Saturday, September 27, 2014

To Be Truly Pastoral - Two Reflections

1.  When Our LORD JESUS walked the earth, many sinners were drawn to His love, compassion, mercy and holiness.  He did not need to lecture them about their sinful lives.  He looked at them, they looked at Him, and they realized that He knew them, even their sins, and He loved them and that love and mercy they found in Him was utterly transforming and they turned from their sins and followed Him.  He never compromised Truth, but many so-called "religious" people were shocked that He related to people who had been trapped in sinful lives and that He was not all caught up in issues of rules, regulation and ritual as His primary focus, and these "religious" leaders failed to realize that the LORD had come to set us all free from sin and that they, too, were sinners in need of mercy--they just had different, less obvious sins. (I used to be sad that there was more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than the 99 righteous until I realized that even if we are trying our best to be perfect, we are not and we all have some area of sinfulness and need conversion.)

 I believe that Pope Francis is trying to put the focus back on JESUS and the Gospel.  It does not mean that he is compromising any of the Church's moral teaching.  I think that Pope Francis is trying to put the "horse" (the message of the Gospel, the life, love, mercy of JESUS, Gospel simplicity and care for the poor as exemplified by our father St. Francis of Assisi) back in front of the "cart" (the rest of Catholic teaching in faith, morals and social teaching) so that people will see JESUS and the Gospel first and THEN have the rest of authentic Church teaching from Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the teaching of the Magisterium follow and flow.  If people see ONLY what the Church is against--even though this is part of who we are and will always be--then they will fail to see JESUS.  If they can truly find JESUS in the Church and in us Christians and see the Gospel lived out in our lives and words, then it will be easier for them to accept the balance of Catholic teaching.

2.  At the end of the world Our LORD JESUS will come as our judge.  In His first coming He came as our Savior and our Good Shepherd.  He gave the "keys of the kingdom" to St. Peter, which represents authority, and He gave the Church teaching authority and legal authority.  At the same time, as our Good Shepherd He re-commissioned Peter with the words, "Feed My lambs.  Tend My sheep" (or similar words).  So the Pope and the Magisterium have authority to upholding infallible Truth while at the same time they are called to be shepherds, lovingly caring for the sheep and seeking out the lost sheep to bring them home and care for their wounds.  These may include divorced and remarried Catholics, women who are post-abortive, and homosexual persons. Many "lost sheep" do not realize they are lost.  Many "lost sheep" are still running, still in denial, still defiant, and still determined to run toward the next ravine. The heart of the Good Shepherd knows and the eyes of the Good Shepherd see that they are lost, that they are "like sheep without a shepherd". 

Those whom the LORD appointed as our "shepherds"--first of all, our Pope, then the cardinals, bishops, then the clergy--and finally, consecrated religious and ourselves as laity, must never cease to hold up the standard of what is right, we must never "enable" sin, and we must always encourage people to live by that standard.  At the same time we need to go after those "lost sheep", those who, for whatever reason, have failed to live up to that standard, to that ideal, acknowledging that we, too, could fail if not for the grace of God. 

In one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament--I believe it is in the book of the prophet Isaiah, as quoted in the contemporary liturgical song LIKE A SHEPHERD by the St. Louis Jesuits--the LORD says, "the lost I will rescue and heal their wounds, and pasture them, giving them rest."  Some of the lost sheep are easily found and acknowledge they are lost, and they long to be found.  Others are stubborn and defiant, and their defiance covers up but does not heal their wounds.  While never denying the standard it is essential that our shepherds go after and minister to all kinds of "lost sheep" and not leave them to their own destruction. 

The great challenge is how best to be "pastoral" and reach out to these "lost sheep" rather than condemning them or casting them out while still holding up the standard.  I think that this is what Pope Francis is trying to do and, whether or not you agree with his decision about the St. Patrick's Day Parade, what Cardinal Dolan is trying to do.  They are so many "lost" souls, so many who have experienced alienation.  Although we do not condone or enable sin, we as the Church, and especially our Church leaders, need to continue the work of JESUS, our Good Shepherd, in His work of healing, reconciliation and restoration. 

My retired pastor, Father Gallo, is fond of the saying, "The Church is not a haven for saints but a hospital for sinners."  Part of the Church's mission and the work of evangelization and re-evangelization in which we all share a part is "rescue mission". 

JESUS, Good Shepherd of souls, give all of us, especially those you have appointed as our shepherds, a share of Your own Shepherd's heart, to seek, gather, bring back, heal, restore and reconcile the myriad of wounded lost sheep.  As you communicated in your messages to St. Faustina, help us to show them Your Divine Mercy so that they will not have to be subjected to Your final justice. Amen.

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