Luke 16:11-12
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?
This week I had an opportunity to read some things from St. Augustine. It seemed to me that he was taking a necessary step in further warnings regarding what Jesus said in the Gospel. Jesus spoke about being trustworthy, St. Augustine spoke about being a good shepherd, a worthy shepherd.
The closing paragraph that St. Augustine wrote was this:
“Therefore anyone who lives wickedly before those who have been placed under his care kills, as far as he himself is concerned, even the strong. Whoever imitates him, dies; whoever does not, has life. But as for him, he kills both of them. You kill what is healthy and you do not pasture my sheep.”
I am hard-pressed to figure out what else to quote from Augustine. There is so much of it that I found necessary for our day. There are so many who lead people astray by their own mixed up notions of what it means to be holy, by their own mixed up notions of what is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. In some cases, it is almost like people feel it is okay to make up their own morality and their own list of sins, which have little to do with Catholic morality.
The following section summarizes what I read from Augustine the best:
“Even the strong sheep, if he turns his eyes from the Lord’s laws and looks at the man set over him, notices when his shepherd is living wickedly and begins to say in his heart: ‘If my pastor lives like that, why should I not live like him?’ The wicked shepherd kills the strong sheep. But if he kills the strong one what does he do to the rest? After all, by his wicked life he kills even the sheep he had not strengthened but had found strong and hardy.”
This is the case of the steward that Jesus mentions in the Gospel. He was duplicitous, scheming, a scoundrel… What other adjectives should I use? He was a bad man. This is no different than what St. Augustine was speaking about regarding a bad shepherd. The shepherds he is speaking about, or to, are leaders of the church.
There are too many leaders in the church today who choose to follow their own path, who choose to make their own decisions on what is right and wrong, who choose to write their own books of morality. And they are killing, spiritually, those who are following them!
It has been far too long of a time, in my opinion, since people could listen to what a priest said and, without hesitation, be willing to follow. God’s people, spiritually, are withering away because there is not a consistent solid teaching coming from those who should know better. I don’t know where I myself have made mistakes in what I have said. But after listening to St. Augustine, and Jesus, I have to admit that part of me trembles with fear because I try to present the truth of our Catholic faith to the world as Jesus would have it.
I am not aware of any thing I have said against the teachings of the church, especially not deliberately. I do pray to God that what I say never causes someone else to be so confused as to head in the wrong direction. As I have proceeded through my priesthood, it is a concern that has weighed ever more on my conscience. Certainly, I have never done so on purpose.
But it can happen very easily. I remember once in a parish out in the country at a daily Mass, I said something in my homily that I immediately recognized was a heresy. I stopped what I was saying, explained why it was wrong, and then went on with the Mass. I don’t remember now what it was I said, but I was so far removed from truth by making that heretical statement that I just stopped saying anything more that day. I always try to make sure that I never make big mistakes, or any mistakes, in what I say, especially because of the risk of leading people astray.
Why am I going into all of this today? It is simply because the readings today warn about people who are untruthful. And in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear about the need to be truthful in spreading the Gospel. The commission that God has given to all priests needs to be taken very seriously. Not just on the part of the priest, but on the part of every member of the church. There is a responsibility to make sure that the truth of our faith is presented not just here in church, but everywhere we go.
I will leave you with one more quote from St. Augustine about wicked shepherds:
“But the wicked shepherds do not spare [the healthy] sheep. It is not enough that they neglect those that are ill and weak, those that go astray and are lost. They even try, so far as it is in their power, to kill the strong and healthy. Yet such sheep live; yes, by God’s mercy they live.”
Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. You have called members of your flock to be leaders of the flock. Some of them have not been very good, feeding on the sheep instead of relying on you for their food.
Bring about a full conversion, not just of priests, but of the entire church, the entire world. Lead your people into a rich pastures with shepherds that know how to care for them.
I ask now for myself that I may remain faithful to who and what you have called me to be. Help me to guide these, your people, your flock in the way you want me to do. Help me through your guidance to be able to live a holy life, not just for my sake, but as a witness to your people. Give my guardian angel the strength and the wisdom to assist me for your sake. And give me ears open to your words and to my guardian angel. Amen.