St. Augustine Makes Clergy Squirm

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…Which shepherds are dead? Those who seek what is theirs and not what is Christ’s.

-from the Office of Readings, Tuesday, 25th week in ordinary time, Liturgy of the Hours.

If I were a bishop or even a priest,  I might be tempted  to use the alternate  Office of Readings for every saint’s memorial that occurs between September 16th and 28th. It would mean avoiding nine out of twelve days of reading “99 Ways a Bishop is Likely to End up in Hell.”, otherwise known as St. Augustine’s sermon on Pastors. Yesterday he called out shepherds who do not make the effort to go after sheep who stray. On Sunday, it was shepherds who do not do what they can to strengthen the weakest of their flocks against temptation. Last week, there were warnings for those who downplayed some of the hard truths of the gospel for fear of offending others, or who gave bad example by the way they live their lives: the shepherd who lives a wicked life before the people kills the sheep under his care. Let not such a shepherd not deceive himself because the sheep is not dead, for though it still lives, he is a murderer…

As a layperson reading this, I have come to a few conclusions:

1. I’m really glad I’m not a bishop or a priest.

2. I can’t imagine anyone wanting such a responsibility.

3. Since Augustine’s warnings apply, to a lesser degree, to priests as well, it reminds us what an awesome (as in awe-full, or awful) responsibility they have as well, and how we laity have a very serious responsibility to pray for them as well as our bishops. A lot.

4.  I’ll bet this yearly dose of Augustine on Pastors, thought not pleasant, does good bishops and priests a lot of good. A yearly reminder to pray hard, work hard, be humble, and daily throw themselves on Christ’s mercy.

5. Don’t even want to think about not so good bishops and priests who read this and ignore it, or pat themselves on the back imagining that they are in no danger of the faults Augustine describes.

6. Even back in the early centuries, the clergy and hierarchy must have been an extremely mixed bag if this is what St.Augustine felt he had to tell them.

7.St. Augustine gave really long sermons.


Daria Sockey


Daria Sockey is a freelance writer from western Pennsylvania. Her articles have appeared in many Catholic publications. She authored several of the original Ignatius Press Faith and Life catechisms in the 1980s, and more recently wrote five study guides for saints' lives DVDs distributed by Ignatius Press. She now writes regularly for the newly revamped Catholic Digest. Her newest book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, will be published by Servant Books this spring. Feel Free to email her at

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  • I think that this is one of the reasons bishops and priests are bound to pray the office. Being human I suspect that most would not choose to read St. Augustine’s Sermon on Pastors yearly. Who wants to be reminded of their potential failings and the hazards of their actions on a yearly basis?
    The mother Church in wisdom realizes that bishops and priests, being human, need constant reminders of their faults. Since Catholic bishops and most Roman Catholic priests are not married they must count on St. Augustine to tell them. Deacons also are bound to read Augustine each year, but like the rest of us they are not the subjects of the sermon. Like many of us most also have wives, so they already have someone to make sure they know their faults, 😉

  • chaco

    Laugh Out Loud ! As a married man, I can relate SOooo well to the “…have wives..” statement. The other Sunday, when “wives should submit to their husbands.” was read, it dawned on me how necessary submitting our own will to another’s is in the sanctification process. A wife does well to submit BUT ONLY IF the husband has submitted his life to God & His Church.
    I recall reading or hearing somewhere that Marian devotion has 2 main Fruits; 1) It causes us to love God’s will more than our own [This would be logical if Our Lady is sharing Her Heart with us.] 2) It can turn sufferring into Joy (at least to a degree) I’d appreciate it if someone could affirm this thought by identifying its source. I think a saint said it.