Good Shepherd Sunday
The lockdown called for by the CDC happened March 23, forty days ago, yesterday. As we know our Lent is roughly 40 days (Quadragesima). In a similar fashion our word quarantine comes from the same Latin source and means roughly forty days. In scripture the rains poured down on Noah forty days and forty nights, after which God initiated a covenant with him and his descendants. Moses standing on the threshold between the promises God made to Abraham and a new law went up to Mount Sinai and staid forty days to get the Ten Commandments. The Blessed Mother followed this Mosaic Law and was confined forty days after giving birth to Jesus. Jesus went in to the desert forty days to begin His ministry and initiate the New Testament.
On Friday, May 1, the fortieth day after the President’s recommendations to be locked down the bishops of the United States re-consecrated our nation to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her protection. This act is meant to be a reminder of the effective intercession of the Blessed Mother. We may recall how she rescued the couple in Cana from social disgrace on the day of their wedding when she advocated for them with her Son. The Church in America has a long tradition of turning to her. Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, the first bishop of the United States, promoted devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and placed the United States under her protection in1792. The Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore in 1846 named the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the Patroness of the United States, hence the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
In our parish church this entire month, we are honoring the Virgin with this statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The Fatima apparitions started in May and spoke of the need to reform in order to avert world catastrophe and usher in an era of peace in our time. The daily Rosary was to be an integral part of realizing this prophetic plan to bring the world in accord with her Immaculate Heart. It is interesting to note that the last time that the churches closed like we are experiencing was exactly one year after Our Lady of Fatima last appeared to the children visionaries. These children were shepherds and so it seems appropriate bring them up on this Good Shepherd Sunday.
How do we know that we are with the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd provides for His followers. He established this universal church on the Twelve Apostles, so that throughout history and geography these followers may have His shepherd’s care. We may at times have questions about the men who succeeded the Apostles, their character, their instructions or even example. It seems to me though that that is part and partial to being apostolic.
Were these original bishops, the Apostles, without sin? Peter and Judas’ sins are notorious.
Did they always have the right motivations? James and John tried to angle for VIP spots in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Did they always believe? Thomas’ doubt is renown.
Did they always do what the Holy Spirit revealed? Startlingly we read in Galatians, “And when Kephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I (St. Paul) opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.” Paul even speaks of James and Barnabas being in cahoots with this error. “I said to Kephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:11-14)
Historically things can get real bad. E.g. the Arian Heresy denied that Jesus is the Son of God. It lasted formally for three hundred years and arguably gave birth to Islam and even some contemporary modern sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. It has been estimated that over half the bishops at one time were Arian. Then there is the gloomy history of Reformation England. Only one bishop, St. John Fisher, maintained that the successor of St. Peter is head of the Church, the rest said that King Henry VIII was.
So we ought to conclude that it isn’t in individual bishops or in a singular pope, that we find the Good Shepherd but rather in their united effort. The Second Vatican Council teaches in Dei Verbum that “The Magisterium is not above the Word of God but serves it.” Likewise the Council fathers teach that this is also the case for Sacred Tradition. (DV #10) In other words, nobody is making it up as he goes along but rather is beholden to the gift of faith that is passed to him and in turn is obliged, and more importantly, equipped to ensure that that same deposit of faith is passed to the next generation of believers authentically.
Our union with the bishops, united to Peter’s successor, the pope, are how we know that we are under the Good Shepherd.
And so from the beginning and throughout history there is an imperfect use of this gift, yet it would be wrong to conclude that therefore they don’t have the means to speak for Christ authentically and authoritatively. We Jesus Himself gave instruction to His followers it wasn’t always heeded. Yet it was the Apostles who persevered. For example when Jesus was taught unambiguously of need to eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood, He lost a lot of disciples. Jesus turned to the Apostles and asks them if they are going to skidaddle. “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (Jn 6:68) If it weren’t for Peter and the Apostles would the Lord have had any disciples left?
Ultimately they followed Jesus through obedience to Him and not what the crowd said or even what their own limited understanding dictated. Similar to those early disciples who left Jesus over the Eucharist it was revealed last summer that over 70% of Catholics in America don’t believe in the Eucharist. With such widespread misunderstanding of our Catholic faith today we must give the example of the Apostles.
When the Jesuits returned to Japan after having been expelled for 260 years there were amazed to find in a remote village in the north east of the country where the people gathered every Sunday to pray the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and Contrition, and recite the Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes. The flabbergasted missionaries asked about the custom and were told that a long time ago the “fathers” in preparation of their own martyrdom instructed the ancestors of these Christians to do this. And then the jubilation of these Jesuits turned to apprehension when the villagers said that they were given instruction by these same “fathers” that when others would come talking about Christ, they were to ask them four questions. When you enter your churches what do you do? Does your Lord have a mother? Where does the leader of your church live? Do your fathers have wives?
The timeless identifying marks of those under the guidance of the Good Shepherd. The true Presence of the Eucharist, the honor to the Blessed Mother, the successor of St. Peter in Rome and the discipline of celibacy in imitation of Jesus and the Apostles. Ultimately this is where we find the Good Shepherd.
God became one of us. The hallmark of the Incarnation is humility. This virtue is to be always present in the humble instruments that He uses to shepherd His Church. The Good Shepherd leads as one of us, not like those who bark commands over the flock, wielding sticks and employing dogs.
God the Son became one of us. So much so that He Himself practiced obedience, even when every fiber of His being didn’t want to. In the Garden of Gethsemane He resisted to the point of sweating blood. Nevertheless just as He taught His disciples He took up His cross. Chances are that we won’t literally be taking up instruments of our execution. More often the obedience that we are expected to imitate is that of the Child Jesus.
Take Joseph, Our Lord’s foster father. Sacred Scripture describes him as a just man. We know that God the Father entrusted him with the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary and His Incarnate Son, so he must have been quite admirable. Nevertheless that doesn’t mean that he was immaculate. He was a victim of Original Sin like you and me. And so, like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, Who humbled Himself to live and obey under Joseph’s roof and adhere to the Fourth Commandment, so we are called to follow good men who have flawed human nature and enormous and unimaginable responsibility.
Who of us was content with our father’s managing our homes at some point in our youth? Hopefully most can look back and see their father’s wisdom eclipsing their sophomoric understanding of the world. As the saying goes, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” We call this phenomenon 20/20 vision.
By-the-way we are in the year 2020 and 20 + 20 = forty. Hopefully the forty days that we’ve spent will give us the insight needed to improve things in ourselves and the world. Don’t forget the Holy Rosary in that improvement. The Blessed Mother was most clear and emphatic with it being the tool to improve the world in our time. The Good Shepherd not only obeyed Joseph, but especially His immaculate Mother.
We imitate the Good Shepherd and follow His humble lead. Regarding those whom He has called to lead us, we can rest assured that we can’t go wrong in obeying. The great thing about obedience regarding options that are moral (we can’t never obey an immoral law) is that you can’t be wrong. “Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.” (Rm 13:1-2)