Without a shepherd

We don’t like to talk about being “soldiers for Christ” too much anymore. We ditched the symbolic slap on the cheek at Confirmation a long time ago, and expunged the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldier” from all our hymnals years before that. Generally, our Church has assumed a rather kinder, gentler -- humbler? -- disposition. That isn’t all bad. But in a world where so many spiritual casualties pile up every day, maybe it’s time to rethink the position of setting up camp just for the sake of observing the world around us go to hell in a handbasket.

The whole notion of the “Church Militant” hasn’t been very popular for quite a while now. Certainly, the sexual abuse scandal didn’t make it easy for any of us to stand up and tell the truth with any authority. But I’m tired of seeing the soul’s equivalent of “body bags.” And when I see one of our bishops unafraid to speak and act prophetically, I don’t only want to stand up and cheer: I want to enter the fray again myself.

Thank you, Bishop Tobin. I don’t thank you because I want to see a “Catholic” politician from a well known family publicly humiliated. Actually, I want to see him saved: saved from error, from arrogance, and from the very serious matter of misleading others at the cost of their spiritual welfare. “The supreme law of the Church” after all, “is the salvation of souls.” Those are the last words of the Code of Canon Law.

Thank you, too, for telling the truth about what it means to be a Catholic in good standing, and for letting us all know that our actions -- and our votes -- do, in fact, matter. Thank you for fully recognizing that while we all struggle, we ought to engage our faith not just to inform our consciences, but to form them in the first place.

I am grateful to Bishop Tobin for demonstrating the kind of courage our times are calling forth from every believer. It’s the same kind of guts it takes for a fireman to run into a burning house to save an endangered child. A first responder rushes in, not because he has no fear, but because he fears for the one trapped inside. He does so because he believes the person at risk worth the risk of himself.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who think that Bishop Tobin has no business even suggesting that actively advocating abortion might compromise a Catholic’s relationship with Christ or his Church. But people who are ready to criticize a bishop for holding someone who claims to be part of his flock accountable are sorely mistaken. Why? Because admonishing the sinner is a Work of Mercy, not an act of arrogance. One who attempts to correct a brother does not condemn him. He does so because he believes in his goodness, and is not willing to count him as unredeemed or irredeemable.

As far as Eucharist is concerned, it is important to remember that receiving Holy Communion both presumes and expresses our unity with God and with one another in faith. Anyone who is not in union with Church teaching or willfully living contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot receive Eucharist without “eating and drinking judgment to himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:29) It is not a punishment to discourage any of us from receiving Eucharist when we are not in a state of grace.

It isn’t that we are not permitted to wrestle with “hard teachings.” We all need God. Nor is it that we are expected to leave our intellects at the baptismal font. Our capacity for rational thinking is no threat to our faith. But if we choose to follow Christ, we are asked to abdicate the papacy of our own egos, and receive the Gospel with docile and teachable spirits, even when it is hard -- especially when it is hard. It is no wonder that Jesus looked with pity at the crowds who followed him seeing that they were “like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

As successors to the apostles, bishops occupy the teaching office of the Church. They wear scarlet because they are called to be martyrs -- to witness at the cost of their own lives the Gospel they serve. Every teacher knows that there will always be discipline problems in the classroom. Still, I thank God for giving us good shepherds; bishops who will teach, and teach, and keep teaching in and out of season, when convenient and inconvenient. I am glad to know that there are still those who will not give up on a single soul who has been entrusted to their care.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.