God always knows what we need. God always gives us what we need. Sometimes we need comfort. Sometimes we need assistance. Sometimes we need correction. Often, we need all three.
In the midst of this dark time in the Church, where the people of God have been so rightly scandalized by the wickedness and cowardice of many of her priests and bishops, that axiom has proven itself true once again in the liturgies God’s providence has given us this week.
On Monday we celebrated the memorial of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. This great saint lived in the 12th century, a dark period when rival claimants to the papacy left the Church shattered by division and confusion. He devoted himself to the healing of this terrible schism and to the restoration of clarity, peace and concord within the Church. He was also an extraordinary reformer of religious life; his reforms of monasticism led to the foundation of the Cistercian Order.
He is a great reminder that fidelity, reform and holiness bring with them great fruitfulness: He himself founded more than 150 monasteries which, by the time of his death, had grown to well over 300 monasteries. The efforts of this one, dedicated man almost singlehandedly brought about an era of profound revival and flourishing — a true “new springtime” of religious life.
On Tuesday we were given the memorial of Pope St. Pius X. As we experience a crisis of Church hierarchy today, both domestic and worldwide, holy mother Church provides us with this example of a truly saintly bishop and pope, known above all for his personal piety and holiness. He too was a great reformer, instituting important changes in Church law and in the administration and oversight of seminaries. Additionally, his reform of the missal and breviary helped lead the clergy, and indeed the entire People of God, to a deeper understanding of the riches of Sacred Scripture and the liturgy.
And now today the Church gives us the great celebration of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the timing rendered even more perfect by the fact that the daily cycle of readings gives us as our first reading today the famous “wicked shepherds” passages from Ezekiel 34:
“Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture the sheep? ... You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts.”
And in response to the situation, this is the promise God made to the wicked shepherds of Israel, and it is the promise He makes to the wicked shepherds today:
“I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. I will save my sheep. …”
Given what we are facing, it might behoove every priest and bishop in our Church to print out a copy of Ezekiel 34 and tape it to the wall next to his bed. And every morning, upon waking, read that passage and be reminded of the recompense that comes when shepherds abuse their authority.
In the midst of it all, we draw strength from God’s promise: “I will save my sheep…” Christ, the Good Shepherd, never will abandon his Church, nor abandon the sheep of his flock. We belong to him, and in that is our great comfort and our hope.
So, too, we draw hope from the Blessed Virgin Mary, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast,” to use the beautiful phrase of the poet Henry Wordsworth. She who is the Mother of the Church and the Queen of the Church is always with us, and her resplendence shines forth like a beacon into the darkness we are now facing.
On this memorial of her queenship, we recognize the need for a new generation of priests and bishops in our Church. Men devoted to Our Lady, who will be her servants and her knights, who will place themselves at her feet and allow her to guide them in serving her Divine Son and faithfully shepherding his people. We also need a new generation of faithful believers, sons and daughters of our heavenly mother, who will confidently place themselves under her mantle and form a great cohort of disciples, imitating in their own lives those virtues which shone forth so splendidly in the life of their queen. And by the power of the sacrifices, penances, and prayers lifted up by this vast army of saints-in-the-making, we pray for the hastening of that moment when all might see, piercing through the darkness of our time, the morning star rising, signaling that the darkness has been conquered and that Christ, the Sun of Justice, dawns anew in our Church and in our world.
O Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
O Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
(This reflection is adapted from a homily delivered Aug. 22.)
Dominican Father John Paul Walker is the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Connecticut.