Recently I met a young mother of five to arrange for her children to attend a Catholic school this fall. We also planned for her to work with Habitat for Humanity to someday own her own home.
Several years ago, one of her babies was thrown against the wall by her boyfriend, crushing his skull, killing him immediately. She lives in one of the most crime-ridden and poverty-stricken sections of our city. A rare week passes without gun violence there. Prostitution and illegal drugs are omnipresent. Daily people struggle for food, shelter and love.
After I left our meeting and drove home through her neighborhood I took in the many abandoned buildings, boarded up homes and businesses, the people on the streets, heads bowed as if awaiting a reason to look up. In the last decade, the Catholic chancery closed two more parishes there. Long ago all Catholic schools…at one time 21…closed.
Reflecting on this ugliness I felt God had abandoned these people.
The following week the young mother’s blight worsened. I received a call with news her father was murdered, shot in the face, destroying his countenance.
“At the sight of the crowds his heart was moved to pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I alone didn’t cause the hardships that have befallen this young mother. There are many forces working against her. But I do have a role in fighting these forces. A thorough examination of my conscience might reveal my eagerness to look away, to hide in an entertaining distraction, to escape these harsh realities. God does not want me to do this. And God is not the source of my hopelessness. God wants me to look at sin, and, in total trust, do my part to lift up others.
We are to be shepherds to one another. God can change the world…usher in the Reign of God…through our lives, if we completely dispose ourselves to God.
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel speak to the deepest fear in our hearts…feeling abandoned. We are not meant to be alone, to be without emotional support, to be isolated in our pain or to be without hope. Yet, look around you as Jesus did…”at the sight of the crowds…” see the ugliness, the pain, the lost, the scared, the abandoned masses. This is sin. When we stare sin down, we act with pure, simple faith. We admit our part in sin, yes. But we admit our total dependence on God, by grace, to take away our sin.
We are not abandoned sheep. We have a loving shepherd who pledges to be with us in our sin, to wipe it out, to use us as shepherds.
It is only in God we recognize and admit our sin, find forgiveness and the grace to not sin again.
Ask for this grace today.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.