From the Pastor – July 22, 2012

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mk 6:34)

Although the image of a shepherd and his sheep permeates both the Old and New Testament of the Bible, many Catholics have a negative reaction to being compared with “sheep.” As I said once in a homily, sheep are stupid, smelly animals who are defined as “classic prey,” in that they are the food of a great deal of predators, most particularly wolves, cats and birds of prey. But once you study a little about sheep, you find many analogies to human behavior. For instance, sheep are incredibly social animals. Sheep have a natural tendency to gather into a flock, and they can become very agitated and nervous when they become separated from the rest of the group. Also, sheep tend to gather closer together when faced with a threat from a predator. That’s a natural tendency, because even in the United States, where sheep-herders resist predation, nearly one-third of sheep deaths are caused by predators.

But scientists have learned that when sheep are brought to areas where there are no natural predators, they completely lose their natural tendency to flock. Since they don’t perceive a threat, a natural defense disappears.

Here is where that tendency is similar to us humans. When Christianity is under attack, it tends to grow very strong. Whether it was under Roman persecutions, Islamic attacks, Communist suppressions, or even the attacks in the last century by the anti-Catholic Mexican government, each led to a stronger faith among the members of the “flock.” The flocks got stronger, and resisted the predators.

Over the last 236 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Christians have felt little to fear from “predators” in the United States of America. We were understood to be a “Christian nation,” and we did not worry about losing our freedom to practice our faith since it is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. So perhaps a natural fear of “predation” has been American Christian “sheep.” Persecution was what happened a long time ago in far-off lands. It could never happen in America!

Think again. Over the past several years Catholic groups have been barred from providing foster care and adoption services because those charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit. Christian groups on college campuses have lost their recognition when they refused to allow non-Christians to hold leadership positions. Prayers are disallowed in public schools. And now the HHS mandate which violates our conscience. Is this persecution? Some would argue that it isn’t. But persecution rarely begins in a dramatic fashion. It begins incrementally. It’s time to recognize the threat of predation. It’s time to flock.

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty