“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of My pasture.”
Of all the topics I would choose to avoid during this crazy time, addressing the issue of the current shepherds of the Church would rank high on the list. However, as one of the responsibilities of the pastor is to speak to the content of the Sunday’s Scriptures, with an entry like the first reading’s first crucial statement, the topic cannot be avoided. It is an ironic sense of timing that on Tuesday I was approached by a reporter for the National Catholic Register who wanted to interview me because of a comment I had made on Facebook concerning the current difficulties between Fr. Altman and his bishop. Someone had mischaracterized the nature of the relationship between the bishop and his priests and was applying his mistake to the Fr. Altman situation.
I simply corrected him based on the Code of Canon Law without opining on the specifics of that current difficulty.
In case any of our folks have a similar confusion, I will share what I shared with the person on Facebook. He was characterizing the relationship between the bishop and the priest as one of absolute obedience: if what he ordered was not sinful, the priest was required to obey. While this level of obedience may occur in reli- gious orders that take solemn vows of obedience, diocesan priests make a promise of respect and obedience to their Bishop that is not so absolute. In fact, in situations where the pastor has a disagreement with the bishop, there are vehicles for appeal and negotiation.
Much has been spoken about several of these difficult situa- tions, including local issues that many of us are familiar with (not in our diocese, thank God). I would caution everyone not to make premature judgments about these situations. Typically, we don’t have access to enough information to be able to make reasonable judgments about the situations, e.g., we are not privy to what the bishops may have shared privately with the priests involved or vice versa. We are typically only presented with one side and that often by a media that is also pushing its own agenda.
That having been said, the Scripture that begins our readings this Sunday does speak to the possibility that there are bad shep- herds. Anyone paying minimal attention to the news over the last several years is no stranger to the idea that we have had some horrendously bad shepherds, priests and bishops, especially concerning the ongoing abuse crisis.
The promise that the Lord makes in that Scripture is that He will move to protect and shepherd His people. We don’t know how or when, but we do know that He is in love with His Bride and ultimately concerned with her welfare. This is the vision of Jesus that is presented to us in the Gospel. When He sees His people in need, “His heart was moved with pity for them.” Jesus loves us and all the members of His Bride. He wants to be so present in our lives that, even during this difficult time, we can experience His care so that we too can say, as we just did in the responsorial Psalm, “the Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”
How can we do this? Listening to His Words to us in the Alleluia verse today can help: “My sheep hear My voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow Me.” In a time of conflicting voices, how can we know which voice is His? The voices that are in harmony with the Scriptures and the other teachings of the Church can guide us.
Now is the time to recognize that there has never been a more crucial time for us to be immersed in the teachings of the Church, so that we are not led astray, so that our families are not led astray, so that our parish is not led astray. Read the Scriptures and the Catechism, and hopefully there are priests you trust that can guide you as well. Cling to Him! Receive His Sacraments, plead for more of the Spirit, petition the Lady! He wins! – Fr. Ed Fride