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Book review: In the words of a shepherd …

By Jean Peerenboom

A Shepherd Tends His Flock by Fr. John Girotti (Tau-Publishing, $26.95)

Father John Girotti has been “tending” his flock locally since 2002. Now, with the publication of A Shepherd Tends His Flock, he can branch out.

His new book is a collection of articles he wrote for his parishes of St. Anthony in Tigerton, St. Mary in Marion, Holy-Family-St. William in Wittenberg and St. Mary in Leopolis. He also dedicates the book to these parishioners “who shaped me into the pastor and shepherd that I now am.”

In his introduction, Girotti explains how his short bulletin articles came to be. He saw them as an extension of his homilies and “an opportunity to address issues of greater complexity that are better addressed in print than in the spoken word.”

He does not shy away from controversial topics. He tackles the issues of same-sex marriage, birth control, abortion, women’s ordination, end-of-life issues, annulment/divorce, sex outside of marriage, morality in elections, racism and much more.

But he also uses his articles to address faith issues: prayer, the Blessed Virgin, the Commandments and the “Seven Virtues (Plus One!). He examines and explains the liturgical year and Divine Mercy devotion.

This is done with humility, openness and honesty. He also interjects compassion and humor to make this an entertaining as well as inspirational read.

Girotti, who was ordained in 2002 and now serves as rector at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Green Bay, begins with:
“The one big lesson I have learned these past years as a priest is that ministry is an art, not a science. When you go to seminary for five years, and learn from all those books, you begin to think it’s a science. What a rude awakening I had when I discovered that this wasn’t the case!”

His articles reflect a by-the-book Catholicism, but are written with a pastoral style. There is no fire-and-brimstone here, just a pastor trying to explain and teach a faith that he loves deeply and passionately.

In a simple, easy-to-understand fashion, he explains some of the more complex issues that most of us grapple with in our daily lives. He shows how our faith today is relevant in all we do. So, I enjoyed the article titled “Do Animals Go to Heaven? (Or, I want my dog but the mosquitoes can just stay here!)”

Some of the arguments are a little harder to swallow: for example, his thoughts on women’s ordination. He says, “If a woman were ordained a priest, we would have an unacceptable situation of a bride giving herself to a bride (the church). In order to maintain the sacred distinction of the roles, only a man can be a priest because only a man can fulfill the role of bridegroom to the Church.” That logic didn’t win me over.

He offers some good lessons: In “Creation as the Foundation of Human Sexuality: Love people for WHO they are, not WHAT they are!” for example, he says, sexuality is a gift from God, which is sometimes abused. “Instead of treating each other with respect, we use each other as objects. So often, we fail to see each other as brothers or sisters.” This one, I’d like to see printed on billboards up and down Highway 41.

On racism, he has some sound advice: “Let us remember that, no matter what we look like or where we come from, God is our loving Father. Because of this, we have great dignity. There is no room for discrimination, bigotry or racism in the Christian life.”

In “When A Loved One Leaves the Church: Use love – not a stick – to coax him back!” He says we are all God’s representatives – we are the face of the church. “By seeing how we live, are others attracted to the Catholic Faith?”

Girotti writes for practicing Catholics, not for Catholic theologians or Scripture scholars. At times, it may seem simplistic. This is not an insult to his audience, but a concession to an audience who are at different places in their faith journeys. For many Catholics, religious education ends with high school or before. They are busy putting food the table and a roof over their families’ heads. They have become experts in other areas. They aren’t necessarily studying and critiquing the Catholic Catechism.

Girotti’s explanations of the sacraments, liturgy and Catholic teachings fill in that gap in an easy-to-understand way. He employs humor and humility as he walks through the issues that are on people’s minds or in the news of the day.

He reflects a more idealistic, black-and-white world than what I tend to see. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is good preaching, and good, solid Catholicism. After reading this book, I suspect Fr. Girotti is a good preacher and a good shepherd. I know he’s a good writer.

Jean Peerenboom is the former religion/books editor from the Green Bay Press Gazette. She writes a monthly book review for the Holy Cross Family Blogspot.

To read all of Jean Peerenboom's book reviews, click here.

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