‘My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me’ (Jn 10:27). No one can but be enchanted at the sight of a flock led by its shepherd. What especially impresses us is the sheep’s obedience toward their guide – we can be entirely certain that God created things this way above all to serve as an image of a higher reality: the Holy Catholic Church, instituted by Christ in two categories of faithful, the Shepherds – who represent the Good Shepherd – and the sheep. The Shepherds of the Holy Church are the beacons set by Christ in the world, to guide the faithful along the good path of virtue and sanctity, until they reach their heavenly home.
What happens when the Shepherds cease being the light and guide of the peoples, and adapt to their sheep, not in the Gospel spirit, but rather, in keeping with worldly standards?
New cultures are constantly being born in these vast new expanses where Christians are no longer the customary interpreters or generators of meaning. Instead, they themselves take from these cultures new languages, symbols, messages and paradigms which propose new approaches to life, approaches often in contrast with the Gospel of Jesus. A completely new culture has come to life and continues to grow in the cities. The Synod noted that today the changes taking place in these great spaces and the culture which they create are a privileged locus of the new evangelization. This challenges us to imagine innovative spaces and possibilities for prayer and communion which are more attractive and meaningful for city dwellers. Through the influence of the media, rural areas are being affected by the same cultural changes, which are significantly altering their way of life as well.
What is called for is an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values. It must reach the places where new narratives and paradigms are being formed, bringing the word of Jesus to the inmost soul of our cities. Cities are multicultural; in the larger cities, a connective network is found in which groups of people share a common imagination and dreams about life, and new human interactions arise, new cultures, invisible cities. Various subcultures exist side by side, and often practise segregation and violence. The Church is called to be at the service of a difficult dialogue. (Apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, no. 71–74, November 24, 2013)
Enter in the various parts of our study
II – What is the true solution for the problems today?
III – Why is society so far from God?
I – In Evangelization, who should adapt to who? Should the Gospel adapt to worldly life, or should the latter be in keeping with the Word of God?
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Rom 12:2)
The underlying principle of these new opinions is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them. […] Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ. There is nothing closer to our heart than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it, but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ. […] History proves clearly that the Apostolic See, to which has been entrusted the mission not only of teaching but of governing the whole Church, has continued ‘in one and the same doctrine, one and the same sense, and one and the same judgment’ (de Fide Catholica, ch. IV). […] In this matter the Church must be the judge, not private men who are often deceived by the appearance of right. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, January 22, 1899)
Their ministry itself, by a special title, forbids that they be conformed to this world (cf. Rom 12:2); yet at the same time it requires that they live in this world among men. They are to live as good shepherds that know their sheep, and they are to seek to lead those who are not of this sheepfold that they, too, may hear the voice of Christ, so that there might be one fold and one shepherd (cf. Jn 10:14–16). (Vatican Council II. Decree on the ministry and life of priests, no. 3, December 7, 1965)
The Church, to which Christ the Lord has entrusted the deposit of faith so that with the assistance of the Holy Spirit it might protect the revealed truth reverently, examine it more closely, and proclaim and expound it faithfully, has the duty and innate right, independent of any human power whatsoever, to preach the gospel to all peoples, also using the means of social communication proper to it. It belongs to the Church always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it. (Code of Canon Law, Can. §1–2)
The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 890)
You see clearly, Venerable Brethren, how mistaken are those who think they are doing service to the Church, and producing fruit for the salvation of souls, when by a kind of prudence of the flesh […] under the fatal illusion that they are thus able more easily to win over those in error, but really with the continual danger of being themselves lost. The truth is one, and it cannot be halved; it lasts forever, and is not subject to the vicissitudes of the times. ‘Jesus Christ, today and yesterday, and the same forever’ (Heb 13:8). And so too are all they seriously mistaken who, occupying themselves with the welfare of the people, and especially upholding the cause of the lower classes, seek to promote above all else the material well-being of the body and of life, but are utterly silent about their spiritual welfare and the very serious duties which their profession as Christians enjoins upon them. They are not ashamed to conceal sometimes, as though with a veil, certain fundamental maxims of the Gospel, for fear lest otherwise the people refuse to hear and follow them. It will certainly be the part of prudence to proceed gradually in laying down the truth, when one has to do with men completely strangers to us and completely separated from God. (Pius X. Encyclical Iucunda sane, no. 25–26, March 12, 1904)
Another way to do harm is that of those who speak of religious matters as if they were to be considered according to the norms and convenience of this passing life, forgetting the eternal life to come: they speak brilliantly of the benefits that the Christian religion has bequeathed to humanity, but not of the obligations it demands; they preach the charity of Jesus Christ our Savior, but say nothing of his justice. The fruit that such preaching produces is insignificant, because any worldling who hears it becomes convinced that he is a good Christian, and that he has no need to change his life, as long as he says: I believe in Jesus Christ. What kind of fruits do such preachers expect to reap? They certainly have no intention other than that of gaining at any cost the favor of their listeners, flattering them, and, as long as they see the church full, they do not care if the souls of the faithful remain empty. (Pius X. Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum, September 1, 1910)
Hence those preachers are foolish and improvident who, in speaking of religion and proclaiming the things of God, use no words but those of human science and human prudence, trusting to their own reasonings rather than to those of God. Their discourses may be brilliant and fine, but they must be feeble and they must be cold, for they are without the fire of the utterance of God (Jer 23:29) and they must fall far short of that mighty power which the speech of God possesses: ‘for the Word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit’ (Heb 4:12). (Leo XIII. Encyclical Providentissimus Deus, no. 4, November 18, 1893)
For the apostles, who were commissioned to find out the wanderers, and to be for sight to those who saw not, and medicine to the weak, certainly did not address them in accordance with their opinion at the time, but according to revealed truth. For no persons of any kind would act properly, if they should advise blind men, just about to fall over a precipice, to continue their most dangerous path, as if it were the right one, and as if they might go on in safety. Or what medical man, anxious to heal a sick person, would prescribe in accordance with the patient’s whims, and not according to the requisite medicine? But that the Lord came as the physician of the sick, He does Himself declare saying, ‘They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ Luke 5:31–32 How then shall the sick be strengthened, or how shall sinners come to repentance? Is it by persevering in the very same courses? Or, on the contrary, is it by undergoing a great change and reversal of their former mode of living, by which they have brought upon themselves no slight amount of sickness, and many sins? (Saint Irenaeus of Lyon. Against heresies, Book 3, ch. 5, no 2)
This is important; the Apostle did not preach an ‘à la carte’ Christianity to suit his own inclinations, he did not preach a Gospel to suit his own favourite theological ideas; he did not shrink from the commitment to proclaiming the whole of God’s will, even an inconvenient will and even topics of which he was personally not so enamoured. It is our mission to proclaim the whole of God’s will, in its totality and ultimate simplicity. But it is important that we teach and preach – as St Paul says here – and really propose the will of God in its entirety. […] Thus we must make known and understood – as far as we are able – the content of the Church’s Creed, from the Creation until the Lord’s return, until the new world. Doctrine, liturgy, morals, prayer – the four parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – indicate this totality of God’s will. (Benedict XVI. Lectio Divina given at the meeting with the parish priests of the Rome Diocese, March 10, 2011)
Master of the faith, the bishop promotes whatever is good and positive in the flock entrusted to him, sustains and guides those weak in faith (Rom 14,1), intervenes to unmask falsehoods and combat abuses. It is important that the bishop be aware of the challenges that faith in Christ has to face today on account of the mentality based on human criteria, that at times relativises the Law and the Plan of God. Above all, he must have the courage to announce and defend sound doctrine, even when it entails suffering. In fact, the bishop, in communion with the apostolic college and with the Successor of Peter, has the duty of protecting the faithful from any kind of temptation, showing in a wholehearted return to the Gospel of Christ the true solution for the complicated problems that burden humanity. (John Paul II. Homily for the Conclusion of the Synod of Bishops, October 27, 2001)
The only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, who came on earth to bring salvation and the light of divine wisdom to men, conferred a great and wonderful blessing on the world when, about to ascend again into heaven, He commanded the Apostles to go and teach all nations, (Mt 28:19) and left the Church which He had founded to be the common and supreme teacher of the peoples. For men whom the truth had set free were to be preserved by the truth; nor would the fruits of heavenly doctrines by which salvation comes to men have long remained had not the Lord Christ appointed an unfailing teaching authority to train the minds to faith. And the Church built upon the promises of its own divine Author, whose charity it imitated, so faithfully followed out His commands that its constant aim and chief wish was this: to teach religion and contend forever against errors. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Aeterni Patris, August 4, 1879)
The divine Savior has brought to man, ignorant and weak, his truth and grace: truth to indicate the path that leads to his end; grace to give him the strength to be able to reach it. Following this path signifies, in practice, accepting the will and the commandments of Christ and conforming one’s life to them. […] Both, the law engraved in the heart, which is the natural law, as well as the truths and precepts of supernatural revelation, were left by Jesus the Redeemer, as the moral treasure of humanity, in the hands of his Church, so that she may preach them to all peoples, explaining and transmitting them integrally and free of all contamination and error from generation to generation. (Pius XII. Radio message La famiglia è la culla on the occasion of the celebration of ‘Family Day’, March 23, 1952)
But on the other hand, [the Church] as the ‘Pillar and Ground of Truth’ (1Tim 3:15) and guardian, by the will of God and the mandate of Christ, of the natural and supernatural order, the Church cannot renounce her right to proclaim to her sons and to the whole world the unchanging basic laws, saving them from every perversion, frustration, corruption, false interpretation and error. This is all the more necessary for the fact that from the exact maintenance of these laws, and not merely by the effort of noble and courageous wills, depends in the last analysis the solidity of any national and international order, so fervently desired by all peoples. (Pius XII. Radio message Con sempre nuova freschezza, Christmas, December 24, 1942)
We must not ignore the fact that many, even generous Christians who are sensitive to the dramatic questions involved in the problem of liberation, in their wish to commit the Church to the liberation effort are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a man-centered goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message of liberation would no longer have any originality and would easily be open to monopolization and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties. She would have no more authority to proclaim freedom as in the name of God. This is why we have wished to emphasize, in the same address at the opening of the Synod, ‘the need to restate clearly the specifically religious finality of evangelization. This latter would lose its reason for existence if it were to diverge from the religious axis that guides it: the kingdom of God, before anything else, in its fully theological meaning….’ (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 32, December 8, 1975)
II – What is the true solution for the problems today?
For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: ‘Now I am making the whole of creation new’ (Rev 21:5; cf. 2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15) But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by Baptism (cf. Rom 6:4) and by lives lived according to the Gospel (cf. Eph 4:24–25; Col 3:9–10). The purpose of evangelization is therefore precisely this interior change, and if it had to be expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert (cf. Rom 1:16; 1Cor 1:18, 2:4) ,solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs. (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 18, December 8, 1975)
With regard to the liberation which evangelization proclaims and strives to put into practice one should rather say this: – it cannot be contained in the simple and restricted dimension of economics, politics, social or cultural life; it must envisage the whole man, in all his aspects, right up to and including his openness to the absolute, even the divine Absolute; – it is therefore attached to a view of man which it can never sacrifice to the needs of any strategy, practice or short-term efficiency. Hence, when preaching liberation and associating herself with those who are working and suffering for it, the Church is certainly not willing to restrict her mission only to the religious field and dissociate herself from man’s temporal problems. Nevertheless she reaffirms the primacy of her spiritual vocation and refuses to replace the proclamation of the kingdom by the proclamation of forms of human liberation – she even states that her contribution to liberation is incomplete if she neglects to proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ. (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 33, December 8, 1975)
People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God. They need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love. It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with ‘Christ Jesus, our hope’ (1Tim 1:1). (Benedict XVI. Address for the celebration of vespers and meeting with the Bishops of the United States of America, April 16, 2008)
A Christianity which keeps a grip on itself, refuses every compromise with the world, takes the commands of God and the Church seriously, preserves its love of God and of men in all its freshness, such a Christianity can be, and will be, a model and a guide to a world which is sick to death and clamors for directions, unless it be condemned to a catastrophe that would baffle the imagination. (Pius XI. Encyclical Mit brennender sorge, no. 20, March 14, 1937)
But while the preaching of the divine Word should never be interrupted in the Church, surely in these, our days, it becomes necessary to labour with more than ordinary zeal and piety to nourish and strengthen the faithful with sound and wholesome doctrine, as with the food of life. For false prophets have gone forth into the world, to corrupt the minds of the faithful with various and strange doctrines, of whom the Lord has said: I did not send prophets, yet they ran; I spoke not to them, yet they prophesied. In this work, to such extremes has their impiety, practiced in all the arts of Satan, been carried, that it would seem almost impossible to confine it within any bounds; […] For – to say nothing of those illustrious States which heretofore professed, in piety and holiness, the true Catholic faith transmitted to them by their ancestors, but are now gone astray wandering from the paths of truth and openly declaring that their best claims to piety are founded on a total abandonment of the faith of their father – there is no region, however remote, no place, however securely guarded, no corner of Christendom, into which this pestilence has not sought secretly to insinuate itself. (Catechism of Trent. Introduction)
As he tends the flock entrusted to him, the Bishop is greatly assisted by the virtue of prudence, which can be described as practical wisdom and the art of good government. Prudence enables him to act in fitting and appropriate ways to advance the divine plan of salvation, the good of souls and the good of the Church, setting aside all purely human considerations. So the Bishop should model his style of governance both on divine wisdom, which teaches him to consider the eternal dimension of things, and also on evangelical prudence, which enables him to keep ever in mind, with the skill of a master builder (1Cor 3:10), the changing needs of the Body of Christ. […] Prudence will prompt him to preserve the legitimate traditions of his particular Church, but it will also make him keen to encourage due progress, zealous in his search for new initiatives, while always safeguarding the unity that is needed. (Congregation for Bishops. Directory for the pastoral ministry of Bishops, Apostolorum successors, ch. III, no. 42, February 22, 2004)
In order constantly to discover and maintain the joy of mission, it is most important that the Lord’s ministers strengthen their spiritual life, particularly through daily prayer, which is ‘the remedy of salvation’ (St Paulinus of Nola, Letters 34, 10), and through the intimate meeting with the Lord in the Eucharist, which is the focal point of the priest’s day (cf. General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 1). In the same way, regular reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, which re-establishes the sinner in grace and restores friendship with God, helps the priest in turn to bring forgiveness to his brothers and sisters. These are a source of indispensable nourishment for Christ’s disciples, and even more for those who are responsible for leading and sanctifying the Christian people. I would also like to insist on the need to celebrate worthily the Liturgy of the Hours, which helps to enrich the People of God with a mysterious apostolic fruitfulness (cf. General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 18), and on time for daily prayer: in this way the priest revives the gift of God within him, prepares for his mission, strengthens his priestly identity and builds up the Church. Indeed, it is before God that the priest becomes aware of the call he has received and renews his availability for the particular mission entrusted to him by the Bishop in the Lord’s name, thereby showing that he is available for the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives growth to every action (cf. 1Cor 3:7). Priests are called to be joyful witnesses to Christ through their teaching and the witness of an upright life corresponding to the commitment they made on the day of their ordination. They are your ‘sons and friends’ (Christus Dominus, n. 16; cf. Jn 15:15). You must remain attentive to their spiritual and intellectual needs, reminding them that, although they live among men and take modern life into account, like all the faithful they must not model themselves on today’s world, but must conform their lives to the Word they proclaim and the sacraments they celebrate (cf. Rom 12:2; Presbyterorum ordinis, no 3); thus they will express ‘the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 2). Encourage them to pray personally and to support one another in this regard. Also, invite them constantly to deepen their knowledge of theology, which is necessary to spiritual and pastoral life. In fact, how can they preach the Gospel and be ‘dispensers of a life other than that of this earth’ (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 3), if they do not remain close to the heart of Christ like the Apostle he loved, and if they do not apply themselves through continuing formation to a true understanding of the faith? (John Paul II. Address to the Bishops of the Netherlands during their ad limina visit, no. 2, June 18, 1998)
But to one who wishes to qualify himself for apostolic work, there is one thing that he must acquire before everything else, as being of the highest importance: it is, as We have said, sanctity of life. or whoever preaches God must be a man of God; whoever preaches hatred of sin must himself hate sin. It is chiefly among the Gentiles, who are led by sense more than by reason, that preaching by deeds is more efficient than by words. Granted, therefore, that the missionary be endowed with every quality of head and heart, versed in sciences, accomplished in every department of culture; if his accomplishments are not supported by innocence of life, they will be powerless instruments or the conversion of the people – nay more, they may become harmful to himself and to others. Let him, therefore, be an example of humility, obedience, chastity, and especially of piety, prayer and constant union with God, before Whom he must fervently plead for souls. […] It is by these virtues that truth finds an easy and direct access to souls, and that all obstacles are removed; there is no obstinacy of will that can resist them. (Benedict XV. Apostolic letter Maximum illud, no. 64–68, November 30, 1919)
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate! Christ repeats to us today: ‘Duc in altum – Put out into the deep!’ (Lk 5,4). Following His invitation, we may reread the triple munus entrusted to us in the Church: munus docendi, sanctificandi et regendi (the ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing) (cf. LG no. 25-27; Christus Dominus no. 12–16). Duc in docendo! [Lead in teaching]. With the Apostle we will say: ‘Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort – be unfailing in patience and in teachin’ (Tim 4:2). Duc in sanctificando! [Lead in sanctifying]. The ‘nets’ we are called upon to cast among men are, first of all, the Sacraments, of which we are the principal dispensers, governors, guardians and promoters (cf. Christus Dominus, no. 15). (John Paul II. Homily for the inauguration of the 105th Ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops, no. 6, September 30, 2001)
III – Why is society so far from God?
Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel, for the Lord has a grievance against the inhabitants of the land: There is no fidelity, no mercy, no knowledge of God in the land. False swearing, lying, murder, stealing and adultery! in their lawlessness, bloodshed follows bloodshed. […] But let no one protest, let no one complain; with you is my grievance, O priests! You shall stumble in the day, and the prophets shall stumble with you at night; […] My people perish for want of knowledge! Since you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from my priesthood; Since you have ignored the law of your God, I will also ignore your sons. One and all they sin against me, exchanging their glory for shame. They feed on the sin of my people, and are greedy for their guilt. The priests shall fare no better than the people: I will punish them for their ways, and repay them for their deeds. (Hos 4:1–10)
What rashness is it, then, for the unskilful to assume pastoral authority, since the government of souls is the art of arts! For who can be ignorant that the sores of the thoughts of men are more occult than the sores of the bowels? And yet how often do men who have no knowledge whatever of spiritual precepts fearlessly profess themselves physicians of the heart, though those who are ignorant of the effect of drugs blush to appear as physicians of the flesh! But because, through the ordering of God, all the highest in rank of this present age are inclined to reverence religion, there are some who, through the outward show of rule within the holy Church, affect the glory of distinction. […] being all the less able to administer worthily the office they have undertaken of pastoral care, as they have reached the magisterial position of humility out of elation only. For, indeed, in a magisterial position language itself is confounded when one thing is learnt and another taught. […] The unskilfulness of shepherds is rebuked by the voice of the Truth, when it is said through the prophet, The shepherds themselves have not known understanding (Is 56,11); whom again the Lord denounces, saying, And they that handle the law knew Me not (Jr 2,8). And therefore the Truth complains of not being known of them, and protests that He knows not the principality of those who know not Him; because in truth these who know not the things of the Lord are unknown of the Lord; […] Yet this unskilfulness of the shepherds doubtless suits often the deserts of those who are subject to them, because, though it is their own fault that they have not the light of knowledge, yet it is in the dealing of strict judgment that through their ignorance those also who follow them should stumble. Hence it is that, in the Gospel, the Truth in person says, If the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch (Mt 15,14). (Gregory I, the Great. The Book of Pastoral Rule, part I, ch. 1, 101: PL 77, 14–15)
There are some also who investigate spiritual precepts with cunning care, but what they penetrate with their understanding they trample on in their lives: all at once they teach the things which not by practice but by study they have learnt; and what in words they preach by their manners they impugn. Whence it comes to pass that when the shepherd walks through steep places, the flock follows to the precipice. […] For certainly no one does more harm in the Church than one who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely. For him, when he transgresses, no one presumes to take to task; and the offence spreads forcibly for example, when out of reverence to his rank the sinner is honoured. […] Whosoever, then, having come to bear the outward show of sanctity, either by word or example destroys others, it had indeed been better for him that earthly deeds in open guise should press him down to death than that sacred offices should point him out to others as imitable in his wrong-doing; because, surely, if he fell alone, the pains of hell would torment him in more tolerable degree. (Gregory I, the Great. The Book of Pastoral Rule, part I, ch.2, 102: PL 77, 15–16)
Jesus Christ has instituted two orders in his church: one, of the simple faithful; the other, of ecclesiastics: but with this difference, that the former are disciples and sheep, the latter are masters and shepherds. […] Hence St. Augustine has well said, that ‘there is nothing more difficult, nothing more dangerous, than the office of priest.’ The difficulty and danger of the office of a priest arise precisely from his obligation to lead a holy life, not only by interior, but also by exterior sanctity, that others may learn from him, holiness of life. ‘If the one that is over thee is good, he will be thy nurse; if bad, he will be thy tempter,’ writes the same saint. The Scripture says that in Jerusalem the people lived in holiness because of the godliness of Onias the high-priest. […] And according to the Council of Trent, ‘The integrity of those who govern is the safety of the governed.’ But, on the other hand, how great the havoc, how strong the temptations, caused by the bad example of a priest! […] St. Bernard says ‘that seculars, seeing the sinful life of the priest, think no more of amending their conduct, but begin to despise the sacraments, and the rewards and punishments of the next life.’ […] Our Lord said to St. Bridget: ‘At the sight of the bad example of the priest the sinner assumes confidence in sinning, and begins to boast of sins which he before regarded as shameful.’ ‘Priests in the Church,’ says St. Gregory, ‘are the foundations of the Church.’ […] When the foundations give way the whole edifice falls. […] God has selected priests from among men, not only that they may offer sacrifices, but also that by the good odor of their virtues they may edify the rest of the Church. (Saint Alphonsus Liguori. Dignity and duty of the priest: or Selva, Part II, Instruction II, no. 1–2, pg. 230-232)
Priests are the salt of the earth. ‘Then,’ says the Gloss, ‘priests should give a savor to others, and render them grateful to God, instructing them in the practice of virtue, not only by preaching, but still more by the example of a holy life.’ Priests are also the light of the world. The priest, then, as our divine Master proceeds to say, should shine refulgent among the people by the splendor of his virtues, and thus give glory to that God who has conferred on him an honor so singular and sublime. So, said the Redeemer, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. […] ‘For the life of a priest,’ as St. Charles Borromeo used to say, ‘is precisely the beacon on which seculars, navigating in the midst of the ocean and darkness of the world, keep their eyes fixed in order to escape destruction.’ […] The priest, then, is the light of the world; but if the light be changed into darkness, what must become of the world? (Saint Alphonsus Liguori. Dignity and duty of the priest: or Selva, Part II, Instruction II, no. 3, pg. 232)
After the Lord had shown what wicked shepherds esteem, he also spoke about what they neglect. The defects of the sheep are widespread. There are very few healthy and sound sheep, few that are solidly sustained by the food of truth, and few that enjoy the good pasture God gives them. But the wicked shepherds do not spare such sheep. It is not enough that they neglect those that are ill and weak, those that go stray and are lost. They even try, so far as it is in their power, to kill the strong and healthy. Yet such sheep live; yes, by God’s mercy they live. As for the wicked shepherds themselves, they kill the sheep. ‘How do they kill them?’ you ask. By their wicked lives and by giving bad example. Or was God’s servant, who was high among the members of the chief shepherd, told this in vain: Show yourself as an example of good works toward all men, and, Be an example to the faithful? Even the strong sheep, if he turns his eyes from the Lord’s laws and looks at the man set over him, notices when his shepherd is living wickedly and begins to say in his heart: ‘If my pastor lives like that, why should I not live like him?’ The wicked shepherd kills the strong sheep. But if he kills the strong one what does he do to the rest? After all, by his wicked life he kills even the sheep he had not strengthened but had found strong and hardy. I appeal to your love, and again I say, even if the sheep have life and if they are strong in the word of the Lord, and if they hold fast to what they have heard from their Lord, Do what they say but not what they do. Still, as far as he himself is concerned, the shepherd who lives a wicked life before the people kills the sheep under his care. Let such a shepherd not deceive himself because the sheep is not dead, for though it still lives, he is a murderer – just as when the lustful man looks on a woman with desire, even though she is chaste, he has committed adultery. For the Lord said in plain truth: Whoever has looked upon a woman with desire has already committed adultery with her in his heart. He has not entered her bedroom, yet he has ravished her within the bedroom of his heart. Therefore anyone who lives wickedly before those who have been placed under his care kills, as far as he himself is concerned, even the strong. Whoever imitates him, dies; whoever does not, has life. But as for him, he kills both of them. You kill what is healthy and you do not pasture my sheep. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Sermon 46 On Pastors, no. 9)