The Flock is Scattered.

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Et suscitabo super eos pastores, et pascent eos : non formidabunt ultra, et non pavebunt, et nullus quaeretur ex numero
I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing.

It’s hard to be Catholic. Each of us knows this: there is something asked, something demanded of us – each of us has this thing and we know it. But, if we’re doing it all wrong, we can see someone over there doing exactly the same thing with seeming impunity. It’s so easy to judge that person over there for doing it. And then we are tripped up, ourselves, and it must be ok, right? So it is with the sex scandal. All in high places in the Catholic Church have always been sinners (we are all sinners) but some of them spectacularly so. A google of “bad popes” or “Irish nuns” will bring all kinds of stories. And no few news stories today – even within the last few weeks – will be found without much clicking.

No one has asked me about why I became Catholic in the light of the continuing sex scandal. But friends of mine have been asked that. Being Catholic is hard and the sex scandal is huge. It might have broken earlier, to be honest, if there had been electronic media in the 9th century. It might have broken in another church if the Soviets had been on their game. It might have broken in ECUSA if our clergy had not been married – because an abusive husband is surely just as bad as a pedophile, right? But society ignores that sin in a different way. And a married man who has sex outside of his marriage is pretty normal stuff even if it is with another man. Most of us never got around to talking about relationships of power-imbalance until it was too late. Ever wonder why a given ECUSA Bishop had to retire early?

And after hearing (in some cases, daily) preachers who say “don’t do this”, we discover that some were doing it quite often. Why should I bother refraining, right? Because I, at least, am not an abuser but rather a lover. I can see that over there is a huge sin. What is mine? And yet…

Each of us is a shepherd, really. The entire body of Christ, the entire Body of the Good Shepherd: we are all shepherds.  The flock you lead is your family, your friends, your coworkers. The people you see daily on the subway. God expects you – demands of you – the same love, the same care, the same purity of life and doctrine, the same self sacrifice and death from you on their behalf as God demands of his other priests in their place and time. We are all shepherds and when the shepherd falls, the flock is scattered.

When our sins are so small, you know what else is worrisome? Yes, I’m a Christian, but not like that. I have made some different choices, and it’s all ok. And a few more sheep are lost… thinking either we are all hypocrites or else we’re all liars. Or worse, they think they can continue in their sin as well. We try to be all modern and relevant and stuff but become pharisees who gain an convert and make him to be worse than he was before.

We are all shepherds. This is what the name “little Christ” means here. We are all priests, prophets, kings, and shepherds.

We must look out, and as Christ was coming back from retreat with his Apostles, we must be moved with compassion. For all around us are like sheep without shepherds. And we have been sent.

Kneeling in Church just before the communion last night, our cantor began one of those songs that “everyone knows” as far as Church goes. I didn’t know it cuz I’m new here.

I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
You will hear My voice
I claim you as My choice
Be still, and know I am near
I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light
Come and rest in Me

As I was near the front of the Church I had received the Precious Body and was waiting from the Chalice to come as the first refrain began.

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

Hearing these words for the first time as one is drinking the Very Blood of God was overpowering. I was standing less than two yards from the Cantor as he sang them.

But then I knelt in my pew to say my thanksgiving for the gift of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, given to me, an unworthy sinner, a man with a past. And as Jeffrey finished each verse the congregation, slowly receiving their communion and filling in behind me, softly took up the refrain. More and more sang each time. until the song was a soft but insistent thunder of Love around me.

I am strength for all the despairing
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free
And all will know My name 

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine
 

I am the Word that leads all to freedom
I am the peace the world cannot give
I will call your name, embracing all your pain
Stand up, now, walk, and live 

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

Surrounded by my fellow sheep echoing the words of our Shepherd, I knew that I had come home, that I was surround by – yes, Sinners – who were in love with the same Shepherd. We are all growing into his likeness. Some of us fall… daily some of us fall daily. Yet we reach out, we raise up, we commune, we grow more and more.


But that’s not all, comforting as it is. If we are not thus moved to be better shepherds, better Christs living in the world leading our little flocks to his, then we have failed. We are not failing as fabulously as a Medici Pope, and no one will file a lawsuit against us for malpractice over our personal impious peccadilloes, but we will lose some sheep. And God will have to say to us each, You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.

Yet God will bring them home. 




____


Please consider supporting my my writing via my Patreon.

Some sheep go astray…

Can you get from this image to the topic?

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Benedict, Abbot.
Wednesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Potius ite ad oves quae perierunt domus Israel. Euntes autem praedicate, dicentes : Quia appropinquavit regnum caelorum.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Bishop Barron often makes a painful point: for every one new convert that enters the Church, six leave. In the USA alone, the second largest religious group is ex-Catholics. The largest is Catholics, as well. In the San Francisco Bay area, 25% of the population is Catholic. Although that “organized religion” thing sets us apart, the reality is that we are so lost among the 75% that folks don’t see us. And often the folks not seeing us are ex-Catholics who would rather forget about us in the first place.

Go to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.

Although it’s tempting to want to evangelize among folks who are already Christian, I think Jesus’ first words of direction are important here. The lost sheep do certainly include the “separated brethren,” as they are called, but they’re not lost. They do not fit under the rubric of the “Nones” who have nothing to do with Organized Religion and the lapsed who just have not come back within the last 20 years. I’ve been amazed at the number of lapsed Catholics I know. Folks who used to go, but don’t anymore. I knew folks in High School and College that put my liberal protestant piety to shame, but now probably don’t have even a Bible in the house gathering dust.

I’m sure they have stories like mine: one day I woke up and didn’t believe it. It made no sense to me – at least not as much sense as sex and a job, a commuter card benefit, health insurance, and a few hobbies. I wasn’t cavalier enough to have only 1 hour on Sunday devoted to this private hobby so I dropped it altogether. Besides, there were other religions that were so much more fun in the first place: better food, better rituals, boutique cultural contexts, more interesting DIY functions. Everyone in every bar knew what a “christian” was: Episcopalianism was only slightly less exotic than a Rum and Coke. But no one knew what a Gnostic Pagan was. 

Others may have other reasons for leaving and more heartfelt and less egotistical than mine. But there is one story. 

How does one get back? You have to be invited. I had one afternoon of emotional sap: listening to an old LP I found in the bottom of my closet cleaning out my Sophomore year dorm room. It was of 70s Christian music, and it brought back “all the feels” as they say today. And I cried a lot. Also I left it in the dorm, along with the record player I had it on. That’s how important those feels. But then one day – some 15 years later – I was invited back. The person that invited me was named Ethan. And his invite took the oddest of forms: for he only suggest that maybe, when I moved to San Francisco in 1997, I might have something in common with a local Episcopal Church. And it took me the better part of a year or two to hear the invite in my memory and respond. That community was a perfect way to get me back inside… 21 years later I think it worked, although my path has more than a thousands hairpin turns. Look, you never know how God is going to act. My invite to the Catholic Church came in the most unlikely of ways – from the husband of my Orthodox Goddaughter, who mentioned St Dominic’s to me offhandedly. When the time came Nathan’s recommendation calmed my nerves a bit. And by “coincidence” he was at the service when I made my profession of the Catholic faith.

Our job is to go to the lost sheep. We may not be the folks who “win them back” but Ethan and Nathan both extended invites to me.
How do we go to the Lost Sheep? How can we say the Kingdom of God is at hand in a way that they can hear? St Benedict, whose feast is today, has been nearly maimed into a political slogan by the ranty right, but the Father of Western Monasticism knew that living the kingdom properly wins converts.

At Mass last night, Fr D reminded us that even Dorothy Day knew you don’t do it with “social action” that comes without dogma, but that might be a way in. Finding out that the Church’s pro-life action includes housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, free education for kids and adults, justice for refugees, social services for the poor, medical consultancies (everything from foot-care to drug-interaction advice), and rehab clinics… doing these actions – you can do them all at my parish – will draw others in. Jesus said “let your good deeds shine before men” that they may praise God. Our right action will lead to others coming in for right praise. Our Orthopaxis (which can only flow from our Orthodoxy) will lead to others’ Orthodoxy and, in turn, their Orthopraxis as well.

Go out and find the lost sheep… and tell them the Kingdom is here. Now.

And invite them in.

___

Please consider supporting my my writing via my Patreon