Acts 2:14.36-41; 1Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10
St Irenaeus was a peaceful man, in fact, his very name means peace. Nevertheless, as the Benedictus antiphon in the Office of Morning prayer for his feast day says: ...he fought strenuously for the peace of the Church.
The whole antiphon reads:
Irenaeus, in keeping with his name, was a man of peace; he fought strenuously for the peace of the Church.
I must admit, I love that antiphon - so beautifully put!
It speaks to a dilemma which has dogged my priesthood from the beginning - two seemingly irreconcilable opposites - building peace and fighting; or to put it another way: fighting for peace.
In the movie 300, perhaps too bloodthirsty to recommend, there is a fight between the hero and a vicious wolf. It’s my preferred image of the Good Shepherd. I know the traditional image of Jesus holding a lamb to his chest and surrounded by peacefully grazing sheep has its own beauty but, considering the contemporary world and the Church in which we live today, I prefer this one - it's the backstage Good Shepherd - mixing it with the enemies of his flock.
We have had many such shepherds in the Church - Pope John Paul II brandishing the sword of his spirit-filled intellect at the proud wolves who take their power from the world and its ways; Mother Teresa, and even Mother Angelica, and, in our own land of Australia we are blessed with Cardinal Pell and some very fine bishops. There are many others, thank God, bishops, priests, deacons and religious, all over the world.
A good shepherd must be ready for combat – offensive and defensive. The battlefield? I think its name today is orthodoxy – believing what the Church believes, teaching what the Church teaches, doing what the Church does – no more and no less.
For all too many Catholics today this has become an impossible demand. Their hearts have turned from the truths of Christ and his Church - they are no longer enough - they no longer captivate or satisfy. Rather than allow themselves to be shaped by the Church and her teachings they seek to shape the Church and conform her to their dissident views.
How do they do it, these enemies of truth? The answer is – bit by bit, step by step, doctrine by doctrine, day after day.
Here, for example, is an excerpt from the transcript of the ABC programme Compass which went to air last week. Here is a Catholic School Principal, a Marist Brother, hard at work - white-anting, de-evangelising, un-catechising the Catholics of Australia:
Br Tony: In my time at school if you didn’t go to church on Sunday you were going to burn in hell - which I don’t think is the case… I think it is possible to be a good Christian, I think it is possible to be a good Catholic and not necessarily have to be at church on Sunday. I will probably be in trouble for saying that.
Can you believe this guy? And it's not as though he doesn't know he is at variance with the Church! This is the bumptious voice of liberalism at its worst, effortlessly setting aside Church teaching in favour of a much more authoritative voice - his opinion!
You have learnt how it is said ..... but I, Br Tony, say unto you ... (cf. Mtt 5:21)
He sounds like he relates to the Church the way his students relate to their school with his adolescent quip: I will probably be in trouble for saying that. The scandal is, of course, that he probably won’t and that we employ him to educate our Catholic young people - to be their shepherd! Speaking for myself I think Br Tony should be asked not only to relinquish his position as principal but told not to go near a class of Catholic students again - until his faith finds some feet.
Last year, in this very parish, I had the distasteful experience of having to listen to the Australian Provincial of a mainstream religious order tell me she did not accept the teaching of the Church on homosexuality and that she counselled the girls she came across to stay in their lesbian relationships but have only one partner. When I reminded her of the clarity of Church teaching on the subject she said: Well, I don’t accept Church teaching on this matter. And that was that!
A final example: Just a few months ago a young woman and her fiancé joined a number of other couples for a marriage preparation session at Centacare in one of the Catholic dioceses near Sydney and were informed by the Catholic presenters that it's definitely okay to use contraception. The young woman, a practising Catholic, challenged this statement and was reassured that Catholics may use contraception so long as it does not cause abortions. I understand that more will be heard of this incident in the months ahead.
Well, it seems there will be fighting. The arrogant wolves are everywhere confronting the shepherds in the Australian Church. Many of the sheep are not even aware there is a battle raging. Many could not care but many do - deeply.
Throughout Australia there are simple, orthodox, heart-broken Catholic parishioners who have been praying for years for courageous shepherds to take a stand. These men and women have glimpsed the turmoil behind the façade of unity and are not deceived – but they are powerless to tear the façade down. Were it to come down we would all be shocked – primarily, I believe, at how small the Catholic Church in Australia really is.
It's funny how, in the end, this all boils down to the individual, each individual one of us. If you were watching Compass the other night how did you feel? What was your reaction? Did you cringe? Was your faith insulted, outraged?
Today the strong (in faith) are getting stronger and the weak, weaker. It’s so obvious. The Brother Tonys and the dissident religious sisters of this world are going at it hammer and tongs behind the façade of unity un-teaching the faithful and completing the process of their unchurching.
Are we to keep silent? Did Jesus not say: Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin; and no town, no household divided against itself can stand (Mtt 12:26)?
Do you think he was joking?