Dr. James Tonkowich: The Changing Seasons of Life; Seasons of Corruption and Renewal, the Warp and Woof of Church History

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By Dr. James Tonkowich, a Senior Contributor, The Stream, October 11, 2018

Jim TonkowichA week ago Monday, I took a day off to fish. When the wind blew down the canyon, it was chilly, but as soon as the wind abated, the Wyoming sun took over and it was hot.

Today it’s snowing. Fall has pounced on us with all four paws. And while we don’t have the vibrant reds and oranges of New England, the aspens, cottonwoods, and poplars turn a lovely yellow that lends a comforting glow to the landscape.

This summer, a new colleague at Wyoming Catholic College arrived from Dallas where, she says, it’s still in the eighties. She skis, but winter in Wyoming is a bit intimidating nonetheless. That being said, she loves the idea of living in a place where there are four distinct seasons.

So do I.

A Time for Everything

I’ve had enough of wearing shorts and gardening for now, but by April, I’ll be chomping at the bit to shed my parka and plant next summer’s crops. Meanwhile, I’m braising stews and making plans for skiing.

“For everything,” said the Preacher, “there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Significantly, number one on his list is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a).

I remember the season when we and many friends got married. Then we were all expecting. Then the children went to school. Then they went to college. Soon we were in the season of attending friends’ children’s weddings. Now those children are having babies and every insurance company in the country is sending me information on Medicare.

Singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn sang,

I believe it’s a sin to try and make things last forever
Everything that exists in time runs out of time some day
Got to let go of the things that keep you tethered
Take your place with grace and then be on your way

That’s true not only of people, but of “everything that exists in time”: people, puppies, corporations, nations, civilizations and churches.

The Immortal Body of Christ

The Church, of course, does not exist in time. She is the Body of Christ and as Christ’s Body shares His immortality. But churches exist in time and church leaders exist in time. And while orthodox Christianity is eternal (“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” [Matthew 24:35]), heresies and heretic are strictly seasonal.

The story goes that Napoleon Bonaparte, boasted that he had the power to destroy the Catholic Church. A cardinal told him it couldn’t be done. After all, he mused, “We clergy have done our best to destroy the Church for 1,800 years. If we can’t do it, neither can you.”

“All good shepherds are in the one Shepherd, and in that sense they are not many but one. When they feed the sheep it is Christ who is doing the feeding.” — St. Augustine of Hippo

Seasons of corruption and renewal are the warp and woof of Church history. And so it shall be until the Lord returns.

Our twenty-first century corrupt, foolish, or venial priests and bishops are nothing new. Sixteen hundred years ago, St. Augustine of Hippo, commenting on Ezekiel 34 condemned, “wicked shepherds, false shepherds, shepherds who seek their own concerns and not those of Christ. They enjoy the bounty of milk and wool, but they take no care at all of the sheep, and they make no effort to heal those who are ill.” He went on, “Listen, sheep of God, listen and learn: God will call the bad shepherds to account for his sheep and for their deaths.” And it’s no less true today.

And it’s no less true today that, as Augustine put it, “all good shepherds are in the one Shepherd, and in that sense they are not many but one. When they feed the sheep it is Christ who is doing the feeding.”

The Good Shepherd

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is there summer and winter, seedtime and harvest. He shepherds each of God’s children from conception through death. He shepherds His Church in seasons of renewal and flourishing and in seasons of decay and decline, of feasting and plenty and of fasting and penance.

Though wicked shepherds seem to thrive, the Good Shepherd remains and sees to it that good shepherds remain as well. And as Augustine reminded us, “God will call the bad shepherds to account.”

Thus this season of calamity in the Catholic Church is just a season. It will, I suspect, be with us for some time. Diametrically opposed stories of corruption or the lack thereof indicate that one group of bishops or another is telling boldfaced lies. In addition to the shepherds falling into mortal sin, the sheep end up trusting very few to none.

But this season will pass. The One who said, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” will not be contradicted by human sin, stupidity, and cupidity. Even in the worst of times (and we are not in the worst of times), God’s people can still flourish.

In this is both our hope and our peace.


Dr. James Tonkowich, a Senior Contributor to The Stream, is a freelance writer, speaker and commentator on spirituality, religion and public life who has contributed to a wide variety of opinion websites and publications.

He is the author of The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today from St. Benedict Press and Pears, Grapes, and Dates: A Good Life After Mid-Life. Jim also serves as Director of Distance Learning at Wyoming Catholic College and is host of the college’s weekly podcast, “The After Dinner Scholar.”

Jim and his wife Dottie have been married for nearly forty years and are enjoying life around the corner from their son, his delightful wife and three fantastic grandchildren. Jim’s articles and essays can be found at JimTonkowich.com.