Last Sunday the pastor told of three shepherds and a visitor who asked how the shepherd knew whose sheep were whose. The visitor saw one shepherd stand, call his sheep to follow and a group of them did. Then a second shepherd did the same with the same results. Then the visitor tried calling sheep to follow him but none moved. "Do they ever just follow anybody who calls them?" he asked. "Oh sure," said the last shepherd. "When sheep are sick, they'll follow anyone."
The story has stuck with me, perhaps because I've always wondered how people can go off to follow the wrong person, such as charismatic leader Jim Jones who convinced so many people to commit suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Or young people who go off to cults. Perhaps this is why reading the homily that Cardinal Seán O'Malley delivered last Sunday in Boston made so much sense. He spoke of the "wanton violence and destruction" inflicted at the Boston Marathon by two strangers.
"We know so little about the two young men who perpetrated these heinous acts of violence. One said he had no friends in this country, the other said his chief interests were money and his career," said Cardinal O'Malley. "People need to be part of a community to lead a fully human life. As believers one of our tasks is to build community, to value people more than money or things, to recognize in each person a child of God, made in the image and likeness of our Creator."
Cardinal O'Malley said:
"The individualism and alienation of our age has spawned a culture of death. Over a million abortions a year is one indication of how human life has been devalued. Violent entertainment, films and video games have coarsened us and made us more insensitive to the pain and suffering of others. The inability of the Congress to enact laws that control access to automatic weapons is emblematic of the pathology of our violent culture."
He also decried the death penalty when he spoke with reporters after Mass about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was charged April 22 with using a "weapon of mass destruction" that left three dead and more than 200 injured at the marathon.
"Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime. But in our own hearts when we are unable to forgive we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred," said Cardinal O'Malley. "Obviously as a Catholic I oppose the death penalty, which I think is one further manifestation of the culture of death in our midst."
Living near the venerable Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cardinal O'Malley respects knowledge but warned that it doesn't equate to virtue. "As Chain Ginott, the concentration camp survivor, reminds us, doctors, nurses, scientists and soldiers were part of the Holocaust machinery, showing that knowledge is not virtue, and often science and technology have been put at the service of evil," Cardinal O'Malley said. "It is only a culture of life and an ethic of love that can rescue us from the senseless violence that inflicts so much suffering on our society."
Individualism, alienation, disdain for the rights of the unborn, dismissal of the sanctity of all life -- including that of bombers -- and the preponderance of all kinds of assault weapons in America: All represent a societal sickness that lures many sheep away from a life-giving shepherd to follow another who leads them to their destruction. These sicknesses needs to be addressed by Congress, churches and we individuals ourselves.