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.

Perverse and Foolish

JMJ

The Readings for Friday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2):

Non enim te abjecerunt, sed me, ne regnem super eos.
For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them.

God sounds rather downcast here. Give them what they want…

Except I think that would be a lie. God’s making a point to Samuel: that he should not be downcast. God is right. The Jews are rejecting his direct rule and asking for a king that they should be like the other nations. God has a plan here. And even though the Jews think they have a better idea, God is bringing salvation out of even that normal human urge to look like everyone else.

God warns them.

This will be the right of the king, that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and put them in his chariots, and will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to run before his chariots, And he will appoint of them to be his tribunes, and his centurions, and to plough his fields, and to reap his corn, and to make him arms and chariots. Your daughters also he will take to make him ointments, and to be his cooks, and bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your best oliveyards, and give them to his servants…. And you shall cry out in that day from the face of the king, whom you have chosen to yourselves: and the Lord will not hear you in that day, because you desired unto yourselves a king.

They don’t care so God gives them the Royal Schmuck, Saul, and says, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

But then Saul goes out of his way to offend God… and God sends the people David.

Then from David came the Messiah. And Jesus is God’s final answer to the Jews asking Samuel for a King.

They are not rejecting you – they are rejecting me… so I will be their King anyway.

This is God’s wisdom, God’s majesty: I will bring salvation out of even your errors.  Hindsight is 20:20, yo. What would have happened if the Jews had not asked for a king? It’s not important. What we have is God’s history as it has happened now.

And when we see the Tapestry woven from human sin and divine grace we are overwhelmed with God’s love for us. Each time we ran away the pattern was seemingly rewoven to include that. Or did we only feel we were running away?

Last night at Evening prayer this came rushing in as we sang this poetic setting of the 23rd Psalm by Henry W. Baker, in Hymns An­cient and Mo­dern (London: 1868):

The King of love my Shepherd is,
  Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His,
  And He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
  My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
  With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
  But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
  And home rejoicing brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
  With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
  Thy Cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
  Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And oh, what transport of delight
  From Thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
  Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise

  Within Thy house forever.

That third verse in italics up there… singing that I lost it: couldn’t sing. Cuz that line “perverse and foolish oft I strayed” is like my motto for the last 50 years.  Yet there I was, standing in a Dominican Community singing vespers, in a Roman Catholic Church. How? Well, if you read a long you know how. But so overwhelming was God’s mercy and my sense of his love for me…

God gives us what we want, weaving anew (or in spite of, I can never tell) our many missteps. And the great dance that is created has one final goal, one final ending which was also read at vespers last night:

There is cause for rejoicing here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears. Although you have never seen him, you love him, and without seeing you now believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith’s goal, your salvation. (I Peter 1:6-9 – Liturgy of the Hours)

It is all to that end: the goal of faith is not our happiness in this world, not some Witchy Peddler of a great get rich quick secret of manifesting our dreams, nor some Royal Schmuck of a politician that rooks us all for racist fools: rather our Salvation – including the politicians and racists and the witchy peddlers and all of us. God’s out to save us all, no matter how perverse and foolish we are. 

Sheep are smelly, stupid creatures that, if not minded carefully, will feed to close to rushing waters and get carried away. (Their wool traps air, and makes the buoyant.) We may not always smell, but any political rush will sweep us along.

Jesus – whose very name means salvation – is God’s only answer to our plaintive, toddler cry “leave us alone!”. God has sent a human being to us. Fully Human, this being is also God.