The Catholic Thing
Sheep Print E-mail
By Kevin Bezner   
Saturday, 10 March 2012

If you’re an intellectual in a city like Charlotte, North Carolina, and politically progressive, you’re a follower. Journalist, college professor, city planner, politician, or bohemian – you truly wish to be elsewhere. Only in cities like Boston, New York, Portland, Seattle, or San Francisco will you find, you believe, your proper place.

In your mind, cities like Charlotte, where I have lived for nearly twenty years, are places of exile that are tolerable only if you work to transform them into reflections of cities you admire. I know this is true, even if many deny it, because for much of my life I held such views. And like my colleagues, I never examined them.

So it did not surprise me when a local columnist recently called Catholics who follow the Church on issues such as contraception, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage “obedient sheep.” He used this term after quoting a dissenter, Marco Cipolletti, the head of the Diocesan Ministry for Gay and Lesbian Catholics at St. Peter’s, a liberal Jesuit parish in downtown Charlotte.

Ironically, St. Ignatius – the founder of the Jesuits – taught in his Spiritual Exercises: “We must put aside all judgement of our own, and keep the mind ever ready and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church.”

St. Ignatius knew that a 2000-year-old institution like the Catholic Church might just know a bit more than we do. But of course, in making themselves infallible authorities, that’s something progressives could never entertain. I had the good fortune to take the Spiritual Exercises at St. Peter’s, but during that experience I was told to ignore St. Ignatius’ “Rules for Thinking with the Church.” I doubt I was the only one.

Fortunately, God had other plans for me. I spent hours meditating on St. Ignatius’ rules, which led me to live an authentic Catholic faith, instead of lukewarm or social Catholicism. Despite many deep wounds, flaws, and mistakes, I hope I’m now a Catholic who works to understand the Church, not the political distortions of that Church we so often hear.

St. Ignatius calls us to follow the prescribed disciplines: to sing the Psalms, to pray the Divine Office, to praise the vows related to our individual way of life, to fast and abstain when required, to attend Mass, to do acts of Penance, to recognize and respect our superiors. And yet, if our superiors live a life outside the Church’s teachings, we are called to speak about them with those who might be able to do something about it.

As one of the many secular sheep – and all secularists are sheep even if they aren’t willing to admit it – that is something I never did. I simply accepted the dissenters’ rallying cry that contraception, abortion, and sex outside marriage made me free, and that homosexuality was just one more choice of a free person. So why condemn it?

Yet the only thing embracing these views ever did was enslave me, and everyone else who holds them. Like most of my colleagues, my misery resulted from following the dictates of secular society. It was only when I began living the teachings of the Church that I saw how mistaken and damaging these views are, particularly to the poor. All those deadly sins we refuse to renounce cripple us in this world and make life in the next impossible.

What I’ve found among the liberal elite everywhere is a desire to conform – to a way of life that opposes the traditional institutions of our civilization, religious and political. No matter where I lived – south of Boston, Washington, D.C., Missoula, Montana – no matter where I visited – New York, Chicago, San Francisco – the views were always the same. They were the real conformists, the sheep who never truly questioned their own views.

They questioned authority, all authority except for those leaders they followed. They accepted and embraced the idea that freedom somehow came down to sex and that the only path to sexual utopia was to destroy the Catholic Church and its teachings. They were sheep, but they castigated those who had chosen the true Shepherd, even when they claimed to follow Christ.

Oh, they tolerated Christianity, as long as Jesus Christ was depicted as a kind of pied piper of love who only challenged the ruling elite and the rich. But the cultural elite was sacred, even though it distorts and twists the Gospel to fit an agenda that goes largely unexamined.

In the Catholic Church, I found a willingness to think, reason, examine, test. John Paul II opened my heart, and more than any other thinker Pope Benedict XVI opened my clogged intellect.

Jesus said follow me, which means you have a choice: follow the Son of God or follow man. You must choose. Will you follow political leaders like our president who take away religious freedom and characterize what they are doing as protecting the freedom of women? Will you follow columnists who call themselves Catholic but don’t know their faith, or those who speak openly for a homosexual lifestyle despite what the Church has taught through the centuries?

Will you follow bishops and priests too confused or weak-willed to demand that Catholics know and live the true faith? Or will you follow great recent popes such as Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI? Or true leaders such as Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Charles Chaput, or bishops like Thomas Tobin of Providence, or the bishop of my diocese, Peter Jugis, who is under attack?

Will you renounce the false teachers of our society for the true teachers of our Church? Will you follow those who truly speak for the Church, or those who have set themselves up as false spokespersons?

Most important of all, will you follow Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, and his earthly shepherds who will lead you to union with God in Paradise?

Kevin Bezner, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is instructor in English at Belmont Abbey College, outside Charlotte, NC. His article on spiritual desolation appears in the current issue of Lay Witness.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Patrick, March 10, 2012
excellent...God bless during this Lenten season of desolation, preparation and beyond...
written by Michael PS, March 10, 2012
Fr Richard John Neuhaus coined the phrase, "the dull herd of independent minds"
written by Regina Coeli, March 10, 2012
Wonderful read, thank you.
"There is more rejoicing in Heaven . ."
written by Bangwell Putt, March 10, 2012
It was in thinking about Mary and about God's purposes for women that I came to some understanding of Pope John Paul's "acting person" who makes a decision for "willed obedience" to God.

"Apart from you, I have no good." When one has begun to grasp that precept, true penance can happen and life begins to make sense.

This is a beautiful Lenten post, comforting to those who live in communities inhabited by the often generous and, in many ways, good but close-minded people described by Dr. Bezner.
written by Manfred, March 10, 2012
One "spiritual excercise" I find extremely helpful and simple to accomplish is to read again Fatima in Lucia's Own Words. You may also Google a lot of this information from reliable sources. I reread the three childrens (the oldest, Lucia, was nine)Vision of Hell which was shown to them by the Virgin Mary. Rivetting. I also reread the part of the apparitions where Lucia asks whether young adults from the area who had died were in Heaven. Mary responds that the sixteen year old was in Heaven, but that Amelia, who was twenty to twenty-two years old, "will be in Purgatory until the end of the world." These apparitions were deemed by the Church to be worthy of credence. Mary did not come to show three children Hell. She came to show it to US so we might follow her advise how to avoid it. Lucia asked if she would be saved and our Lady said yes. Jacinta (her cousin), yes.
Francisco (her seven year old cousin) "Yes, but he will have to say many Rosaries." Think of these episodes when you you hear the homily on Sunday in your parish and then ask yourself if there are, at least, two Catholicisms, one true, one false.
written by Other Joe, March 10, 2012
God or man - that is the choice - to the Shepherd or to the slaughterhouse. Note well; on the road to slaughter, they fatten you up first and that’s great fun as long as you don't know why and where it ends up.
written by Tony Esolen, March 10, 2012
It is exactly what I've found in academia, all my adult life. When I was an undergraduate at Princeton, I could predict what my classmates' views would be on almost any subject. That predictability extends to faculties generally.

Human beings are made for obedience. Whether or not they'll obey isn't the question. The only question is whom or what they will obey. And if they think that they will obey only themselves, they are most pitifully deluded.
written by Paul Musial, March 10, 2012
This is an excellent piece. I fell away from the Church as an adult, and was led back precisely because it became clear to me that the family was threatened by all the "freedoms" promised by the sexual revolution and the abandonment of tradition. I may be a sheep, but I am fully aware of who my Shepherd is: Jesus Christ, assisted by the priests, brothers and nuns who have devoted their lives to protecting the Faith through the Church.
written by Graham Combs, March 10, 2012
I lived in New York for many years, eight of which I worked in trade book publishing. I also earned a law degree there. But one evening I attended a Broadway show by the dancer and actor Bill Irwin. I don't recall what the show was about -- it was a series of routines. But a recurring motif was a large group of men and women dressed in academic caps and gowns. They would occasionally pop up on stage and march in lock-step military style from one side to another. A funny and clever way to send up intellectual conformity. The audience laughed everytime this occurred. As did I. Yet, except for out of towners, I bet most people there voted Democrat, supported the unending and imaginative series of civil rights struggles (leaving racism and Jim Crow far behind), and were pro-choice. It's really the incoherence of liberal/leftism that drives me out of the room. Deep down, they're aware of the rot; they can't bring themselves to consciously acknowledge it. But laughter; that comes from deep down.
written by Tom, March 11, 2012
I'll follow the Lord, Jesus to "his shepherds on earth" I'll reserve judgment.
written by Tim Flynn, March 11, 2012
Thanks Kevin - great post!
written by enness, April 06, 2012
They say "obedient sheep" like it's a bad thing. Who else was famously innocent and obedient? Let me think...
written by Frank Sellers, April 13, 2012
The implication that strict adherents to any religion are not the epitomy of conformist sheep is ludicrous. There is no pride to be found in mindless obedience no matter who you're obeying. If pride is too "sinful" a word for you, then let me put it more bluntly: it is shameful not to question the dictates without quetion, especially when those order bother your conscience.

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