Good shepherds and Bad Shepherds
Who is your shepherd? The Lord is my shepherd, and “I shall not want… in verdant pastures, in right paths he leadeth me; I fear no evil, for only goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life.”
Who couldn’t love psalm 23, our Responsorial Psalm today? Who does not long for the perfect peace to which the Good Shepherd leads us? The first reading speaks of shepherds too, but Bad Shepherds. Jeremiah is speaking of the Kings of Israel, for it is the king’s role is to defend his people, to lead them into prosperity, to care for each citizen as his own son or daughter. The Kings of Israel, however, proved themselves incompetent, unfaithful, and even corrupt. They rejected God’s authority, causing great harm to the people. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter my flock!” Whose flock is it? Kings are stewards, not owners, of their kingdoms. An earthly ruler who turns from God’s law inevitably ends up eating his own people.
“I myself will gather my flock,” God says. “I will appoint a Shepherd-King who will rule not from an imposing palace, but from a stable. He will defend his people not with a paid army, but with his own body. He will purchase freedom for them with his own life. Jesus Christ is our King. Viva Cristo Rey! But Jesus told the local king, Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus will not run for president; nor will he serve as Bishop of Stockton, or even as Pastor of St. Joseph’s Church. Jesus entrusts human beings with the governance of both Church and State.
The Lord is my shepherd
And yet… the Lord is my shepherd. He must stand behind every earthly ruler. Their authority, and their very gift of leadership, is from Him. If our earthly leaders—bishops, priests, governors, members of congress, presidents—forget this, we all suffer. No one can effectively lead others without God’s help.
The day is coming, says Jeremiah, when “I will raise up a righteous shoot … he shall do what is right and just in the land.” That day came in Jesus, King and Messiah. That day comes in every elected or appointed leader who respects God more than men.
Politics and Religion
Of course, we cannot expect God to be our president, or even our pastor (although Fr. Mark may get close!). But we can expect our leaders to respect God and the Natural Law. We can trust no leader who does not acknowledge the sovereignty of God. Keep this in mind when you vote this November.
Some say I stray into politics when I preach. But if the Gospel has nothing to say about the political process, what good is it? It would be just a fairy tale, out of touch with the real world. A priest should never tell you for whom to vote, but he must give you Gospel principles on which you make your political decisions. If the Lord is my shepherd, then I must acknowledge his authority in every part of my life, including politics: how we order our lives together.
Some tell me they are angry or discouraged over the directions our political and cultural leaders are taking this country. Don’t be angry, don’t be discouraged. The Lord is God. Nothing happens in this country without his permission. We who try to submit ourselves to Him do what we can, and trust him to do the rest. With increasing frequency, indications of social breakdown manifest themselves. Friday’s massacre in Colorado is one such manifestation. The cultural elites have been feeding us violent entertainment for 30 years, and they pretend to be shocked when our young people do what they’ve been taught to do. But the day will come, and indeed is here already, when God himself will shepherd his flock in truth and justice. That day is here right now, as we kneel before the altar. Truth and Justice reign in this place.
Now you, carry it out into the world, a world starving for God.
I leave you with profound thanksgiving for a blessed 12 years at St. Joseph’s. Next weekend will be my last with you, and I begin my new assignment at Thomas Aquinas College in August. Your own faith and prayers have sustained me and inspired my vocation. You are all invited to my farewell potluck after Mass. If you didn’t bring any food, you are welcome anyway: I’m sure there will be plenty.