If I was a priest of the early 21st century, listening to these readings this Sunday, I would be terrified.
Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD...You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds."
Hits pretty close to home, yes? The priests of today have lost interest in fighting for their sheep. Those sheep who leave, leave. The 99 who leave are less important than the 1 who stays. Of course, this situation is exacerbated by the fact that there are so few priests, but this is also a sin to lay at the feet of the shepherds! The so-called conservative Catholics (who are really not interested in conserving the Church's strength or its patrimony) prevent the Church from dealing with long-standing issues by insisting on old answers to current questions. They are very happy to have a smaller Church, since they will be running it. The liberals, on the other hand, are incoherent in their attempts to craft new philosophical arguments to replace the outdated ones of the past. The bishops and priests persist in old models of authoritarian rule all the while preaching inclusion and sharing of responsibilities.
"I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD."
Let's keep in mind that God is in no hurry to fix the Church. The Church after all, is ours. To the degree that it does God's will, it prospers. To the degree that it finds itself arguing about celibacy, homosexuality, birth control and other matters of little consequence, it will wither. It is the special duty of the shepherds to keep the Church together. Not by mindless and inane repetitions of past teaching, but of a new teaching that translates the old teaching into new circumstances. Why are we arguing about condoms when people are dying of AIDS? Why are we still trying to pin the sex-abuse scandal on homosexuals, when the issue is power and the corruption of the clerical caste? Why do we exclude married me and women from ordination when we know there is no Scriptural basis for it? Why do we continue to confirm people in the faith and ask them to stand up for it courageously, when the shepherds will not expend an ounce of energy to courageously stand up to authoritarianism, clericalism and stupidity?
These issues are not meaningless distractions, but have become the engine that drives people out of the Church. Some end up as agnostics or functional atheists. Some rift to the protestant or fundamentalist churches, depriving the Catholic Church of its strength and vitality. Meanwhile, the bishops pray and ponder, seemingly powerless to lead.
If I may prophesy: The Catholic Church will wither away to almost nothing. But as Jeremiah says, it is God who will rebuild it. I hope to be there at least when He lays the foundation.
photo from http://home1.gte.net/jerstew/sheep.html, Jerry Stewart's site about his sheep breeding program. Aren't they adorable? Do bishops find we are just as wonderful?