BY MARY COLOE
We've just celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday. A day when we read from John 10 where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11).
This week in Australia we are left puzzling over the fate of a man who has been consistently called “a great pastor” by his priests and people. I speak of Bishop (now retired) Bill Morris.
The details of Rome’s reasons for wanting his dismissal are not known. What is known is that other bishops and cardinals who protected paedophiles were not asked to resign/retire, while Bishop Morris was. Such skewed decision-making is perplexing at best and in many eyes scandalous.
At the heart of Bishop Morris’ concern lay the Eucharist and the long Catholic value of being a Eucharistic community nourished by the Word and the Table. Across Australia, such Eucharistic nourishment is becoming less and less possible.
Parishes are joining up, placing impossible demands on a single priest to be the sole pastor for one conglomerate parish where there were once two or three or four. Dioceses are importing pastors from India, Vietnam, Africa, Poland and unfortunately many of these men lack the cultural awareness to genuinely pastor Australian Parishes. In one Parish, when the new priest arrived, the pastoral council was immediately dismissed.
Bishop Morris, good pastor that he was, dared to ponder where his people could find nourishment, how his people could be fed at the Eucharistic Table in the future. The need is obvious. The questions are valid. More and more Catholic parishes are drifting towards the Protestant experience of being fed by the Word alone. The ‘daily bread’ of the Eucharist is a distant memory for many and even a ‘weekly’ morsel is now problematic.
The image of the Good Shepherd, found in John 10 has its background in the prophetic critique of Israel’s leaders in Ezekiel 34.
Ezekiel writes, “Thus says the Lord God: Ho Shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the sheep.
The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them” (Ezek 34:2-4).
God’s Judgement on the Shepherds of Israel is clear? How will such judgement fall on our current shepherds who seem to prefer a Eucharist-less church than consider other possibilities? Would that we could truly pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”.
Dr Mary Coloe is a Presentation Sister lecturing in Scripture at Australian Catholic University, Melbourne.
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