What could be the common thread of this Sunday?
Here’s what connects the promise of God, the Father, to Moses on one side, and the calling to the apostles by Jesus on the other: the existence of a plan of salvation.
God chooses a special people; Jesus tells his followers they shouldn’t just go in the world and preach to the entire humanity: they should instead focus on that very same people, the Israelites.
We can always play the mystery card, but the explanation we usually give ourselves, which I gave too, and it’s valid, is the one that involves a long salvation path, one that needs a gradual development.
First we work on consolidating a base, later the effort is shifted towards the mission to those that are distant.
Sounds about right.
However, when one listens to this specific passage of the Gospel today…
Also thanks to how the reading is framed, to how the two situations described enter into a relationship, a very bitter reflection came to me. In fact, see this:
At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
[…] «Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. […]».
Of course: they could see enough desolation on the immediate horizon, in their people, confused and without a shepherd, to think that they could already set off with enthusiasm to conquer the world.
This needs to be said: the arbitrary cut I made modifies the passage, directly joining Jesus’ observation to his disciples, on the fact that “laborers” were missing (and were needed) for all that harvest, with the special dispositions given, again by Jesus, to his new chosen envoys, the Apostles.
However, I think the way I strained the text helps bring forth an aspect that we may otherwise have missed, one which could very well have been intentional on the part of the evangelist: it is the bewilderment, the unpreparedness, the lack of guidance that characterized the people surrounding them, that determined the proper initial approach to evangelization; and this state of matters evidently also corresponds to a degeneration of the faith of the people originally chosen by God.
They have no guide because they seek only signs and miracles (Jn 4:48), and they chase after the vain hopes peddled by false messiahs full of promises; because they are lost in a tangled mess of opinions, their faith is empty, practiced mechanically, just to save appearances, and many do not believe at all. Especially among those who are supposed to be guides and religious leaders.
We can see ourselves in those lost people. This passage speaks specifically to us, living in the first half of the 21st century…
Humanity is always the same: history rhymes, and this includes the history of the Church…
Starting over means -first of all- becoming aware of how low we have sunk.
In my opinion this passage works as if -even today- Jesus were to say, to each one of us, à la Jordan Peterson: before embarking on a mission to change the world, clean your room.
The first mission, especially when the whole structure is compromised, is performed at home, saving what can be saved and then rebuilding; forget about being able to win over peoples from other continents to the faith.
In this wretched age we have missionaries to the Amazon who boast that they never baptized anyone in decades of mission.
A pope who reproaches those who “proselytize“, i.e. bring new converts into the Church.
Many religious congregations are put under temporary receivership, turned inside out and practically destroyed. Their crime? Let’s face it, they were seen as excessively Catholic: too focused on prayer, contemplation, penance, preserving tradition.
Micro-superstar priests singing pop songs at the altar wearing a football jersey; liturgies with ambiguous-looking ballets; massacred liturgies, sacred art that turns you incredulous, architectural horrors, dubious or almost satanic church settings…
Quasi-priestesses, impersonated by parish activists, who (for instance in the German-speaking world) almost completely take the place of the priest at mass… all sorts of disturbing sights.
Including the South American priests who live with their woman, out in the open, more uxorio, with a large number of babies in tow; or the gay activists who triumph in the seminary, in the “Catholic media” and at church meetings and events; religious entities of all types colonized and controlled by declared enemies of the Church, or at least by those who passively, without animosity, without much fuss, systematically carry out the orders of the enemy.
And these are just the first random examples that came to my mind.
Can we be surprised that a doctrinal confusion emerges from this chaos, or even an open rejection of doctrine, in those men who in theory would be tasked with specifically confirming their brethren in their faith, without changing it?
Unworthy guides, who push many away from the faith, while at the same time trying to soothe those unbelievers who despise them anyway. Or, quite often, unworthy guides who are after a quiet life, trying to go with the flow. They won’t get anywhere with this, but in the meantime they’re adamant: the future is here, a thorough update is inevitable, and it consists in a surrender, in no longer showing the courage to bring forward the original Christian proposal.
There’s no point, today, in thinking of converting the world, if we don’t rebuild our Church first, doing something for this pile of rubble.
I’s so hard to try and reverse the trend… perhaps we’re still in the acceleration phase of the decadence. But we must follow the words of Jesus Christ, of this Sunday’s Gospel.
Following this path, moreover, would also lead, through a commitment that is centered on the Gospel, to attracting new laborers for the harvest: new vocations, which are desperately needed.
After all even today’s vocations are already concentrated on counter-current groups and seminaries, which rediscover tradition and reject liturgical fashions or policies generated by the latest media fads and buzzwords.
Two clarifications, however!
It’s too easy to pick on priests today.
1- Far be it from me to play the part of the layman who, resting on the laurels of his own comfortable life, with little to no responsibilities, summarily condemns this or that and pretends to teach priests what they absolutely must do.
I briefly hinted at it: the call to begin anew, rebuild and first of all consolidate, is addressed to all of us. And the degeneration of the clergy is only a symptom of a decadent age in which we all participate, and often we laymen are deeper into the abyss.
There are many good priests, even if usually they too, today, don’t have the courage to stick their heads out and shout a resounding “No!” when needed.
2- Criticism of priests and the Church usually mixes up very different, conflicting observations, putting together inconceivable falsehoods, hard truths and everything in between; above all: half-truths, told in a more than malevolent way.
So how can I, who for a lifetime have fought (with words, in my small way, within the tiniest bubble) trying to defend the Catholic Church under attack, now play the part of the complainer who finds faults everywhere?
The point is not how much there is to criticize, but that there are correct forms of criticism that identify problems in the Church that arise from an infidelity to the Gospel, and wrong forms of criticism that deny the perfectly observable effectiveness and wisdom of the Gospel, which they’d like to replace with something else.
This is the core issue: pedophile priests, atheist priests, womanizers, careerists, those that sold their soul or are compromised, and all those who want to throw away the Christian doctrine, are actually in tune with the typical self-styled sophisticated armchair expert that attacks the Church on social media, in pub talk or from newsrooms.
Criticism is needed because it is also a criticism of the critics, who are part of the problem.
Maybe this isn’t the ideal moment to go deeper and try to diagnose, looking for the causes. Think forward rather than look back, one might say.
If nothing else, looking for the causes may help us better understand what went wrong, so as not to take the path that leads us to get lost even more.
I happen to think that the most suggestive mistakes share many similarities, they are indeed connected.
-The tiredness of the man of the cloth who, no longer goaded, gets figuratively fat and lazy, in absence of persecutions and challenges. The call to a mission and the safe DMV job are two diametrically opposed worlds. If you share in the mentality of government employees (and it is no coincidence that many problems are worse in ecclesial communities that are financed by the state, through taxes!) obviously you are more inclined to go with the flow than to be an incisive, courageous witness to a doctrine and culture that a superficial observer would see as same ol’, same ol’….
Weren’t the members of the Sanhedrin refined politicians, compromised with the rulers, the Romans?
-An egocentric vision on the part of a typical priest and his parish minions: faced with any pressing issue, we rush to say: how can it be solved? What should I do, or what should I have done, that I haven’t done? As if a multiplication of efforts could reverse the results: being able to control history. In an age of great changes and dominated by political utopianism, we naively rely on grand plans, since we have forgotten that we’re just useless servants… everything seems rationally within reach, if only you listen to the experts. And that’s why we see a full throttle push for the primacy of pastoral care: if you only knew what kind of meetings, themes, proposals, activities… what weird little tricks and clever strategies you could adopt, young people would rush to crowd your oratory… Hence, this explains the typical mantras of the modern, open Church: a Fire Sale Church, where Everything Must Go, Only For Today Special Discounts Up To 80%… Imaginative, Listening, Focusing on Dialogue, Courage To Change… These are just ploys, excuses to replace God and invent something new.
Hopelessly trying to please the distant masses, getting ridiculed for the effort, while failing to provide a solid doctrinal base to those that are close to you, those whose formation you were entrusted with.
-Envy of the world: you had a faith that represented a fundamental reference point for centuries, for the whole life of entire populations, who were used to be contented with what they had, which was little. A point of reference even in holidays and for recreation and socialization. Many beautiful shared moments, lived in simplicity. And suddenly a world full of ideas, opportunities, amusements, new desires opened up… A world that appears colourful, successful, seductive. You’re unable to compete by just counting on the nice and wholesome gatherings and experiences of old (there’s still room for events at the level of the Palio di Siena, not for a thousand modest parochial feasts; meanwhile, the regular weekly appointment with Jesus on a Sunday morning mass is overwhelmed by other commitments and desires). And where this familiarity of doing things together, of spending time with, is missing, a sense of belonging, of attributing value, is inevitably missing as well.
Even our perception of reality has changed.
The social shock caused by so many changes was inevitable. This backlash includes new attitudes: chasing after anything new and novel, not knowing how to rethink one’s proposal in a way other than gradually abandoning the past, as if it had been all a mistake. That’s when nobody can find you interesting, let alone join your ranks: you only represent a pale imitation, lacking personality; a community that appears to be ashamed of what they are… trying to relaunch your proposal by giving people what they already have is just pathetic.
On this morally bankrupt route we can find the idea of a salvation that embraces everyone, because you’re never supposed to mention Hell among nice people, which means it must be empty at the very least. And this is just one striking example out of a thousand.
After all, if a classic-modern type of parishioner couple gets married after 12 years of living together (with a toddler or two in tow), and you, a priest, almost thank them for having deigned to consider you and your quaint religious marriage, what can you expect? But let’s not underestimate, however, the discomfort and impossible situation that a priest is routinely facing: he can’t on the other hand uselessly thunder against this or that, in splendid isolation: he “must” chase people, try to carve out a space, advertise himself to attract customers, always be diplomatic and accommodating! Locked in a corner, doing what is expected of him, that’s inevitable. And ineffective.
No, “what shall we do now” is the wrong question to ask. We must only aim at being. Be faithful. Try to be holy, the rest comes as a consequence. In the long run and not on our terms.
These are just some ideas.
Many other reasons surely could be found.
However, this crisis is much more systemic than it seems, intrinsic to a humanity who’s losing grasp of its very nature: after great leaps forward, our development has overtaken us.
In conclusion I feel like saying, even to myself: let’s do the opposite of what we’re usually doing.
We tend to cultivate feelings of hostility, of caustic criticism, towards men of the cloth whom we find, more or less accurately, inadequate; but then, in practice, we do nothing, we remain invisible.
To do the opposite means to show authentic affection even for bad priests, to try in some way to create harmony and to show a brotherly solicitude; but at the same time, to multiply the opportunities to speak out, criticize, even say loud NOs, at least when it’s clear you’re reasoning in the light of Tradition.