Monday, July 23, 2018

Fed by God

Mark 6:30-34
They were like sheep without a shepherd

“The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.”

Prophecy: And they will all be taught by God. When and how is that supposed to happen? And Jesus withdrew with His disciples to a “lonely place where they could be by themselves.” With regard to the teaching of Jesus, this passage reminds me of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. All went away satisfied. And they all were fed by Christ.

I find that vacation time can sometimes provide the leisure for an unexpected, but reasonably good spiritual conversation with a priest friend, which can touch on themes which may come close to being of ultimate importance. From years of experience, though, I know better than to seek out or pine for such great talk during vacation or otherwise in life. That is not how it works, at least not as far as my reading of the lives of the saints has taken me. The instances recorded of such great exchanges are rather few and far between. Such excellent spiritual conversations usually take place after the manner of that recorded between a Monica and an Augustine, a mother and her son. They preparing for a sea voyage, but she in effect, as we read in the “Confessions of St. Augustine”, is preparing to take her leave of the earthly scene, her mission as a Christian mother having been achieved. I think also of the last annual visit of Scholastica to her brother Benedict and of their all night conversation imposed by a terrible storm upon Benedict in answer to his sister’s prayers. They shared the whole night through about the things of God, here too a prelude to St. Scholastica’s departure from this life for the heavenly kingdom on high.

At any rate, the knowledge of the singular character of such spiritual exchanges reserved to saints does not keep me from extrapolating from a good conversation with a priest friend, indeed a conversation not without merit even though it may have skirted the central issues somewhat, no doubt for the lack of sanctity on the part of the interlocutors who are far from the category of a Benedict or an Augustine. Inspired, if you will, by some of what we touched upon in earnest, I wish to go further and to share some thoughts about issues at the heart of a certain malaise among Catholic faithful, which would be soothed away, which longs to be quenched or fed by Jesus for the sake of the life of the world.

“So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.”

In our exchange, my friend bemoaned the sad plight of the work of evangelization in the Church today and blamed it on a lack of priestly zeal. On this he blamed the present plight of parishes and parish closings, of dwindling Sunday Mass attendance even here in the Heartland. The man is no slacker and I can attest for a fact to his dedication to tireless effort in the Lord’s vineyard. He himself is a rather inspired evangelizer, though I cannot attest to his efforts having been crowned by long term staying power in the parishes where he has served. I see him pictured in the above Gospel passage as working before Christ’s intervention to call the apostles away to rest and allow the Lord Jesus Himself to do the feeding and teaching. By this I mean, well, that unless the Lord build the house or guard the city, in vain does the builder or watchman go about his task. There is a listlessness which seems to hold the flock hostage and for any number of reasons. One’s personal efforts to build a better mousetrap are not going to be decisive for gathering in strays more than one at a time. The challenge is one of what to do in the face of a general trend away from Catholic practice. What do you do when there are not 99 but maybe only 35 or less peacefully pasturing on verdant fields? My thesis would be that the Lord’s work is not getting done; that our activism is standing in the way of Christ’s leading and feeding.

Granted, we have some serious sin issues and laxity among the clergy which are not being well enough addressed. A goodly part of the social media these days are propounding with no little vehemence, that the sheep are without shepherds, or if you will, that the wolves in sheep’s clothing are popping up all over the place. What to do?

Besides purging and reforming, we need to have recourse to the Lord. Something has malfunctioned or short circuited over the course of the last decades. Apart from sin in the life of the shepherds and of a grievous sort, it would seem that priests have gotten in the way of the Good Shepherd or at least have not had recourse to Him as their convincing witness before the flock.

Proximity to and genuine cooperation with the Good Shepherd, facilitating a work which is primarily His, would seem to be our call. We cannot do the feeding; that us up to Christ.


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