The Good Shepherd and His Flock
Whenever St. Benedict mentions in his Rule the role of the bishop, he shows the monastery’s need to be supported by an episcopal authority. This seems to be true for the entire Church as well as for the individual soul. We all need a good shepherd to give us the sacraments, the necessary spiritual food and to lead us to our true Fatherland. One could easily be tempted to lose the Faith because of today’s scandal in the Catholic episcopate. It seems unthinkable that the successors of Our Lord Jesus Christ could actually abuse their authority to destroy their flock or to protect priests that gravely harm their parishioners. During the spiritual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the bad example of bishops and priests was commonplace. Many abandoned their priesthood in order to marry and continue their life without the Church and without God. For a Catholic to maintain his Faith, he had to consider the divine element of the priesthood and at the same time the fragile, human instrument.
It was no different in the Old Testament. The two sons of Heli, the high priest, were gravely abusing their authority as priests. They offended God by stealing the sacrifices offered to Him for their personal benefit and impeding the faithful to offer their sacrifices. They even abased themselves to the point of sinning against chastity with the souls seeking God in the temple. Although their father did not approve of their conduct, he chose to correct them mildly and to permit their abuses to continue. God chose to punish them. The two sons, while carrying the Ark of the Covenant into battle, were slain and the Ark fell into the hands of the Philistines. Upon learning the news, Heli fell over backwards, struck his head and died. In those days all seemed lost to the Israelites who wanted to serve God. The Ark of the Covenant was God’s alliance made with his people, and now that alliance was lost to the Philistines and the high priest and his sons were dead. It would seem that God had abandoned His people.
Perhaps we can compare the unfaithful priests and prelates of the past to the present. Both received from God a sacred mission of caring for souls and both fell into the trap of an egotistical life, which caused the destruction of their flock. The faithful have a right to ask of their pastors the necessary gifts to establish and strengthen the life of God in their souls. They should be able to trust their shepherds. Our Lord Jesus Christ confided the deposit of faith to them. Their episcopal power was received by an unbroken chain of consecrated bishops going back to the apostles who were consecrated by Christ Himself. This treasure belongs to the entire Church and not to them personally. Every baptized soul has a right to freely receive that, which freely was given. Perhaps today’s bishops could profit from St. Benedict’s advice to the abbot on the manner of correcting his monks: “...he must sternly rebuke the undisciplined and restless; but the obedient, meek, and patient, these he should exhort to advance in virtue. As for the negligent and rebellious, we warn him to reprimand and punish them. And let him not shut his eyes to the faults of offenders; but as soon as they begin to appear, let him, as he can, cut them out by the roots, mindful of the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo.” (Rule Ch. 2)
There seem to have always been sinful pastors, charged with the care of souls throughout the history of mankind, but by God’s grace, there are good ones as well. When the sons of Heli were destroying the faith of the chosen people of the Old Testament, God was pleased with the prophet Samuel who was only a child dwelling in the temple. This child prophet maintained the light of faith for the people during the very dark times of scandal. Today, there are priests and prelates that have caused grave scandal for the past 50 years in the Church. In spite of the bad shepherds, there are also those that are pleasing to Him. By their fruits you shall know them. Archbishop Lefebvre and the episcopal successors that continue his work in the Society of Saint Pius X have been attacked and condemned by the same priests and prelates that are today the cause of great scandal. The Archbishop’s only desire was to faithfully hand on to his flock the deposit of faith that he received as a bishop of the Catholic Church. He often said that the modernist bishops may choose to destroy the Church, but we choose to build it up. By being faithful to tradition, it seems as if God confided to him, in a certain way, the Ark of the new covenant: the Holy Sacrifice of the True Mass, the traditional observance of morality, Holy Scripture and Catholic dogma. He founded the seminaries of the Society of Saint Pius X where he continues to form priests to bear this new Ark of the Covenant upon their shoulders for future generations. He passed onto his flock the Holy Sacrifice of the True Mass, the gift of God to His children.