I recently went through Ezekiel 34 and found some pretty powerful passages on shepherds and the flock that I thought I would share. I found this related well to the idea of spiritual directors who are very useful guides in the life of the Catholic if you are able to be blessed with one. Here is the first part of the passage from Ezekiel:
…Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds pasture the flock? You consumed milk, wore wool, and slaughtered fatlings, but the flock you did not pasture. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the stray or seek the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. They were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and high hills; over the entire surface of the earth my sheep were scattered. No one looked after them or searched for them – Ezekiel 34:2-6
This passage immediately spoke to me and I felt the parallel to our time almost right away. The Lord here is condemning the shepherds of Israel for not doing their part. We can see some of the things the Lord calls them out on: not pasturing the flock, feeding themselves, not strengthening the weak or healing the sick, not seeking the lost sheep and ruling over them harshly. I get a sense at times that we are living in similar times as well, hence why I feel the urgency for United Body more than ever.
The people spoken here parallel for me the clergy of our time. They are the shepherds of Christ that look after the Catholic Church. In their position, they have great authority over the laity AND a great responsibility, and that is to lead all men and women to Christ. Not only by administering the most holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ but to also guide us, strengthen us, heal us and bring back the lost to Christ. This is not only by the example of their own life but also by taking an active effort in the spiritual health of the flock.
I think many here can be flustered at times with the difficulty of finding a good spiritual director. A good spiritual director is one that not only understands the methods and tools of spiritual direction that have been written by many holy people in the past but they themselves are ones who have experience in the matter at hand because they themselves have walked the walk. Its been said by many saints and others that a good spiritual director is indispensable in the journey through the interior life. The challenge here is that what if there are no good spiritual directors? What if the shepherds themselves, as we are reading above, are only concerned with feeding themselves and not the flock? This truly is a big dilemma!
Now, I want to stress that I have absolute respect for the office of the clergy, and we all have to. I also appreciate the challenges they have in their day to day lives from my experience working in the church. These men usually work 12 hour days and are constantly serving the people through various ministries, etc. There are many reasons why it can be very challenging in this day and age to find good spiritual directors. It could well be that the good ones are preoccupied with many ministries or the more likely case is a lack of priority to truly help the flock due to lukewarmess. Instead of curing the wounded, the easiest and lowest energy task is just to bandage it up. To truly be a good shepherd of the faith requires almost heroic virtue to combat the challenges of their office and to fight back the constant onslaught of the enemy. Although not an excuse, we have to be mindful that priests are human and struggle as well, but that only means we have to pray for them twice as much for the important role they play in the Church!
What is the cause of this lukewarmness perhaps? To be honest, I feel that we have lost a bit of our spiritual rigor that was possessed long ago. I blame it on two things primarily: spiritual sloth (tepidity) and the spirit of active works. The spirit of sloth is simply the issue where all of us are simply lazy in pursuing and growing deeper in the life of Christ through the sacraments and the interior life. To grow in the spiritual life is very hard work and requires great perseverance and a dedicated will! By the grace of God we can do this but we need to make it a priority. If bishops, priests, seminary teachers, etc. all struggle with this, what spiritually strong person can we expect to exist to lead the flock? It is almost certain that most will NOT be able to accept by the miraculous grace of God. The second issue is more concerned about pouring all energy to active works such as new ministries and not putting any energy aside to grow in the interior life. This is also very damaging. Without a solid foundation in the eucharistic and interior life, all active works will bear no fruit and we have spent our efforts in a fruitless endeavor. Until we get our priorities straight, not only will the clergy suffer from a lack of union of Christ but all the flock will suffer for lacking strong shepherds!
So what are we to do as the laity? Who do we turn to if we cannot find a shepherd near us that can lead us? Let’s extract the last piece I wanted to highlight from Ezekiel:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Look! I am coming against these shepherds. I will take my sheep out of their hand and put a stop to their shepherding my flock, so that these shepherds will no longer pasture them. I will deliver my flock from their mouths so it will not become their food.
For thus says the Lord GOD: Look! I myself will search for my sheep and examine them – Ezekiel 34:10-11
Even though we may not have at times the strongest earthly shepherds, let us surrender to the divine will and let the Lord lead us Himself. If you are blessed with a good spiritual director, thank the Lord. If you haven’t started already, pray constantly for a good spiritual director. If you have prayed and still haven’t found one pray for two things: that the Lord Himself may guide you and that His chosen priests may be strengthened to be the shepherds they were called to be.
Blessed Mother, pray for us!