by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“I am the Good Shepherd.”–John 10.
In today’s Gospel Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and well does the title become Him. Many other names are given to our Lord in Holy Writ. He is called “God” and “Lord,” the “Father of the Family,” the “Promised Messiah,” the “Saviour and Redeemer of His People.” That He deserves them all, every well-instructed Christian readily understands; for He is, indeed, both God and Lord the Father of the family, which, as Messiah, He has redeemed and saved.
One name, however, is especially applicable to Him, that of the “Good Shepherd.” Christ calls Himself, emphatically, the Good Shepherd; and it is profitable for us to consider what this title of Christ means, as the elect are frequently typified by our Lord and His Prophets as sheep. The more clearly, then, we realize what the shepherd is to the sheep, the more ready and willing shall we be to follow Christ, our Good Shepherd, as His faithful sheep. Let its, therefore, today consider Christ as the Good Shepherd, and reflect on the qualities that entitle Him to this appellation.
Mary, thou who art next to Christ, the Good Shepherdess of His flock, thou zealous and first follower of the Lord, pray for us, that thy divine Son may acknowledge us as His sheep, and may be to us a Good Shepherd our Redeemer, our Lord! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and such indeed He is. To prove this, we need only think of the attributes which Christ mentions as belonging to a good shepherd. The first of these is: “To know his sheep.” Every good shepherd, of course, knows his sheep; but none know their flock so well as Christ knows His. Even the most careful shepherd is not always able to recognize a sheep that has strayed from the flock, so that he may lead it back to the fold. Christ, however, as Good Shepherd, knows every human soul which He redeemed, and knows it better than the soul knows itself He knows every one. He knows the thoughts, the words, the wishes, and the actions of each all his good and all his evil inclinations. He has a thorough and complete knowledge of each and every man.
A good shepherd calls his sheep, that they may remain near him, and not stray away from the flock and the good pasture; and the sheep know His voice. How perfectly Christ possesses all the qualifications of a Good Shepherd! An inner and an outer voice is continually calling us. He admonishes, instructs and guides us by His voice. We hear it in the depth of our heart, through the inspirations of His grace, and we hear it, too, in the admonitions and warnings of those whom He has installed as His vicars upon earth.
Happy are we it we listen to this voice, if we follow it, and avoid the dangers which threaten our salvation! Happy are we if, when tempted, we make use of all those means of evading the persecutions of Satan which Christ points out to us! The good shepherd loves his sheep, and goes before them. How admirably our Lord fullills this duty to us! “I am the way,” He cries to us, “follow Me.” “I am the Truth and the Life.”
The path of virtue and perfection lies before us, glorious in the light ot our Lord’s example an example of the perfect fulfillment of the great commandment of loving God above all things and one’s neighbor as one’s self. If we but follow the voice of Christ, it will guide us in the way of salvation, into the best, the most nourishing of meadows, which is His Holy Word–the instructions and the graces which He imparts to us through His Church. How refreshing, strengthening and delicious is this pasture! Nor is this all; but He does for us what no other shepherd does for his sheep, He sacrifices Himself for us, and nourishes its, soul and body, with His sacramental flesh and blood.
What a Good Shepherd! And, to accomplish this, what does He do for each one of us? He not only leads us by His almighty power and goodness towards heaven, but He also offers Himself up daily for us all in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. “A good shepherd,” says our Lord, “protects his sheep.” And Christ promised His powerful protection to His Church, which is the flock of the Good Shepherd, when He said: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against her;” nor shall they prevail against any of His children who make use of those weapons and means of salvation which He intrusted to them.
Yes, the most holy name of Jesus alone protects us triumphantly in every danger that threatens our salvation, for no one shall be conquered or lost who pronounces with confidence this holy Name, and with it calls for help. For, to protect and save us, Jesus gave His life, and the last drop of His blood. This Christ did for us His children, His sheep. Never has an earthly shepherd done a work like this; never could it have been done. Where was there ever found a shepherd who was wounded and slain for his sheep? Yet Christ was wounded and slain for us! “He has delivered Himself for me,” can every soul exclaim gratefully and lovingly with St. Paul? For me, He was born one cold winter’s night; for me, He fled into Egypt; for me, He remained working in Nazareth; for me, He bore all the toils of His apostolic life; for me, He was scorned, scourged and crucified! What a Good Shepherd!
A good shepherd guards his sheep; but still, at the last, every sheep becomes the prey of death. Christ, the Good Shepherd, calls to us: “He that believeth in Me, although he be dead, shall live.” Death, since Christ has redeemed us, is no longer to us what death is to a sheep, namely, destruction. No; through Christ, the Lamb of God, sacrificed for us, we have a right to exclaim: “O death! where is thy sting?”
Oh, the goodness our Shepherd shows to us, especially if we consider the relationship in which this Good Shepherd stands to us! As Shepherd, He is at the same time our Father, who has made us children of God. He is our Brother, and a Brother who has taken to Himself our nature, and elevated it above the choirs of angels. He is our Friend, and what a Friend! He gave His life for us! He is our King, and how generous, how wise, how grand a Monarch, who will place us all on thrones! He is our Bridegroom, and what a union awaits us with Him in the joys of heaven!
Let us follow Him like good sheep, that He may lead us into the fields and meadows of Paradise! Amen!
“My sheep know Me, and hear My voice.”–John 10.
No one doubts that Christ has the right of calling Himself our Good Shepherd, since the qualities which He mentions, when speaking of the good shepherd, are strikingly apparent in Himself. But is it qually clear that we are His sheep? Do we bear the marks which Christ gives us to recognize His sheep? How many, alas! of those who, because they have been baptized and educated in the bosom of the Church, style themselves Catholics, deserve that reproach of Christ, which we find in the Apocalypse: “Thou hast the name of being alive, and thou art dead “(3 – 1).
Reflecting on the marks by which Christ distinguished His sheep, and listening to the secret revelations of our own consciences, let each one examine and see if, perhaps, this reproof of Christ be not directed to himself. In this manner will each one be able to determine whether he belongs or not to the fold of Christ, the Good Shepherd. What, then, are the marks which, according to the words of Christ, distinguish the true sheep of the fold? I will point them out to you today.
O Mary, devotion to thee is one of the signs by which the true sheep of Christ’s fold are recognized, pray for us, that we may receive the grace not only to be called Catholics, but also to live a Catholic life! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
In the words: “My sheep know Me,” we have the first sign by which Christ describes His sheep. In how few of the many who call themselves children of the Catholic Church can we trace this sign in its full and comprehensive significance? There are multitudes who believe in Jesus Christ, and outwardly fulfill their duties as children of the Church, and yet are strangers to that intimate knowledge which their close relationship with Christ, as souls redeemed by Him, naturally supposes. How many, who, though baptized, live like children of the world, without further instruction, and know Jesus only in name!
They know Him as the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind, but are grossly ignorant of the beneficent and manifold relationship in which He stands to them as the Dispenser of the innumerable blessings of redemption. How many fail to grasp the meaning of the words: “Jesus our Father!” Ah, how loving a Father! It is He that restored to us the glorious birthright of the children of God, which we had lost in the fall of Adam and by our own personal sins, thus becoming children of Satan instead of children of God.
How many understand not the meaning of the words: “Jesus our Lord and King!” and fail to appreciate the happiness of being His subjects, soldiers of the Church militant, fighting valiantly under her standard, and strong in the hope of reigning one day with Christ, the “King of kings!” How many fathom not the meaning of the words: “Jesus our Brother!” Through the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ has become in very deed our Brother! How many consider not the meaning of the words: “Jesus our Friend!” How great a Friend has He not been to us! He has shed the last drop of His blood for us; and we know, according to His own rule, that “greater love no man hath, than that a man lay down his life for his friends!” Finally, as a reward of His friendship, He invites us to share with Him the joys of heaven. How many know not the meaning of the words: “Jesus our Light!” Yet He is “the true Light that enlighteneth every man who corneth into this world.” How many ponder not the meaning of the words: “Jesus our Counsel, our Example, our Guide!” Still what a depth of instruction they contain! He is, indeed, our Counsel, our Example, our Guide; and He Himself calls upon us: “Follow Me.”
Lastly, how many understand not the meaning of the word: “Jesus our Solace, in all the woes and trials of life; Jesus our Hope; our Strength;–Jesus the Joy of our heart;–our All!” This intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ we secure by prayer, and, especially, by devotion to the blessed Sacrament of the altar. That there is no more effectual means of acquiring a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ than frequent communion with Him present upon our altar, is the testimony of all who have reached that sublime union of which St. Paul speaks, when commending the hidden life through Christ in God.
Therefore, if we consider the lives of the majority of those who call themselves Catholics, how few shall we find among them who can say in the full acceptation of the words: I know Jesus! If we possess this personal knowledge of God, then our lives will be stamped with those other characteristics, which Christ enumerates, when He speaks of the sheep whose Shepherd He is.
He says: “They hear My voice, and follow Me.” Doubtless, if our knowledge of Christ be real, it will be inseparable from a desire to please Him, and, hence, to know and fulfill His will. Is that your case?–“They hear My voice, and follow Me.” How certain, how characteristic a sign of the true sheep, the true follower of Christ!
In order to understand the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, and to hear and follow the voice of Jesus, we must not only be thoroughly in earnest and filled with a great longing to do His holy will, but we must also be animated with that loving confidence, which is so well symbolized by the sheep following the voice of the shepherd and crowding around him. They hear My voice, and follow Me with true self-abnegation, perseverance and love of the cross, upon the path which I walk before them.
The true sheep of the flock of Christ flee all the occasions of sin, and dread losing sight of Him. They are watchful, and seek the protection of their Shepherd at the slightest approach of danger. The real sheep of the fold of Christ understand how to use those means which He bequeathed to His Church, in order to heal the wounds her children may have received from the wolves of the spiritual life, and they know, moreover, how to guard themselves against new attacks.
As this trait of being with Christ is distinctive of His sheep, so, too, is that abhorrence they experience for those hirelings who seek to corrupt them, and for the wolves of sinful inclinations, which threaten to tear them to pieces. Christ as the Good Shepherd protects them by His gracious providence, and they follow Him as predestined souls towards the pasture-lands of eternal life ! Amen !