The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: If we only had leaders in our Church! Shepherds in a new evangelization
Today’s Gospel and first reading give us an occasion to reflect on one of the many problems concerning dialogue with our age and the call for a new age of evangelization. Central to both readings is the image of the shepherd and his flock of sheep, whether scattered or being led to new pastures. In the literal sense, there can be a real connection between the shepherd and the sheep. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice; he knows them and they recognize him. When it comes to the metaphorical sense of the image, with involvement of humans, matters can be different. The ideal of the shepherd’s concern for God’s flock will always hold. However, while the “sheep” may be lost and scattered, it is no way clear that they are interested in being shepherded, especially if the message of the shepherd is not to their liking. It occurred already in Jesus’ day. He had followers during his lifetime, but his message, as presented by the early Church, had no great success among those whom he regarded as lost during his ministry in Galilee.
It is somewhat the same in our own day, possibly more acutely so. While many may feel lost, and seek direction in life, they are not attracted to the message of Christ or his Church. The sheer confusion in many matters, and some scandals within the Church, leave even ministers of religion, as well as practising believers, confused. Some blame good part of the problem on Church leaders. Doubtless, there have been, and are, serious failings in some Church leaders and remedies need to be taken for Church administration in keeping with the challenges of our age. What Church leadership is, or should be, is not always easy to define. In political life it can involve the intervention of a party leader in regard to some party members who are transgressing party policy. In Church affairs, given the present-day confusion on a number of issues, it may be a mistake to think that Church leaders can solve some of the problems causing annoyance.
What is called for today, and something the Church itself is well aware of, is a recognition of the situation regarding religious belief and practice, an active anti-religion atmosphere, and the corresponding need for a new evangelization. Evangelization, preaching the Gospel, was central to Christ’s message: “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1:38); central also to Paul (“Woe to me if I do not peach the gospel”, 1 Cor 9:16), and to the Church.
This new evangelization will need to operate at various levels, doctrinally and pastorally, aware of the objections to belief in God and the Christian faith, and the indifference of many to practice of their faith. It will have to seek ways of establishing contact with those to whom we believe Christ’s saving message is to be addressed. Much reflection is required of all who believe that the Gospel message is to be proclaimed in our own day as in the days of Jesus, Paul and the early Church.