While this isn’t Good Shepherd Sunday, for all the references in today’s readings, it might as well be. Today, we see Jeremiah giving a stern warning to bad shepherds, that is, bad prophets, who are leading the people into error. Apparently, there must have been a lot of them in ancient Israel, perhaps leaders too preoccupied with themselves and their own affairs to care properly for their flock, or perhaps weak men who didn’t have the courage to point out immorality when they saw it, thereby essentially giving people permission to live immoral lives in ignorance of their situation. Jeremiah says, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.” That implies that religious leaders and shepherds who mislead those in their care will be punished by God, and sadly it also implies, through the use of the word ‘remnant,’ that a lot of misled people are going to be lost. I think it’s important to dwell on these words today.
Think of what was acceptable fifty or even twenty years ago versus today, on TV, cable, the internet, or elsewhere to see what I mean. Morally navigating cable and internet has become a tedious chore, and why? Because the prurient garbage presented makes money, and for many, money is obviously their god. Not to mention all the lies fed to us on social media, masquerading as the truth, so as to confuse people in their moral choices. Woe to those who shepherd immorality into our society, and woe to any misguided clergy who fails to stand up against such behavior. The Prophet Jeremiah reminds us that they are also poor shepherds who will be called to account by God.
Saint Paul speaks of the integration of Christ, that he was not God sometimes and a frail human being at other times. He was always the perfect divine-human being, showing us in his perfected humanity what God is calling us to be ultimately in eternal life and the importance of never allowing disintegration to direct us, as sin encourages us to do. Any time we know what’s right but choose to sin anyway, we disintegrate, we become just a little less of the perfected human being that God wants us to be. In other words, each time we sin, we become a little less Christlike, a little less perfect, a little less loving of God and neighbor. And, as Paul reminds us, if we want peace in our hearts, that can only come from radically turning from sin in total imitation of Jesus Christ. There is no other way. Only in Christ can there be true peace, and it is to peace, internally and externally, that we are have been called.
The beautiful responsorial Psalm 23 which we used today, reminds us that it is the Lord who is our shepherd, not Satan, not immoral laws, not decadent living, not befuddled politicians, and not even the world, as beautiful as some aspects of it can be. Our shepherd is Christ, who acts through the Holy Spirit to bring about God’s will, which is always oriented to our salvation. Yes, woe to those who would lead us and shepherd us away from Christ, we must pray for their salvation. But thanks be to God for the Good Shepherds, as unpopular as they can sometimes be, for their courage to stand up for what is right and moral, because it is they who will help us, as the psalm says, to dwell in the House of the Lord for years to come, which of course really means not years to come but rather, an eternity to come.
May the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord, give us the grace to recognize the good shepherds among us, and when called by these gifts given to us at Confirmation, may we use them to help shepherd others toward holiness