talking about all of this? I think coaching is so important in sports. In professional sports, having the right coach can make the difference between having an average team and a contending team. So, what is that one quality that all excellent coaches share? They know how to give challenging and constructive feedback. They do not tell their players that everything is fine. Sure, they affirm the good, absolutely! But they also, challenge and demand that their players change bad habits, strengthen their weaknesses, so that they can reach their potential.
This is what Jeremiah is talking about today. Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture. In other words, woe to those shepherds, who are like bad coaches. Who do not tell their flock what they need to hear. Worse yet, they cause confusion and cause their flock to scatter. A good example of this is a friend of mine from high school. He was good basketball player and had the talent to play on the high school team. Time and time again, his coach would say, “Great job!” And yet, my friend’s frustration would grow because he never really got a chance to play. Why? Well, really, because his coach did not tell him what he needed to improve. He was only told you’re doing well. You can see why he was frustrated… He needed his coach to help him see his weaknesses so he could improve. Shepherds are called to be good coaches. And that means good shepherds both affirm well and challenge well.
One question for us to consider this weekend is, “What do I expect of my parish priests?” And, more specifically, “what do I expect in my pastor’s homilies?” “Do I expect him to both challenge and affirm?” Before I go any further, I am not saying that priests should never preach on God’s love, or preach in uplifting ways, but if a priest is always giving homilies that are uplifting and proclaim God’s love, but never challenges his people, something is out of balance… He is called to both affirm and challenge. At times, homilies should point out bad behaviors that all of us can fall into. And homilies should challenge societal errors. Just like Stephen Curry, who needed his bad habits and weaknesses pointed out, we to need our spiritual leaders to do the same. If we as your priests don’t do this, then we are the people Jeremiah is talking to today. And then Jesus, does look down at all of you with pity, for the good people of God are [like] sheep without a shepherd.
With this in mind, I think we can consider two important things in our spiritual lives. First, I encourage all of us here, if we have ever heard a homily that was challenging, or that bothered you a bit, and it maybe left you a little angry with the priest, I invite you to reconsider that homily. What was it about that homily that bothered you? Is the Holy Spirit possibly convicting your conscience through that homily? And maybe, after considering this we will have a new admiration and respect for our shepherds, “Thank you Father, that you love us enough to challenge us even if its uncomfortable.” This is not easy for priests to do. Its much easier to avoid difficult topics, or topics that call people on to holiness. But here’s the thing, none of us should every feel like my friend from high school who couldn’t get playing time. None of us should never have to say, “I didn’t know that was a sin, or that this was wrong… Why didn’t someone ever tell me?”
The second thing for us to consider is this: Am I coachable? Am I, like Stephen Curry, willing to hear that I am not perfect, that I have flaws, and that these are being pointed out in my life so that I can do be better? Am I willing to hear that I have things I need to change, and that my pastor is called to point those things out for me.
This analogy works so well. All of us need good shepherds in our lives. All of us need people who are willing to say, “you know what, I love you, and I love you enough to tell you that you need to change this behavior, or bad habit.” If you do this, you will grow tremendously in your spiritual life. For this reason all priests are required to have a spiritual director, someone who challenges us to grow in virtue and to be more accountable. We can’t hold you to this standard if we don’t do it ourselves. Much like a player cannot become better unless he listens to the constructive feedback of his coach, we too cannot grow if we do not listen to out “spiritual coaches”; our good Shepherds.
So, friends, are you coachable?
In Christ’s love and friendship,