Awakening Shepherds Against Progressivism, Alias of Modernism

There are two beams of the cross: Justice and Mercy. Shepherding occurs at the intersection of those beams, the crux of the cross. Today's shepherds, as shepherds throughout Church history, are awakening to the need for both beams. Those who predominately brandish the vertical beam, the law of the Church, are realizing that God calls them to meet people where they are, on the road to Emmaus and join them on that journey. Those who predominantly embrace the horizontal beam, the grace of Christ through the Church, are realizing God calls them to challenge those they journey with toward justice, so that mercy may be granted. Amidst it all, the Church is also awakening to the presence of a rising tide of evil poison that has seeped into society and the Church through the air and the water, for well over one-hundred years: modernism in it's many flavors: scientism, communism, socialism, and progressivism. The wolves are in our midst and we need shepherds to wield the authority of Christ in His Church against it for the shepherding of souls to eternal life.

Our family is again reading aloud the “Lord of the Rings,” J.R.R. Tolkien's epic masterwork infused with covert Catholic theology, for those with eyes to see. I was struck by Tolkien's keen observations, and rising hope, in the shepherd Treebeard as he comes to see with eyes of innocence and epic scope that he has been idle and needs to act against the rising evil that has infiltrated his forest from his modernist wizard neighbor.

‘I used to be anxious when the shadow lay on Mirkwood, but when it removed to Mordor, I did not trouble for a while: Mordor is a long way away. But it seems that the wind is setting East, and the withering of all woods may be drawing near. There is naught that an old Ent can do to hold back that storm: he must weather it or crack.

‘But Saruman now! Saruman is a neighbour: I cannot overlook him. I must do something, I suppose. I have often wondered lately what I should do about Saruman.’


‘I think that I now understand what he is up to. He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment. And now it is clear that he is a black traitor.


Treebeard rumbled for a moment, as if he were pronouncing some deep, subterranean Entish malediction. ‘Some time ago I began to wonder how Orcs dared to pass through my woods so freely,’ he went on. ‘Only lately did I guess that Saruman was to blame, and that long ago he had been spying out all the ways, and discovering my secrets. He and his foul folk are making havoc now. Down on the borders they are felling trees – good trees. Some of the trees they just cut down and leave to rot – orc-mischief that; but most are hewn up and carried off to feed the fires of Orthanc. There is always a smoke rising from Isengard these days.

‘Curse him, root and branch! Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost for ever now. And there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves. I have been idle. I have let things slip. It must stop!’

Treebeard raised himself from his bed with a jerk, stood up, and thumped his hand on the table. The vessels of light trembled and sent up two jets of flame. There was a flicker like green fire in his eyes, and his beard stood out stiff as a great besom.

‘I will stop it!’ he boomed. ‘And you shall come with me. You may be able to help me. You will be helping your own friends that way, too; for if Saruman is not checked Rohan and Gondor will have an enemy behind as well as in front. Our roads go together – to Isengard!’

‘We will come with you,’ said Merry. ‘We will do what we can.’

‘Yes!’ said Pippin. ‘I should like to see the White Hand overthrown. I should like to be there, even if I could not be of much use: I shall never forget Uglúk and the crossing of Rohan.’

‘Good! Good!’ said Treebeard. ‘But I spoke hastily. We must not be hasty. I have become too hot. I must cool myself and think; for it is easier to shout stop! than to do it.’

He strode to the archway and stood for some time under the falling rain of the spring. Then he laughed and shook himself, and wherever the drops of water fell glittering from him to the ground they glinted like red and green sparks. He came back and laid himself on the bed again and was silent. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Treebeard.

“A mind of metal and wheels” is an apt summation of modernism's false premise that man's works are the path of progress. Modernism denies God, an inherently irrational denial, for it then has no explanation of a first cause, offering no reason for the mass of mass and the spark within which ignited the big bang and began time and space. Modernism is a mind of “metal and wheels,” a heart of stone.

All of this begs us to prayerfully contemplate how modernism in its many flavors now infiltrates the basic institutions of society, and how we are called to rise up and shepherd the flock entrusted to us by Jesus our Christ. Where can modernism be found in:

I recently asked one father of a young family what he hungered for from his shepherds. His answer was beautifully simple: “If I can see that this 'sheep' and that 'sheep' are wolves among us, why don't our shepherds warn us against them? Are we on our own?”

By God's grace, no. We are never alone, for we always have the Good Shepherd. Let us pray daily for our shepherds, into whose care Christ entrusts us.

Hail Mary ...

Explore what shepherding is and is not with Saint Augustine.

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