I went to Mass Sunday morning through dense smoke and intense heat, and thanks to the COVID pandemic, I had to give the sign of peace rather than shaking hands.

I continually thought about how the smoke and heat and the threat of COVID affected my precious young granddaughters as I contemplated the Good Shepherd parable. I asked myself, am I being a good shepherd of the wonderful personal gifts I have been given.  Are we all being good shepherds of our collective gifts?

We have two young granddaughters at risk during the ongoing pandemic. One is still too young for the safety net of vaccines. The other has a compromising medical condition that has kept her from mixing in the schools since last year.

Over that time both remote-learned from home as they, and we, lived in a tight bubble until finally the older of them could be vaccinated.  The very tight protection we afforded them, including vaccination, was good shepherding on our part.

The onslaught of record-setting heat, the early proliferation of wildfires and the attendant unhealthy dense smoke provides new challenges as our granddaughter’s asthma forces us to stay indoors, in spite of the heat, to protect her compromised lungs. Five years ago, this kind of smoke put her in the ICU and we are not going to let that happen again. Good shepherding values implore us to be attentive and protective of our families.

But we also all have an obligation to be good shepherds beyond our immediate families. Those who refuse COVID vaccinations, for whatever reasons, endanger us all, especially our youngest granddaughter who is still too young to be vaccinated.

Right now, as contrasted to the broad COVID pandemic, the US is facing a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Are you one of those unvaccinated, choosing to risk not only your own life but the life of our and other Montanans’ granddaughters? I hope not.

At a global level, the smoke and heat come from human contributions to climate change. This wonderful blue-marble planet upon which we all live is truly one of the most extraordinary collective gifts we've been given to share. Are we, are you, being a good shepherd of that gift? Are we, are you, doing what you can do to protect that planet, our way of life, and all things that live here?

And here in the United States we were given the amazing gift of our form of self-governing. The Madisonian Democracy that emerged in the US in the 18th Century is unique. Over the centuries it has been a model of self-governance for the world. That gift has been attacked externally over time and we have fought back successfully against those external assaults, essentially shepherding the gift of our freedom, independence and governmental structure. Those attacks continue even today.

But even more dangerous to our democracy are the internal attacks on the form and institutions of our successful 240-year experiment in self-governance. The open attack by fellow Americans on the peaceful transfer of power following our elections threatens the entire structure of the gift of self-governance we received from our founding fathers.

Are we all properly shepherding and protecting the gift? Are you being a good shepherd, or might you be following the lead of a false prophet whose guidance to you is self-serving, who is not striving to protect the gift from which we have all benefitted throughout our history? 

I feel blessed to have received the wonderful gifts of family, planet, state, country and our Madisonian Democracy. I feel an obligation to shepherd and protect all of those gifts. I hope you do, too.

Evan Barrett lives in historic Uptown Butte after retiring following 47 years at the top level of Montana economic development, government, politics and education.  He is an award-winning producer of Montana history videos who continues to write columns and commentaries and occasionally teaches Montana history.