Sheep Without a Shepherd

Last year, a Democrat party shill actually spoke of the “breakthrough” in the Democrat abortion platform with a straight face: “For the first time, the Democratic Party is using ‘reduce’ and ‘abortion’ in the same sentence, and for the first time it talks about the decision to have a child and supporting that decision.”

Now, a culture whose ruling class seriously believes “not always seeking to murder babies” is a “breakthrough” is naturally going to produce a new generation who display the effects of such moral imbecility. We’ve been marinating in the Culture of Adult Desire for forty years. It should then, come as no surprise when we hear stories like this on NPR:

Sex Without Condoms is the New Engagement Ring

Youth Radio’s Pendarvis Harshaw says walking down the aisle is not as big a deal as throwing away the Trojans.

It seems the children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers are looking at the wreckage of Generation Narcissus’ scorched earth approach to sexual wisdom and pathetically feeling their way through the ruins back to ideas like "commitment". The heartbreaking NPR story announces that the way many youth announce "I love you and want to make it permanent" is not with an engagement ring, but by taking off the condom.

It is easy to weep and shake our fist. But I think that Christ would emphasize something else. Scripture describes Jesus as having pity on his flock because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). That image is not original to Matthew. He is alluding to Ezekiel 34, in which God roars out his anger at the shepherds of Israel who have fattened themselves on the weak and vulnerable instead of caring for them. The shepherds Ezekiel rails at bear an uncanny resemblance to the Manufacturers of our cannibalistic culture who routinely corrupt the young with the worship of money, sex, and power and teach them to regard sex as a form of recreation and not as a gift ordered toward union, fruitfulness and the love of God.

To such shepherds, mandarins of culture, lever pullers and Chattering Classes, Ezekiel has nothing but dire words of warning, much like the Lord himself with his dark and terrible images concerning millstones around the neck and plunging into the depths of the sea.

But for the lost sheep, Jesus is all tenderness, much like Ezekiel. Through the prophet God says, “Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:10-12).

And Jesus himself remarks, when he speaks as the Good Shepherd, that “my sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). Paul notes something similar in preaching on the Areopagus when he comments that humans are made to “feel after” God (Acts 176:27). So in a pagan (or post-Christian) culture covered by a “thick darkness” of spiritual and moral blindness, I think the response of Jesus to a story like this is, to be sure, anger at the Manufacturers of Culture, but also pity for kids like this. In their own sad way, the youth in this story are facing reality far more clearly than the generation before them who labored to reduce sex to a plumbing problem. They grasp that the sexual act is indeed the body’s declaration of lifelong fidelity. They see that contraception is the crossed fingers behind the back; the way of saying "Well, not really" while the lips say "I love you and give myself completely to you and our family."

So, in our sexually deranged culture, the poor pitiable kid whose highest expression of love is to take off a condom is something like the widow who offered two copper coins. It’s all he has left to him from the healthy Christian understanding of marriage my generation robbed him of. But he still has “eternity in his heart” so he tries, in his cruelly debilitating moral poverty, to give what he can. I have to believe the Lord who multiplies loaves and fishes can work with that. Far more pitiable—and contemptible—are the dolts who handed him that deranged culture in the first place. My generation, far more than his, has so much to answer for. May the Shepherd be merciful on That Day.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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  • SeanReynoldsNZ

    Normally I would get stuck into the Baby-Boomer generation when I hear them whinge about Generations X & Y as being at various stages of loutish depravity, asking who the example was for my generation if not the baby boomers. However, I might digress somewhat here.

    What example did the baby boomer generation have in matters of human sexuality? What did the previous generation leave for them that led them off the rails in the first place? Margaret Sangar was around a few decades before the baby boomers. I doubt that it was a baby boomer who invented the contraceptive pill.

    I remember attending one of Christopher West’s talks at World Youth Day in Sydney last year where he was talking about how Hugh Hefner started Playboy after being given a deformed view of human sexuality by the previous generation to his, one where human sexuality was treated as something dirty that was an embarrassing aspect to marriage, rather than what marriage revolved around.

    What is needed to turn the world around is to embrace the truth about everything.

  • This was not true of every Baby-boomer, I never had sex until my wedding night, and I proposed to my wife with the words of God, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Placing my wife part from all other women and consecrating her as my wife.

  • Joe DeVet

    Wow! Great Jeremiad! Or I should perhaps call it an Ezekieliad!?

    Veeery interesting that the youth should perceive the lie of contraception in this way. It is, as Mark shows, a very impoverished and unfortunate gesture to declare commitment by taking off the condom. But it is encouraging, in a somewhat twisted way, that the deeper truth of what the human sex act involves may be making its way back into the sunshine.

    Following up on Sean, one notes some other earlier influences. One is the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church in 1930, which produced the first formal Christian acceptance of contraception (attempting at the time to narrowly limit the acceptable circumstances, but it opened a floodgate.) The Christian churches are thus complicit in the cultural problem the article notes.

    Catholic leadership is by no means exempt. From the late ’60’s on, there grew up a faux “process” of conscience formation which was invented to persuade the faithful that they could use contraception in good conscience, if only they went through the all the steps in the “process.” Many in Catholic leadership proposed this plausible but incomplete process, then ignored the corrective issued by Pope John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor.” Catholic boomers were deeply involved, but the prior generation participated as well in this regrettable episode.

  • Warren Jewell

    Though I have ‘led astray’ the lambs near me more by omission than commission, Mr. Shea points out that we who are flawed, weak and sinful shepherds do have one out, via His narrow and difficult way: to acknowledge (“. . . for I have sinned”) being but a lamb before God, and follow Him in humility and with our crosses ever on our shoulders, now. Following Him under our crosses is absolution and grace.

    Who can lead who has not followed the One True Shepherd? What can we have learned of leading in any other person? It is as if we have learned but how to stumble and fall. And, poor lambs that look to us, learn mainly how to so fall, too. Now some, so disappointed in who they would follow, try to shepherd their own selves. How abject our failure, that the lambs would even try to teach the shepherd who fails them.

    Day by day, I must permit God to humiliate me from my failed shepherd role and bring me to Himself. I may not ever learn how to be a shepherd like the Lord. But, as a lamb, He in His love will not fail to save me. It is in surrendering to His loving salvation that destroys my failures in my pride and selfishness. He replaces these with His loving grace. Is not my pride and selfishness but something so very ‘condom’-like separation from God and life, to ‘protect’ me from God’s graces of humility, to ‘shield’ me from grace of guidance in His Commandments, to wall myself off from His Sacramental love within His eternal City, and lose myself among others, in pride, wailing, and in selfishness, gnashing our teeth?

    If I but know my place: a lamb who so needs my Shepherd, and cry out my confession, He will not fail me as I have failed others. He will leave those ninety-nine who hear Him now, to call out in His love, take me up in His joy to have me, and save me to love me forever. Then, and only then, might He have me shepherd again, true to the lambs whom He entrusts to me, and true to my truest self, and most importantly true to His love and graces.

    May God in His enduring love have mercy on us.