Many contradict the voice of the Good Shepherd.





     "As the Father hath sent me, I also send you" (Jn.20,21) .  Going therefore, teach ye all nations" (Mt.28,19) .  "He that heareth you, heareth me" (Lk.10,16) .  "Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice" (Jn.18,37) . "Thou are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven" (Mt.16,18-19).   "Jesus sayeth to Simon Peter. . . Feed my lambs. . . Feed my sheep" (Jn.21,15-17).  "The sheep follow him because they know his voice" (Jn.10,4).  

     The Mission to teach comes from God the Father through Our Blessed Lord to his Apostles and in a most particular way to Saint Peter and his successors.  As always, there are many voices besides that of the true shepherds.  Today they can be heard in the media:  in the newspapers, on the television, on the internet, in books, both fiction and non-fiction.  Many contradict the voice of the Good Shepherd.  

     During the 60's, a book, very influential in divinity schools and unfortunately even in Catholic seminaries, argued that man today had come of age and therefore might not wish to be thought of as sheep.  The Gospel message, the author argued, might be better served by different images more compelling to a technological and secular culture.  

     Of all the images and figures that Jesus used to explain and elucidate His person and mission, that of the "Good Shepherd" is among the most beautiful, the most natural and the most consoling.  The perennial value of this pastoral analogy chosen by Our Blessed Lord would of course stand on its own; but one could argue moreover that the need for simple basic imagery would seem to be all the more necessary the farther a culture distances itself from its natural roots.  The Gospel metaphor appears today like a beautiful tree in the midst of a concrete mall, lending life and shade to a barren habitat.  Both in the Old and New Testaments we have touching images of the shepherd  gathering the lambs in his arms, carrying them in his bosom, gently leading them (Is.40), binding up the wounds of his sheep (Ez. 34), going after a lost sheep and placing it on his shoulders (Lk.15,5), and ultimately laying down his life for them (Jn.10).

     It is not enough, however, that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, it is necessary that we are His "lambs" or,  if we have "come of age",  His "sheep"".  As Saint Augustine reasons, "Christ . . . would not have added Good (to Shepherd) unless there were also wicked shepherds.  These are thieves and robbers, or certainly, as  more frequent, the hirelings".  The hirelings are they who, as Saint Paul warns us, "seek their own interest and not those of Jesus Christ" (Ph.2,21).  "Whether he (who leads the sheep) is a shepherd or a hireling", according to Pope St. Gregory, "cannot be truly known unless a time of trial arise".   A "time of trial", a "Church Crisis, is indeed upon us.

       One thing the voice of thieves and robbers and hirelings all have in common, is an attempt to weaken, by one way or another, the voice of the Holy Father.  By many  within the Church this is very often taking the form of an insidious snare.   The Church's magisterium, according to this convenient theory,  is divided into two categories: "infallible" and "non-infallible"; with the latter category deserving simply "due respect" -  which respect does not require those functioning in the name of the Church to embrace it. 

     Speaking of various recent measures of the Holy See, Father Ladislas Orsy, for example, writes: "These provisions coalesce into a tightly knit pattern that excludes anyone who is not willing to embrace a definitive teaching from functioning 'in the name of the church'”.  

     This is an error that was explicitly condemned by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical, HUMANI GENERIS.

       Pius XII taught that it must not "be thought that since, in writing Encyclical Letters, the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority, then what is expounded in such Letters does not of itself demand consent.  For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: 'He who heareth you, heareth me' (Lk.X,16) ; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine.  But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians."

     This bifurcating division of  Catholic teaching results in a subtle but serious logical fallacy as well.  Father Orsy writes: 'In traditional theology it is not easy to understand how a teaching can be “non-infallible” (hence fallible) yet irreformable.'  It is not true that all Catholic teaching that has not been declared infallible is therefore "fallible".   The opposite of declared things is not fallible things but non-declared things.

     Regarding the faith, Saint Augustine asked whether one should "understand in order to believe" or "believe in order to understand".  The great Doctor of Hippo opted for the latter, which Saint Anselm would later call: "Faith seeking understanding". In the former you suspend belief in a doctrine until you understand it.  In the later you believe the doctrine and then attempt to deepen your understanding of it. 

     'If I am pleading for anything', writes Father Orsy, 'it is for “faith seeking understanding.” Who could object to that?'  That Fr. Orsy, however, is insisting, not on "believing in order to understand" but rather, on the opposite: "understanding in order to believe" is clear from two problems that he, in his words,  is trying to address:

'In 1989 the Holy See published an “extended” profession of faith, required from all candidates for ordination or for an ecclesiastical office. They must be willing “to embrace firmly and to hold all and each [point of doctrine] definitively proposed by the church.” Also in 1989 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith imposed a new Oath of Fidelity to be taken by the same persons, an oath that regards the present and the future: “I shall follow with Christian obedience what the sacred pastors, as authentic doctors and teachers of faith, declare.” Obedience to “definitive” declarations is clearly included.'

     The unity of Faith which is the bond of the Church requires that those functioning in the name of the Church embrace the teaching of the Holy Father, the Church's visible Shepherd.  The less visible, but nevertheless root, cause of this stormy period that the Church is suffering  is the decades of open defiance and dissent that has been allowed to continue unchecked.  Comparing the Gospel of the "Tempest at Sea" with that of  the "Miraculous Draught of Fishes", Saint Ambrose writes: "This ship which belongs to Peter is not tossed about; but that ship which holds Judas is.  Peter is in both; but he who is secure through his own merits is endangered because of others.  Let us beware of a traitor, lest through one among us many be threatened by the waves.  Where there is little faith there is confusion and distress; where love is perfect there is peace.  Lastly, while the others were bidden to cast their nets, only to Peter is it said to, 'Launch out into the deep'".  

     The issue here is not academic freedom, free speech or liberty of conscience; the issue here is the Church's need and Church's right to have those functioning in her name, be in fact within the unity of her faith.  

     Shepherds tell us that sheep learn the voice of their shepherd and when they hear a strange and foreign voice, they react in a startled manner and then hearing it again they flee.  Let us hope that faithful Catholics likewise will flee from the voice of the hirelings.

( editorial - Father Rosario Thomas, Oct. 30, 2002)