Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Wary Shepherd

Being a shepherd isn't easy.

A shepherd is not always the owner of the sheep.  He must take care of the sheep as the owner of the sheep desires.  He must feed the sheep what and where the owner wants them to eat. He must remember he is answerable for the sheep entrusted to him.

A shepherd must be aware that predators want to devour his flock.  They want to gorge themselves on every single ewe and lamb. In fact, the wolves would like to make a meal of the shepherd as well. A strong shepherd they will fear.  A weak shepherd they will target.

A shepherd must be aware that the wolves would like him to become like them so that they may prey freely on the flock.  They will welcome a shepherd who preys on the flock as well. They will encourage the shepherd to prey on his own flock without compunction.  If the wolves cannot co-op the shepherd to prey on his own flock, then they will look to destroy him.

The shepherd must know the wolves are wise and wily. They will do their best to fool the sheep into a false sense of security. They will encourage them to wander far from the flock. The shepherd must  train the sheep to listen to his voice and trust him over the wolves. The shepherd must be on guard against the wolves for his own good and good of the flock.

The shepherd must take the flock where the owner wants.  He must trust that where the owner wants the flock to be is to the benefit of all. The shepherd must lead through verdant meadows and craggy mountain passes.  He must keep sure of his own footing and be attentive to the footing of the flock, especially those who find the more difficult parts of the path too hard. With adept skill, a wary shepherd negotiates the most treacherous of trails and trains his flock to do the same.

The shepherd must be cautious of what the sheep consume.  Pretty flowers can oftentimes be toxic poisons. He must steer his flock away from what is toxic lest they become fitting prey for the wolves.  He must also avoid eating what is toxic, lest while in a diminished state the ever-present wolves snatch members of the flock or attack him.

The shepherd must also be aware of other shepherds. He must be able to tell the difference between a shepherd who is good at being a shepherd, a shepherd who bad at being a shepherd, and a wolf dressed as a shepherd. He must not allow the poor example of poor shepherds or the nefarious example of wolves in shepherd's clothing cause him to despair, compromise, or abandon his post.

Finally, the shepherd must know he represents to the owner of the flock.  The flock will presume that the shepherd is doing what the owner wants.  His diligence, care, protection, and skill point beyond himself and to the owner of the flock.

Bishops and priest are shepherds of a flock that belongs to Christ.  He calls us to be these wary, skilled, protective, and wise men who will be good at shepherding.  Parents are those shepherds, especially dads, of the flock entrusted to them in their spouse and children.  Christ has the same expectation of parents in regards to their families as he does pastors and bishops of his churches.

When we shepherds fall short of our duties, we allow our flocks to be picked off. We invite the wolves in to prey of the flock. Or abandon the flock and our flocks suffer greatly.  As the flock assigned us--- be it a bishop to a diocese, a pastor to his parish, or a parent to their spouse and children--- is not ours but God's first.  We are held accountable to Christ for what we did with his flock.  We must cultivate virtue in each of us to be those who are good at shepherding.  We must cultivate them in the lambs as they will one day share in that role of  that shepherding. One cannot prey on the lambs and train simultaneously  the lambs to be good shepherds.

One of the primary reasons Camp Maccabee was founded was to train men to be good shepherds.  To be a man who is good at shepherding, one must pursue virtue, holiness, and be a reflection of the Good Shepherd to that part of the flock of Christ entrusted to him. In an age where we see the fallout and grievous damage of bad shepherds, we don't abandon the flock, we raise up good shepherds will lead their flocks as Christ, the Good Shepherd, would have it done.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Walking on the Via Dolorosa: Scandal and Betrayal in our Church

The Church in the United States is in troubled times.  Truth be told, she has been for decades. As we stand on the shore looking at what might be the outer bands of a category 5 hurricane, looking around us and wondering what we will left standing once the storm has passed, and looking with worry on how things will be rebuilt, it is easy and understandable that many might rage at this storm.  Once again, we walk the Via Dolorosa (the way of Sorrow...the Way of the Cross) as we pass through this scandal.

Feeling Desecrated

On the night of July 23rd, 2016, while I pastor of St. Clement Church in Bowling Green Mo, my parish church was desecrated. A person had entered the church with bags of human feces and smeared them on the altar, lectern, confessionals, statue of the Blessed Mother, baptismal font, presider's chair tabernacle, and managing to find the key to the tabernacle, mixed it with the Blessed Sacrament.  She had poured wine on the vestments, threw unconsecrated bread on floor, poured out the Holy Oils into the carpet, and desecrated the Holy water.  It was a surgical attack.

I was away from the parish running Camp Maccabee. When the sheriff called (he is a parishioner) and told me what had happened, it was like getting hit by a car at full speed.  My bishop told me to stay where I was for the media would be besieging the place and the church could not be used for any sacrament until the desecration was addressed. It was the longest week of my life.  When I returned home, I mourned.  I wrote on this blog a posts called "The Long Good Friday."  On the following Saturday, a minor exorcism, Mass of reparation, and re-consecration took place so that the Masses for the weekend could take place back in the church.

I was blown away by the immediate response of my flock.  I cannot imagine the violation and grief they felt coming into the church that Sunday morning and finding things as they were.  Never being presented with such a thing in my priesthood, I knew what words I would say could make or break things.  I prayed intensely, asking for guidance.  I wrote about caution and mercy in the face of such great evil.  Word started getting back to me that almost all of my parishioners were already looking to being merciful. As details unfolded about the soul who did this, we found out it was not a stranger.  The person was Catholic, but also was practicing Wicca. There was mental illness involved. We had helped this lady on multiple occasions.    It hurt.

I remember in one of the conversations I had with the bishop at the time, Bishop John Gaydos.  I remember him clearly telling me not to allow this to change me or my parish to the negative. The devil will use tragedy to plant seeds of white hot hatred and a burning desire for vengeance. When the church was exorcised, the reparations made, and the Blessed Sacrament restored to His rightful home, it was like a intense darkness had been lifted.  Praying before the Blessed Sacrament after the Eucharistic Procession around the exterior and interior of the Church, I wept with joy that the darkness was gone.

Some of my parishioners offered to raise bail money for the woman and we started the process for attaining the ability to absolve (must come from Rome as to absolve for desecration of the Blessed Sacrament must be granted by the Holy See).  Unfortunately, the woman committed suicide before that could happen.

Feeling Desecrated Again

 When we read through the Pennsylvania's Attorney General's Grand Jury Report, it like reading a description of hell. As the sins of a high ranking American prelate are exposed and the attendant cover-up by those who knew is also exposed, it is easy for those who love the Church to feel as if we are walking through a desecrated church. These activities are as unwelcome and heinous within the church as the human feces were in the parish church of St. Clement. The smell is equally sickening.  The feelings of rage, fury, anger, and wrath from those who love the Church are warranted.  However, what happened at St. Clement might well be a tutorial for how to handle this crisis.

Cleaning up the feces

The parishioners had a disagreeable task that Sunday morning.  They came to worship God, but they now had to clean up human feces smeared on their beloved church and in the Blessed Sacrament. It was nasty work.  However, the first stage of healing was cleaning up. The fecal matter was removed. Items that were beyond repair (Roman Missal, Lectionary, some clothes, and Ciborium) were set aside so that they could be buried in the cemetery later. Vestments were sent to the cleaners.  The only visible scar was where the oils had been poured into the carpet.  Despite best efforts, it could not be removed.

Likewise, we have to remove what has been desecrated.   That will take a thorough cleaning of sins we have allowed to reside in our church for generations.  These actions came as a result of beliefs.  Tolerance of sinfulness, especially in regards to human sexuality, led to the mentality that made it seem that molestation of children (mostly boys), abuse of power over seminarians and young priests, and that when caught, thought as merely unfortunate, that it must be covered up led to a toxic atmosphere that brought great darkness. This tolerance of sinfulness spilled into every avenue of church life.  the same hands doing these nefarious things were the same hands that presided at Mass.  These were the same hands that taught, preached, and led flocks. This tolerance of sinfulness must be expunged from our midst, as disagreeable a task as it might be, just as the remnants of the desecration had to be done.

This will require must self-reflection on the part of many.  It will hurt.  It will smell. But it must be done.

However expunging this will not be enough.

Exorcising and Reparation

Just as my parish Church had to be exorcized and reparations for the grievous sin against the Blessed Sacrament had to be made, so to must any and all influence of the devil must be exorcized from our church and reparations must be made to address in justice these sinful acts.

I see many articles screaming for heads.  Maybe these people resign.  I don't know.  If they do or don't can not stop all of us from calling for and acting upon the removal of the false teachings, lax morality, and acceptance of deviant behavior that got us here.  I really believe that the loss of transcendence (not called for by Vatican II or the General Instruction of the Roman Missal) and Faustian deal struck with the world's morality paired with a complete dismissal of the devil, demonic forces, and entities left us collectively open to these attacks.  We must rebuild the ramparts against these attacks knowing that the devil has not one intention of doing anything but stepping up his attacks.

Reparations to God must be made.  Whether by neglect, leaving ourselves open, acceptance of evil, or turning a blind eye to evil, we have neglected and abused the great gift given us by Christ in His bride. Many are calling for the bishops to collectively make reparations and penance.  That is appropriate.  However, as St. Paul reminds us that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer. Many are in the midst of a Novena Rosary that started on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and ends with the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (Oct. 7th).  Perhaps joining ourselves to this as an act of reparation for this country and our church in this country might well achieve such an end.  Details can be found at  . We all have a vested interest in doing our part towards the exorcising and reparations of our Church.

Final Thoughts

How my parish handled the desecration said much about who they are.  Although I would never wish for such to ever happen, the desecration told me they were in a good place, that wanting to live the Gospel in the most heartbreaking of circumstance was desired, and they ended up stronger for having gone through such a crucible.  They made their Via Dolorosa in those dark days.  But we all know the story of Christ doesn't end with the Cross of the tomb.  It continues on through the Resurrection and Ascension.

The hurricane will pass. There will be damage.  We will have to rebuild.

We will have to make this Via Dolorosa.  Each step will test us.  Let us not lose sight nor hope on where the road eventually leads.  Christ defeated the devil through the Cross. We will also defeat the devil by carry this cross as Christ carried His.  We will have to exercise forgiveness and mercy from our cross as Christ did from His.  It will be difficult.

My parish ended stronger after their Via Dolorosa.  The Catholic Church in this country can be stronger when this is done.  It all hinges on our decisions and reactions.  Just remember, none of the other apostles walked away from Christ because of the sins of Judas.  Neither can we walk away from following Christ because of the Judases in out church home.  Virtue in the face of vice must be how we handle this desecration of the Church in our country.