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The Good Shepherd and the Sacrifice of Perfection

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The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus in the opening words of today’s Gospel (John 10:11-18), a Passage chosen in support of what has become known as Good Shepherd Sunday in the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus then quickly differentiates between a shepherd and a mere hireling. “A good shepherd,” He goes on to say “lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”

In his recent Essay Shepherds Not Hirelings, Father Paul Scalia explains “We need to be defended from them (hirelings) perhaps even more than from wolves. After all, a genuine wolf is somewhat rare; hirelings are abundant. The hireling’s weakness, cowardice, and greed give the wolf access to the flock. In military terms, the hireling is the wolf’s “‘force multiplier.’”

Father Scalia’s essay is, as he calls it, an examination of conscience for Priests. It’s a good read and an important one, a poignant reminder of the complexity and sheer difficulty of the priestly vocation https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2021/04/25/shepherds-not-hirelings/ . On this the day we pray for vocations, I encourage you to pray too for our priests, for as noted politician and signatory of the Declaration of Independence Arthur Middleton once said “As priests uphold their people in prayer, so their people are to uphold them with prayer and love, for he cannot work without his people.”

As we move into the latter words of today’s Gospel Passage, Jesus goes on to link his death and resurrection, a death that, as Jesus points out, he and he alone accepted. “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”

Throughout salvation history, with all of its fatted cows and unblemished lambs, none of these sacrifices could atone for the sinfulness of mankind, the weight of which is incomprehensible. It would take the sacrifice of Jesus, the sacrifice of perfection, to address sin and death’s enormity. Jesus allowed himself to be swallowed up by death so that he could literally implode it from within, something of a “divine inside job” if you will. But not only does Jesus conquer death. Jesus conquers our fear of death as well. If we believe they we share in Jesus’ resurrection, it changes everything. No longer are our lives finite, hopeless, and utterly devoid of meaning. As John Burke points out in his book Imagine Heaven “How you think about Heaven affects everything in life; how you prioritize love, how willing you are to sacrifice for the long term, how you view suffering, what you fear or don’t fear.”

The world has never seen a love as complete and pure as the love that Jesus has for us. It is completely devoid of self-interest or self-aggrandizement. There are no ulterior motives attached nor are there any conditions. I urge you to avail yourself to this love. To partake of it. To emulate it. To follow this Good Shepherd, to listen for and hear his voice amidst the incessant secular din and chatter. In today’s 2nd Reading (1 John 3:1-2) the Apostle John reminds us of the joy that awaits those who hear the Shepherd’s voice and listens to it, the heavenly joy of the beatific vision and life in our glorified bodies dwelling in the Kingdom that has no end. He implores us to be faithful to that which has not yet been revealed, a faith that can only come by surrendering our will and our trust to the Good Shepherd who indeed offered himself as the perfect sacrifice.

Almighty ever-living God, lead us to a share of the joys of Heaven, so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before. He who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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