Have we heard about bad shepherds? Do we know what that is like?
Of course we do.
No matter what you think of President Donald Trump,
I think we can agree that he would never have been elected
in a “normal” election year;
that is, if many, many Americans
hadn’t thought things were deeply off track.
And in these continuing strange times,
it seems to me you and I are seeing many more –
in politics, in government, in the media –
being exposed as very unreliable shepherds.
Meanwhile we are again seeing reports of clergy, specifically bishops,
who failed as shepherds. Failing two ways: in some cases,
preying on the sheep, being more wolves than shepherds;
and in other cases, knowing about wrongdoing
and not being bothered to act.
It seems to me that as bad as it is when you have leaders –
And I mean either the Church or government, or business, anywhere –
who are corrupt, who prey on those
they are supposed to protect or serve;
or who are dipping into the treasury for their own enrichment;
or who are in cahoots with those who do…
As bad as that is, that is not the major problem.
A far greater problem is complacency.
There is a bishop, a cardinal in fact, from the East Coast
who is now being widely accused of disgusting behavior,
preying on adults. That’s bad.
But more concerning is that apparently, this was an “open secret.”
And when people would summon the courage
to make a complaint, their reports were dismissed.
Complacency. Disinterest. Staying in your own lane.
Call it whatever you want;
but this allows worse corruption to fester.
And let me be a little tougher.
It isn’t just the higher-ups who don’t like the squeaky wheel,
the whistle-blower, the person who is airing out all the dirt;
NO ONE likes it! NO ONE wants to hear it.
I’m not talking about gossip; that, we like!
Because we can just listen and not have to do anything.
No, I’m saying that when someone comes forward, and says,
there is a real problem, and you have to do something about it:
No, we don’t like that one bit.
Let me give you an example from right here in Russia.
A couple of years ago, the school and the parish together
sponsored a speaker to come in
and talk about the dangers on the Internet.
Part of it was during the school day; the kids had to attend,
so of course the gym was full.
Part two was in the evening, for the parents.
Attendance was voluntary. Guess what happened?
I’m glad for those who showed up. And I realize people are busy.
But do you think those are the only reasons the gym was mostly empty?
Am I wrong to think that too many people
just don’t want to deal with it?
And if someone thinks I’m overstating the problem of explicit material online, let me tell you:
in a few short years,
this has rapidly become one of the top problems priests deal with.
Marriages are ending over it. Many more are deeply wounded.
And the thing is, if you are over 40, or even over 30,
There is a world of Internet activity and applications
that you simply cannot conceive of.
And if you don’t live in that world, you have no idea
what kind of warped messages are reaching out to our children.
Do you know the average age for exposure to these things?
Eleven years old, and dropping. All with a click of a finger.
Fifty years ago this year, Blessed Pope Paul VI
issued an encyclical called Humanae Vitae,
which mean, “Of Human Life.”
People remember it because he restates and explains
the Church’s constant teaching that marital acts
must always be open to the gift of life;
and therefore, all the various tactics and pills
and other things that people have done, down through the ages,
to make conception of a child impossible –
all these methods are gravely immoral; they are mortal sins.
That’s what people remember, and that there was a great rebellion.
Many experts, many prominent Catholics, professors and so forth,
and many priests and even some bishops, either openly rebelled;
or else, they treated the Pope like a leper.
They were so smart, and the Pope and the Church, so out of touch.
But here’s the thing. That letter, Humanae Vitae, was about much more
than what folks remember.
It is about what it means to be a human being, made in God’s image;
created and loved by God and destined for eternity.
Pope Paul did not issue that letter because he was looking for ways
to make life more complicated, particularly for married couples.
At the time, everyone was advising him to go the other way.
Or else, just don’t say anything. Just let it go.
Which, by the way, is what lots of priests did for years; and still do.
And, to be fair, that’s what lots of Catholics wanted them to do.
But Pope Paul could not do that. He had a duty,
not to tell people what they wanted to hear,
but what they needed to hear.
And the thing is, what he said –
again, about a lot more than contraception,
that’s only part of his letter…
What Pope Paul said was absolutely prophetic.
He predicted that if the Church’s ancient teaching were rejected:
human life would become cheaper – and we have widespread abortion;
Women would be degraded: look at the “Me Two” movement.
Moreover, there is a straight line
leading from rejecting Humanae Vitae,
to the profound confusion we now face over what marriage even is –
can it be two men or two women? –
and now the even deeper blindness of people
no longer knowing what it even means to be a man or a woman.
It is all a package deal.
God created humanity to be partners in his work.
But humanity doesn’t want that high calling; it is too demanding.
The problem is that when we lose God, in the end, we lose ourselves.
And that is what is happening right now, before our very eyes.
I began by talking about shepherds who fail, either in gross ways,
or else in being complacent.
But what I want to say is that as terrible as that is,
that can’t be an excuse for our own response.
With all that is dismaying, you and I can take courage
from the Providence of God that has given every family,
every one of us, resources that were impossible even 20 years ago.
People will say to me, “I wish you say more about this or that.”
I’d like to, and maybe I will; but I have limited time.
But you don’t have to wait for me.
Just for example, Formed.org: it’s available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year.
Our parish has a subscription.
The code you need to use is on our website.
And there’s much more that’s freely available online.
Pray for your shepherds, in the Church, in government,
our schools, business, colleges, the media.
You and I always need courage, but oh how badly we need it now!
Well, there it is: it isn’t just those other people who need courage. Every one of us does.
In the end, the shepherds are us.