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Sunday, April 26th, 2020

Fidelity Does Not Flee: A Homily for Good Shepherd Sunday

The hireling, then, takes to flight because he is only a hireling, because he has no concern over the sheep. I am the good shepherd; my sheep are known to me and know me (John 10, 13-14).

No priest should be comfortable in the pulpit today—for today is a reproach. Today, the priest is confronted with the shining mystery of Christ the Good Shepherd; Christ the High Priest, in all his Paschal glory. Now, if the priest is an honest man, he will admit to himself how far he is from corresponding to his vocation and office—he will be only too aware of how unlike his Master he is. If the priest is both honest and sensible, he will also realize that he is only one step away from being a hireling.

It is a mystery difficult and unsettling to grasp: there are hirelings standing in pulpits today preaching on Good Shepherd Sunday.—But this is not a homily about the infidelity of the clergy; it is a homily about the fidelity of Christ.

In many ways, if one considers it, today it is not the preacher’s task to convince his hearers of Christ’s fidelity. For Christ is the God who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Therefore, when he says he is the Good Shepherd, it is little more than a matter of the faithful taking God at his word. So it is not a question of whether we ought to believe in Christ’s fidelity, but whether we do.

If today the priest has to ask himself whether he resembles the Good Shepherd, surely the Catholic faithful must ask themselves whether they believe that Christ is the Good Shepherd. Surely Catholics do well to ask themselves whether they spend more time worrying about hirelings than they do in showing loyalty to the Good Shepherd. Surely when Catholics suffer—especially during uncertain times—it is never a question of whether Christ is being faithful; whether he is concerned for us; whether he knows what our suffering is. Surely, as soon as we hear our Blessed Lord announce that he is the Good Shepherd, another pledge of his fidelity ought to echo back:

Thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.{1}

Ego sum pastor bonus belongs in the same breath as Tu es Petrus.

The feast of Saint Louis de Montfort is on the 28th. In the third year of his priesthood, he had placed himself at the service of 5,000 souls in the General Hospital in Paris. Newly ordained, utterly poor, utterly uncompromising in his zeal for the Catholic faith, he would last about four months when until one day he found a note at his place at table asking him to leave. But before then, around this time of the year, in April or May of the year 1703, the twenty-nine-year-old St Louis de Montfort penned a letter to his young directee, Louise Trichet. In it he wrote,

Do not think I have become indifferent or grown cold towards the poor of Poitier, for my Master led me there in spite of myself. He has his plan in all this and I adore his plan, though I do not understand it. Do not think either that material plans or any particular person keeps me here; no, my only friend here is God. Those friends I once had in Paris have deserted me.{2}

Man will desert man; man will desert God; but God will never desert man. In times of trial, dramatic choices are put before us, priest and laypeople alike. The priest must decide before God whether he will be a hireling or whether he will try to emulate the Good Shepherd; the priest’s life, in this world and the next, depends upon this choice. For the whole Church, we must decide whether or not we believe Christ when he tells us he is the Good Shepherd. If we give up our peace and our charity, then we do not believe him; if we keep them, we keep close to Master.

St Louis was correct when he wrote to Mademoiselle Trichet that Christ has a plan in all this. And one thinks of the prayer that the Angel of Fatima gave to the three young visionaries: ‘My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you: and I beg mercy for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.’ We can find no better prayer than that during these troubled times.

Happily, there is not a single one of us who is not encouraged and comforted by Psalm 22. But I suggest that, in addition to being a poem of comfort, it can also be a prayer begging for the grace of faithfulness; un-fleeing faithfulness.

The Lord is my shepherd; how can I lack anything? He gives me a resting-place where there is green pasture, leads me out to the cool water’s brink, refreshed and content. As in honour pledged, by sure paths he leads me; dark be the valley about my path, hurt I fear none while he is with me; thy rod, thy crook are my comfort. Envious my foes watch, while thou dost spread a banquet for me; richly thou dost anoint my head with oil, well filled my cup. All my life thy loving favour pursues me; through the long years the Lord’s house shall be my dwelling-place.{3}

 


[1] Matthew 16, 18.

[2] Letter 15 in God Alone: The Collected Writings of St Louis Marie de Montfort, (Bay Shore, New York: Montfort Publications, 1988), p 20; emphasis added.

[3] Psalm 22[23], Knox translation.

{Art Credit: Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Saint Ambrose barring Theodosius from Milan Cathedral (c 1620); National Gallery, London.}

 

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