Thirty years ago, on October 18, 1985, a priest in Kansas, Father Steven Scheier, was involved in a very serious car accident. He was rushed to a hospital and underwent emergency surgery, but doctors gave him little chance of surviving. Thanks in part to the fervent prayers of his parishioners, he did survive—fortunately for him, as the life-after- death experience he underwent while under anesthesia was not at all a pleasant one. As Father Scheier himself admitted, he was like one of those bad, self-serving shepherds mentioned by the Prophet Jeremiah (23:1-6); though a priest, he was not very spiritual and rarely prayed. He found himself being judged by Jesus, Who went through his entire life and pointed out his many unforgiven sins; in each instance, all Father could say was “Yes, Lord.” The judgment ended in the worst possible way: a sentence of hell. Father Scheier agreed, for he knew Jesus was merely honoring the choice he himself had made by his moral decisions and lifestyle. However, he then heard the Virgin Mary pleading for his soul. Jesus said, “Mother, he has been a priest for twelve years for himself and not for Me; let him reap the punishment he deserves.” The Blessed Mother responded, “But Son, what if we give him special graces and strengths and then see if he bears fruit?” Jesus can never refuse His Mother, and so the priest was given another chance.
Ever since then Father Scheier has lived as a devoted son and servant of Our Lady. Not only was his priesthood transformed, but he has told his story to anyone who would listen, speaking at conferences, retreats, giving countless interviews, and appearing with Mother Angelica on EWTN and on other television shows. For thirty years now Father Scheier has served as a devoted pastor; his traumatic wake-up call transformed him from a bad shepherd into a good one. Jesus is seeking a genuine and, if necessary, renewed commitment not only from His priests, but from all of us. There are many people in today’s world desperately in need of the Gospel—and our Christian witness and example may be their only chance to hear the truth and to accept the gift of salvation.
St. Paul (Eph 2:13-18) reminds us that we were once far from God, but have become near through the blood of Christ. This gift of reconciliation with God, however, is something we’re meant to share, for the Lord wants all people to be saved. One major obstacle to this is an insufficient number of Christians willing to share their faith; as we see in the Gospel (Mk 6:30-34), Jesus has great love and concern for those who search for the truth, especially when there is no one to proclaim it to them. A second obstacle to salvation involves bad shepherds—those who serve themselves instead of the flock. This can involve not only priests, but also parents, teachers, coaches, political and economic leaders, and anyone entrusted with authority or influence over others. The Lord warns that we will be held accountable for whether or not we’ve been faithful in bearing witness to His truth.
In the 1930s, the Soviet Union’s dictator Josef Stalin—one of the most ruthless, evil, and cunning men who ever lived—stated that there were two major moral forces preventing the worldwide victory of Communism: the American middle-class, and the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, he said, Communists would have to work behind the scenes to undermine, discredit, and ultimately remove or destroy these obstacles—even if this process took the better part of a century. Any honest study of history would show that this evil scheme has had great success. The Church is much less spiritually united, and influential in the world, than it used to be, and the condition of American society— including the middle class—is in ever worse shape. Moreover, it has supposedly been revealed that Satan’s war against the Church in our own age has had two primary targets: the priesthood, and the family. This assertion makes perfect sense, for priests and parents are supposed to play the most important roles in helping Catholics become true, committed disciples of Jesus capable of transforming the world around them. The devil wants to prevent this at all costs, and we can see the results of his efforts: a society so morally degraded that it would horrify previous generations; a huge decline in church attendance over the last few decades; much less respect for Church authority than before; the clergy sexual abuse scandals; rising levels of divorce and broken families; immoral fashions, entertainment, and lifestyles; and an overall spirit of pride and rebellion against Divine Law—to the extent that we can no longer truly be called “one nation under God.”
All this might be cause for despair—except for the fact that Jesus had promised the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. He is completely victorious in the end; of that there is no doubt. The only question is whether each of us personally will be on the winning side. Are we, like Father Scheier up until thirty years ago, only living for ourselves, even as we claim to be followers of Christ, or is our faith genuine? Are we truly trying to follow those genuine shepherds in the Church whom Jesus has appointed for us? Are we really doing our part to guide, teach, and protect those persons the Lord has entrusted to us—whether in our own families, or in our other areas of influence?
If we want to be true shepherds and members of Christ’s flock, we need to live by His values and priorities. Specifically, we should pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, ideally every day. We should read Scripture regularly, so as to be nourished by God’s Word and rooted in His truth. We should come to Confession as needed—which, for 99% of Catholics, means more often than is currently the case. We should receive the Eucharist regularly—assuming we’re in a state of grace—so as to obtain the spiritual grace needed to resist temptation and to discern and reject the false shepherds and voices of this world. We should take seriously the teachings and commandments of the Church, especially when they’re denounced and rejected by this world, and become well-informed on the issues of the day, thus making it easier for us to fulfill our duties as patriotic citizens. We should offer prayers and sacrifices for the moral and spiritual renewal of our country, and in reparation for our nation’s sins. Lastly, we should pray for, encourage, and help our loved ones and all those over whom we have influence to develop a living relationship with Jesus—for only He can save us from all that threatens us. The Lord wants to be our shepherd—but it’s up to us to prove that we wish to be members of His flock.