Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD

The image of Our Lord as The Good Shepherd dates back to the Church’s earliest days. Subsequent to the apparitions of Our Lord to Saint Margaret Mary, beginning on December 27, 1673, there has been a greater emphasis on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart reveals His immense love for us and inspires us to a deep love of Jesus. Yet, the image of Jesus as The Good Shepherd is also a source of great devotion. In today’s Gospel, Our Lord tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. “For (my) sheep,” He says, “I will give my life.” This is precisely at the heart of our Easter reflections.

The Introit of today’s Mass sets the theme for Good Shepherd Sunday: Misericordia Domini plena est terra, alleluia. The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, Alleluia. Next we read the 32 Psalm: “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just, praise becomes the upright.” The Church rejoices in the mercy of the Good Shepherd which descends upon us like the gentle rains from above.

In the Epistle, Saint Peter, the Head Pastor of the Church, tells us that Jesus is the Shepherd of our souls. Although we had gone astray, perhaps many times over, Jesus never leaves us. The Good Shepherd does not abandon us to roam the hills of life aimlessly as sheep without a shepherd. When we go astray, as all have, the Good Shepherd leaves the “ninety-nine in search of the one that has gone astray.” Christian art portrays Jesus with the lost sheep held safely around His neck. What a consolation! Although we leave the Lord because of the lore of sin, He never leaves us. Rather, He goes out to seek us out if we go astray.

In the Gospel, Our Lord said: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father. For these sheep I will give my life.” In these texts, we see the true measure of Our Lord’s love. It is the Redemption accomplished on the Cross of Calvary. What is the measure of our love for the Lord? This also He has revealed: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

In our times, many claim that can continue in a life of sin with no purpose of amendment and still live in God’s grace. This is a tragic error for they misunderstand God’s mercy by mistaking it for a permissive attitude on His part. The Gospels are clear that we must strive to keep His commandments if we are to live in His love. Saint John said that anyone who says that he loves God while not keeping His commandments is a liar.

How do we know what God’s commandments are in these confusing days when so many conflicting messages are prevalent? To combat these grave errors, Our Lord left us visible shepherds who stand in his place and who act “in His very Person.” He has left us the Holy Father, the Pope of Rome, to guide us with infallible certitude in the path of Catholic truth and Catholic morality. He has left us bishops to shepherd every diocese in the world preaching the “Good News” of salvation. He has left us priests, Pastors of souls, to be our immediate contact with Him through the Mass and the Sacraments. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has left no stone unturned to bring us to eternal life with Him.

To hear the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, we must be obedient to our Pastors whom He has left in His place. Yet, we must be clear that every Catholic must obey the teachings of the Holy Father, for he is the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth. Every Bishop and Priest must teach in union with the Pope. United with the Pope, they transmit the teachings of Jesus. Everyone in the Church must heed these voices and be obedient to their teachings.

My dear people, let us never fear the teaching authority of the Church for it infallibly leads us to eternal salvation. The Church is the Bulwark of Truth, as Saint Paul calls her. The Catholic Church teaches us the truth of the Gospels. Good Shepherd lead us, the sheep of your flock, to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Father Richard J. Rego, S.T.L.

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