|St. Charles Borromeo|
In his pastoral advice, St. Charles implores the shepherds of the Church not to become mere observers of their flocks. The shepherds of the Church are men on the watchtower whose duty it is to warn the flock of dangers. Like a true pastor, Charles mentions a common fear that can be present in the shepherds of the Church. He says that we can become hesitant to fulfill our pastoral duty of warning of dangers when, "we see the aroused irritation of mind" of those to whom we are preaching. He says that we can cower from warning them, lest we be rejected and hear them say, "This is how we have been living for a long time, thus did the previous generation live and behave. There is no need to change anything in our way of life."
St. Charles warns that pastors who fail to warn their flocks of such dangers will eventually stand before the "irate judge" who will reproach them and ask, "If you were the watchmen, why were you blind?" "If you were the apostles, why did you forgo apostolic strength and instead do everything for the eyes of men?"As I prayed over these words today, the faces of people whom I love came to mind. Some of them, I know have stopped going to Mass on Sundays. Some of them, I suspect no longer attend or do so only on occasion.
Their faces brought two sentiments to my heart. The first was a great affection. In His goodness, the Lord entrusted these people, at one time or another--now or in the past--to my pastoral care. He appointed me as a watchman to serve them and to warn them of danger. Priests are not like hired hands who have no regard for the sheep. Priests are conformed to the Good Shepherd, and so they love the flock. The flock is not just a job to the shepherd. The shepherd knows his sheep and they know him. There is a beautiful and indescribable affection that the priest has for those whom he is called to shepherd.
The second sentiment that came to my heart when these people came to mind was guilt. I realized that some of them I've just allowed to wander away. I stopped seeing them at Mass (or suspected that they were no longer attending Mass ) and I didn't call out. I may have hinted. I may have opened the door to a conversation, but I didn't say to them, "I'm worried about you. I'm afraid that you are in danger." Such a dramatic remark risks irritating someone whom I love. Such a remark could spoil the friendly pleasantries that we exchange when we run into one another in person or on social media.
But, God wants more for me than to have pleasant acquaintances. He didn't call me to be a barber or a bartender. He called me to be a shepherd, a watchman. The friendly pleasantries that I share with them are only good if they are instrumental in me being a better shepherd to them. The friendly pleasantries are not an end in themselves. Sometimes, in order to save the friendly pleasantries (which I enjoy), I hesitate to warn the wandering sheep. And not warning the sheep when they are in danger makes one a bad shepherd.
So, as a first step in better fulfilling my priestly obligations, I am writing this post. If you've wandered from the Sunday Mass, you're in serious danger. I tell you that not to burden you, but because I love you. I am offering a warning. (I hope I'm not coming across as a person who harangues or yells at someone for "being a bad Catholic"). In fact, the very first sentiment that my heart feels when I think of you is pastoral love. I'm not judging you or condemning you. I'm just concerned for you. Not worshipping God is serious. Being deprived of the Eucharist is serious. Wandering away from Christ's Church is dangerous. The longer you are away, the more difficult it is to return. The farther away you wander the more precarious is your situation.
Perhaps at first you felt some guilt or some trepidation? But now, the longer you've been away you think, "Well nothing terrible has happened. I sometimes feel regret, but no lightning bolt has struck me." What the person in this situation doesn't understand is that the catastrophe has already occurred. The wolf has already attacked. The catastrophe is to be away from the Lord. Gradually, little by little, the sheep is led away. Away from the Lord--away from the Mass--they forget the sound of the shepherd's voice. Soon, they listen to the voice of strangers who only seek to destroy. They listen to the voice of wolves dressed in sheep's clothing. They are seduced by lies....lies which eerily sound like the ambiguous serpent in the garden, "Did God really say . . . ?"
I am certain about two things. Firstly, if you've been away from the Sunday Mass, you are in serious danger. Secondly, the Good Shepherd loves you and is asking you to return. Oh, one more thing I know: I love you too and if I can help, let me know.
In fact, I love you so much, if I don't see you, I'm going to give you a call.