Forgive me, Lord, if I use your words for an admonitory parable. You said to the Pharisees, “What man among you, having a hundred sheep, and learning that one of them has wandered into the wilderness, will not leave the ninety nine and go after the lost sheep? And when he has found it, will he not call his friends and say, Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep that was lost?”
That is why you came among us, to call sinners back to the fold. Not to pet and stroke them for being sinners, because that is what you mean by “lost,” and what you mean by “dead,” when you asked us to consider the young man who had wandered into the far country. The father in your parable wanted his son alive, not dead. The son said, “Father, I have sinned before heaven and you. Now I am not worthy to be called your son.” He spoke but the truth, and that truth set him free.
So I am looking at a world in a shambles. We do not have Pharisees who preen themselves for having followed the letter of the law and missed its soul. We have Pharisees who preen themselves for disobeying the law, even the most serious admonitions of the law, even your own clear words on marriage and divorce, while presuming to have discovered a soul-of-the-law whose existence has eluded two thousand years of martyrs, saints, popes, bishops, and theologians. “I thank you, O God, that you have made me a sinner and a publican, and not like these others who set their aim so high.”
In this world that I see, there is no sheepfold left. “What man among you, having a hundred sheep, and seeing the fold smashed and hirelings among the flocks, men who, while wolves are tearing the bellies of the sheep, are themselves roasting mutton on spits, will not leave the ninety nine and go into the wilderness to find one, and when he finds it dead already, will not hold his head high and say, Well, I did my best!”
It will be said that the one—the unrepentant or semi-repentant sinner, the one who wants to have the faith on his own terms—is “marginalized,” a word I detest, but which may serve my purposes this once. If adults in immoral sexual relationships are “marginalized,” Lord, let me speak up now for people who do not even make it to the margins, for the poorest of the poor, for people who have no advocate at all.
Let me speak for the children of divorce, who see their homes torn in two, because of a mother or a father who has shrugged away the vow of permanence. I see them straining to put a fine face on it, to protect the very parents who should have protected them, to squelch back their own tears so as not to hurt those who have hurt them. Who speaks for them, harried from pillar to post? Who pleads their case, whose parents conveniently assume that their children’s happiness must depend upon their own contentment, and not the other way around? Where is my Church’s apostolate for the children sawn in half, while the Solomons of our time looked the other way?
Let me speak for the children thrust into confusion, to justify the confusion of their parents or of people in authority over them. Here is a boy whose father is absent or aloof. He needs to be affirmed in his boyhood, but he shies away from the other boys. Then sidles the teacher into the garden of his boyhood to suggest to him unrealities that he cannot understand. Who speaks for that boy, lonely and hesitant upon the shore, while his more confident fellows splash and swim? Who comes to his assistance to supply the want of fatherly care? Which of my Church’s bishops in all their years have ever turned a single glance his way? Saint John Bosco, where are you now?
Let me speak for the children exposed to unutterable evils on all sides. Here is a girl at age twelve who has seen things on a screen that her grandmother could never have imagined. She is taking pictures of herself already, and making “friends” among the sons and daughters of Belial. This is happening under our very eyes. She goes to the drug store and must confront magazines for “women” blaring out their headlines about sex and what without any irony goes by the name of “beauty,” and nobody says, “Why should this be?” Who speaks up for her innocence? Where are the leaders of my Church, helping her to become a gracious and godly Christian woman, rather than a poor self-prostituted wreck, more cynical about the opposite sex at age twenty than the hardest thrice-divorced old woman would be? Who pleads for her protection? Who notices her?
Let me speak up for the young people who see the beauty of the moral law and the teachings of the Church, and who are blessed with noble aspirations, but who are given no help, none, from their listless parents, their listless churches, their crude and cynical classmates, their corrupted schools. These youths and maidens in a healthier time would be youths and maidens indeed, and when they married they would become the heart of any parish. Do we expect heroic sanctity from them? Their very friendliness will work against them. They will fall. Do you care? Many of these will eventually “shack up,” and some will leave dead children in the wake of their friendliness. Where are you? You say that they should not kill the children they have begotten, and you are right about that. So why are you shrugging and turning aside from the very habits that bring children into the world outside of the haven of marriage?
Let me speak up for the young people who do in fact follow the moral law and the teachings of the Church. Many of these are suffering intense loneliness. Have you bothered to notice? Have you considered all those young people who want to be married, who should be married, but who, because they will not play evil’s game, can find no one to marry? The girls who at age twenty-five and older have never even been asked on a date? The “men” languishing in a drawn-out adolescence? These people are among us; they are everywhere. Who gives them a passing thought? They are suffering for their faith, and no one cares. Do you care, leaders of my Church? Or do you not rather tacitly agree with their fellows who do the marital thing without being married? Do you not rather share that bemused contempt for the “old fashioned” purity they are trying to preserve?
What help do you give them? Do you not rather at every step exacerbate their suffering, when by your silence and your telling deeds you confirm in them the terrible fear that they have been played for chumps, that their own leaders do not believe, that they would have been happier in this world had they gone along with the world, and that their leaders would have smiled upon them had they done so?
You want more? More people who do not merit a footnote? What about the men and women abandoned by their spouses? Have you stood up for their rights? What about the innocent men who, after they have been abandoned, become in effect slaves to a corrupt and lawless regime? Have you stood up for them? Founded a society for mutual support?
More? Go visit a prison. Do it, all you say your hearts beat warmly for the poor. Prisoners are poor to the point of invisibility. Go there and ask them about their sexual histories and those of their families. Go find out what the Lonely Revolution has done to them. Well may you plead for cleaner cells and better food for prisoners, and more merciful punishment. Why do you not plead for cleaner lives and better nourishment for their souls when they are young, before the doors of the prison shut upon them? Who speaks for them?
Who speaks for the penitent, trying to place his confidence in a Church that cuts his heart right out, because she seems to take his sins less seriously than he does?
Venturing forth into the margins, my leaders? You have not placed one toe outside of the plush rugs of your comfort. Do so, I beg you! Come and see all those whom the Lonely Revolution has hurt. Leave your parlors and come to the sheepfold!
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “The Shepherd David” painted by Elizabeth Jane Gardner (wife of painter William Adolphe Bouguereau) in 1895.