The faithful should embrace this barb for what it really means.
I had a Facebook dialog a few weeks ago with a couple Catholic friends who struggle with some of the Church’s teachings. The subject of the exchange was Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. One of them suggested he should be denied communion because he supposedly doesn’t care about the poor. After I refuted that bit of nonsense, the conversation quickly turned toward the HHS contraception mandate. One of the two interjected:
Why, when many states had similar mandates already on the books, did the Bishops suddenly decide to cry foul? Seems entirely political to me and disingenuous as well. “Let’s fire up the sheeple, it will help divert the attention away from the abuse scandal & make people think we are relevant.” In the end, when a vast majority of women, including Catholic women, use some form of contraception it is ludicrous to make this such an issue.
At this point, with the advent of name-calling (sheeple), the invocation of the ubiquitous red herring (abuse scandal), and some generic bishop-bashing, I considered the conversation to no longer be a civil, charitable exchange of viewpoints among friends and respectfully bowed out of the thread.
I was reflecting on this exchange a several days ago. Why exactly was I offended by sheeple? Should I have been? It started to come together for me during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday while listening to the description of the Passover ritual in the first reading. The Jews were to sacrifice an unblemished lamb, eat its flesh, and receive a mantle of protection offered by its blood. Suddenly, I was reminded of all the biblical symbolism for sheep/lambs, and I started to look at sheeple in a whole new way.
- Jesus is the Paschal lamb. He is the unblemished, once-and-for-all, sacrificial offering for the expiation of our sins. We are to follow His example, to strive to be free of sin by dying to ourselves and making a gift of our lives to the Father and to one another, to be an instrument of His divine will.
- Jesus is also the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for His sheep. That’s us! We are to listen to Him, follow after Him, obey Him, just as sheep to a shepherd. It’s been said that the comparison to sheep isn’t particularly flattering to us. Sure, it’s humbling, but that makes it no less true. After all, who knows our limitations better than the one who died to save us from our sins (i.e., our limitations)? Without Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
- We celebrate the institution of the priesthood on Holy Thursday when Christ tells the apostles, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The priest by his ordination stands in persona Christi, in the person of the Good Shepherd himself. Every bishop, as the ordinary of his diocese, personifies this role all the more. His crozier (pastoral staff) symbolizes the role of bishop as the Good Shepherd, leading his faithful flock along the path of salvation, disciplining and protecting them as needed.
Do you respect the authority of your bishop, the one who, strengthened by supernatural grace in the sacrament of Holy Orders, stands in persona Christi specifically for you? If so, you are precisely who you are supposed to be: sheeple! Bleat out your obedience with joy and thanksgiving! The One who died for your sins left you a sure guide to follow.
May God bless and strengthen our holy shepherds! BAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!