A good shepherd

But of course our bishops “smell of their sheep.” That is part of the problem, for we ourselves smell of corruption. I wouldn’t want to be a bishop today, for the smell. It would be an impossible job. Suppose, like Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, one set out to be a good shepherd. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Now, suppose that your See is Chicago. …

That recently retired bishop, who was among my constant reminders that good bishops are possible — one should try to keep at least a shortlist — died Friday morning of his unshakable cancer, in fulfilment of a famous four-part prophecy about the future of the Catholic Church in America:

“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”

The remark was made at a private conference of priests, and was never meant for publication. Someone captured it on a “smartphone,” then it “went viral.” Note that the last, most hopeful part of the quote, is usually omitted. This is itself a sign of our times. We are optimists on our material prospects — that’s the “American Dream” of the politicians, with variants adapted for use by politicians in two hundred other national jurisdictions. We are pessimists on all other aspects of futurity. Our interests are strictly short-term.

As Christ explained in today’s Gospel, within the Old Mass, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The good sheep also know his voice.

The wolf is very much on the loose in the public square, across North America, and around the world for that matter. Catholics and all other Christians are up against many enemies, but the most lethal is a satanic creed, directly opposed to all Christian teaching. It is the “agnostic,” secular, anti-religion of “human rights,” in all its bottomless stench.

But of course, to us, there is hardly a smell at all; or rather, it is almost sweet. For we are narcissists after all — happier every day to admit it — and the narcissist enjoys his own smell, whatever its cause may be. It is only the odour of others that disturbs his nostrils, and tabloid journalism gives him plenty of that to rail against. We glower at what the other narcissists are doing. Oddly, everyone knows the world is going to Hell. We have become glib about it.

As Cardinal George said, we will start picking up the pieces after the catastrophe has run its course. Preventing it is by now well beyond us.

This good priest, called “the American Ratzinger,” perhaps more by his enemies than by his friends, shared with that Bavarian a remarkable clarity on the order of things. That is, quite apart from deep knowledge (and Cardinal George was a formidably learned man), he could arrange the goods, beauties, and truths with which he was entrusted in his teaching assignment, in crisp mental hierarchy. He could see what was more important, and what Most, and could articulate this, to those prepared to listen and think. Alas, neither listening nor thinking are rewarded virtues, in our current pandaemonium.

From the Internet (the blog of Tim Drake), I retrieve these remarks, in which Cardinal George extended his memorable quote. He did not consider his words “prophetic.” He merely observed the direction of things:

“Analogies can easily be multiplied, if one wants to push a thesis; but the point is that the greatest threat to world peace and international justice is the nation state gone bad, claiming an absolute power, deciding questions and making ‘laws’ beyond its competence. …

“God sustains the world, in good times and in bad. Catholics, along with many others, believe that only one person has overcome and rescued history: Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, Saviour of the world and head of His body, the Church. Those who gather at His cross and by His empty tomb, no matter their nationality, are on the right side of history. Those who lie about Him and persecute or harass His followers in any age might imagine they are bringing something new to history, but they inevitably end up ringing the changes on the old human story of sin and oppression. …

“The world divorced from the God who created and redeemed it inevitably comes to a bad end. It’s on the wrong side of the only history that finally matters.”

So much more could be written, about this good shepherd, and actual native of Chicago. But the obituaries are appearing — a genre in which the best is often brought out, even from writers who tend to the malign. God is plainly opposed to Death. Nevertheless, He uses it for His purposes.