Dear Brothers and Sisters,
A priest friend of mine was saying that I hope all of us can rest in the Mass this weekend. He said, when Christ continues to be nailed to the cross, I am at peace. If, for some reason, I sense that he is no longer attached to the cross, I tremble. Is he fed up with me finally? But when I know that he is there, then I have a deep sense that he carries my sins and weaknesses, without any judgments. He is truly the Good Shepherd. He carries the sheep who is injured over his shoulders. It is a beautiful image often seen in the catacombs of the ancient Church.
When we look at the cross it is easier to see how he loves us and cares for us. It is his mission to carry our sins. He never fails to do so. He is the only one who can carry them. I like also the image that Christ is the Gate for the sheep. They spend the night under the stars and are surrounded by stone walls a few feet high; there is only one entrance or exit. This is where the shepherd sleeps. No one can enter or leave without his knowledge.
When Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd,” it meant that he was the Messiah. He was not like the shepherds who fleeced their sheep and sold it for their own gain. He gave his life for them. This was the Shepherd that the Jews were waiting for since before King David, also a shepherd. In my experience, God has always sent me a shepherd to guide me through the changes and difficulties of life: coming back to the Church, following a vocation, leaving a job or career, fighting to remain a priest, and many other difficulties.
I am a Good Shepherd means I love you; I care for you; I want you as my own. In case you are wondering if you are a good shepherd as a priest or parent or friend, don’t fool yourself. There is only one Good Shepherd: Jesus Christ. The others might lead us to places we don’t want to go. It is better to take refuge in him, to allow him to lead us, and not to follow false shepherds of money, health, or vanity.
It was not by accident that Jesus asks Peter three times: Do you love me? When Peter said yes, Jesus responded: Feed my sheep! He meant that if you really love me, you will love those whom I have placed at your side. Love them and feed them by your word and by the example of your life. Allow the Shepherd to go first, and then follow. Make sure that he is the one guiding you.
Bishop John Fisher was one of two people who would not sign the Oath of Allegiance of King Henry VIII at the time of this schism. Only he and Thomas More refused to sign it and lost their heads as a result. Several years before this, the King asked the Bishop to take a larger diocese, and he turned it down. He said that he could render a better account before God of a smaller number of sheep and their small gains than the greater ones the King was offering. He was truly following the Good Shepherd. Let us pray for all shepherds this weekend; those who are ordained or the many fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles and friends who are guiding others to know the deeper meaning of their lives.