“The word of the LORD came to me:
`Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel:
Thus says the LORD God:
Woe to the shepherds who have pastured themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, shepherd sheep?
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 myself will shepherd my sheep, says the LORD."
(Ezekiel 34:1-16, passim)
Not only the Catholic Church, but the other Christian churches, too, have often been betrayed by poor shepherding. If you doubt this, where have you been? What one finds in churches are often false shepherds who seek to live a life of ease, and who neglect the spiritual welfare of those human beings in their care. What have they done instead of nourishing their people? “They have fattened themselves for the day of slaughter.”
How many clergy today—Catholic or Protestant—even know what it means to care for souls, to help build up Christ in the mind and heart and soul of each of the faithful? How many so-called “pastors” or “ministers of Christ” are pastors at all? Do not many of them put on clerical dress, but remain (underneath the pretty clothes) all too empty of Spirit themselves to inspire, to guide, to help cleanse, to help heal those in their care? How many so-called “pastors” are going through liturgical motions—often quite empty gestures—and neglect to nourish the people on the living word of God? They think that sticking a host in someone’s mouth or hands is the best way to share Christ. That would be the best way if human beings had no minds—or for minds that are not enquiring, who are truly the “poor in spirit.” These so-called “pastors” and “priests” put on a fancy show, but do not communicate the Spirit of the living God, for they cannot give what they themselves do not have.
How many clergy are so attuned to the word of God echoing within their own hearts that they are able to share that living word with their people? How many are capable of hearing God’s word and trembling before the Almighty? How many can do as the Apostle Paul says, preaching Christ “from faith to faith,” from the faith of the speaker into the faithful heart of the hearer of the word? From what shows up in various churches and denominations: all too few ministers have the trust that comes from a split-open heart. So many are of these clerical cardboard cut-outs are in truth failed shepherds. Why? Not allowing themselves to live under the present Judgment of God, they cannot communicate the powerful truth of divine judgment and mercy to anyone, to man and beast alike.
What does it mean for a man or woman to be a true pastor? A true pastor is a man or woman who daily and frequently presents himself or herself before the presence of the LORD. A true pastor is a naked soul tended by God, because this human being allows the light of the divine Mind to shine in, to reveal hidden secrets of the heart, to judge by divine truth, to convert his or her heart again and again. A true shepherd lives in the presence of God, for God, and for his or her own true spiritual welfare. Living in the presence of God, one ever stands judged; and one who is judged and turns back to God is healed by timely and kindly mercy. Only if a human being willingly stands before the burning fire of God can that person carry the living word of God to others. Frankly, it is that simple, regardless of churchy gobbledygook or hierarchical pretensions. Mere ordination no more makes a real pastor than a wedding ceremony makes a real marriage.
How many clergy, Catholic and Protestant, merely play church? They squander the time they’ve been allotted to communicate Christ by putting far too much emphasis on liturgical roles and liturgical rules. In truth, that may be the best some of these fellows can do. Instead of standing spiritually stripped before their people gathered in prayer, they clothes themselves in fancy vestments, pre-fab prayers, and canned homilies, for they dare not just open up their own hearts and mouths and speak as the Spirit gives utterance. They cannot do this, because they have been hiding from God behind the walls of Churchianity. And when they preach, it is not words taught by the Spirit to them in prayer, in study, and in life’s experiences; rather, they read words concocted by someone else, taken from a magazine or downloaded online. Do they even bother to credit the source of these borrowed or stolen words? Hardly. They present someone’s musings as their own. And they are usually safe, general, and feel-good babble. Why can they not preach the Word in truth? Perhaps because they are boxed in by fear or a lack of trust. Whatever the cause, they do not listen to the word in the presence of the faithful. They do not pray for the working of the Spirit, letting the divine speak through their mouths into the minds and hearts of the faithful. And why do they not speak in the Spirit by the Spirit, here and now? Because they do not know how to do it, or perhaps they are afraid that too much will be revealed about themselves that they prefer to hide. (Have you noticed how many clergy hide?) Above all, they do not speak by the Spirit—who is not canned or boxed or fixed in scripted words—because they are not men and women of the Spirit. They pride themselves on being “ordained clergy,” but barely anointed by the Spirit of the living God. Rarely if ever does it cross their minds that Jesus was not ordained anything by human beings; he was a man of the Spirit alone.
False pastors—pretending priests, if you will—do not know that a genuine communication of the Word of God in the present, standing with and for God’s people, is the primary means by which a true pastor tends the flock entrusted to his or her care. If this clergy person would truly trust God, and let divine wisdom and understanding speak through his or her mouth, then the faithful would see what it means to have real faith, and not mere churchy belief. No one is spiritually enlivened by churchy beliefs. They are “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” to themselves, and most unfortunately to their fellow human beings. And even more importantly, if the assigned minister were actually to speak God’s word from his or her own heart to the heart of the faithful, hearts would be nourished on real heavenly food, and gradually set aflame with the same divine Spirit active in the preacher’s heart.
Why is the Spirit not so evident in our churches today? Because those who have been “ordained” or “called” to speak words as taught by the Spirit do not listen to God, do not hear God, are not confronted by God, judged by God, liberated by God. All too many of these clergy-folks are on spiritual life-support, nourishing themselves on stale rituals, written words, man-made rules. How can men and women who are themselves so malnourished truly share in the feeding and tending of God’s people? They can’t.
And frankly, the people in the pews are a major part of the problem. For far too long, for many years, Catholic and Protestant ministers have gotten away with spiritual deadness, for feeding the people psycho-babble and social claptrap. The faithful have not demanded far better from those entrusted with communicating Christ Jesus to them. And why not? Many of the faithful are not so faithful at all! They, too, want a life of ease, of pleasure, of doing whatsoever they want. “God forbid that we be judged! God forbid that we be confronted by the truth! No, no, give us only sweet words, pleasant words, make us smile and laugh at church. Keep that living God stuff far away. We like it much better just the way it is: comfortable, easy, not challenging, not provocative, not anything but easy mush. That’s just the way we want it.”
“And NOW is the Judgment,
that the Light has come into the world,
but human beings loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil.
For every one who does evil hates the light,
and refuses to come to the light,
lest his deeds should be exposed.
But he who does what it true comes to the light,
that it may be clearly seen
that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (John 3)
Well, “Christian faithful,” have you really been faithful to God? Or have you been faithless? Have you been listening to the voice of the living God, or to your own self-affirming voices? Have you allowed the divine light of truth to penetrate your hearts? Here’s a simple test, brothers and sisters: Before the church service begins, do you even bother to ask the Holy Spirit to rip open your heart to the truth of God? Or are you too busy making faces at babies and babbling to children to bare your soul to God? As Jesus asked Judas, “Friend, why are you here?” Why are you sitting on that pew?
In short, there are two main reasons for the failure of pastors to shepherd human beings: The pastors are often mere churchmen, mere pretenders, largely devoid of the Spirit themselves; and that is exactly what many church-goers want: smiley clergy dressed up, pretty music, and comfortable, non-provocative, feel-good words. In other words, they want to remain as they are: spiritually moribund.
Well, one usually receives from God what one truly wants. God is blameless. We are the ones who have fallen far short of the divine Judge.
—Wm. Paul McKane, MTmonk
02 February 2019
Feast of the Presentation