Second Sunday after Easter – Jesus, the Good Shepherd
This Sunday goes under the name of the Good Shepherd Sunday, because, in the Mass, is read the Gospel of St. John, wherein our Lord calls Himself by this name. How very appropriate is this passage of the Gospel to this present Season, when our Divine Master began His work of establishing and consolidating the Church, by giving it the Pastor, or Shepherd, who was to govern it to the end of time!
In accordance with the eternal decree, the Man- God, on the fortieth day after His Resurrection, is to withdraw His visible presence from the world. He is not to be again seen upon the earth till the Last Day, when He will come again to judge the living and the dead. And yet, He could never abandon mankind, for which He offered Himself on the Cross, and which He delivered from death and hell by rising triumphantly from the Grave. He will continue to be its Head after His Ascension into heaven: but what shall we have, on earth, to supply His place? We shall have the Church. It is to the Church that He will leave all His own authority to rule us; it is into the hands of the Church that He will intrust all the truths He has taught; it is the Church that He will make the dispenser of all those means of salvation, which He has destined for the world.
This Church is a society, unto which all mankind is invited. It is composed of two classes of Members; the governing and the governed; the teaching and the taught; the sanctifying and the sanctified. This Society is the Spouse of Christ; it is by her that He produces His elect. She is the one only Mother of the elect; out of her bosom, there is no salvation.
But how is this society to subsist? How is it to persevere through the long ages of time, even to the Last Day? Who is to give it unity and adhesion of its parts? What is to be the visible link between its members, –the palpable sign of its being the true Spouse of Christ, in the event of other societies rising up and disputing her titles? If Jesus Himself could have remained with us, we should have had nothing to fear, for where He is, there also are truth and life; but, as He says, He is going, and we may not as yet follow Him. Give ear, then, and learn what is the primary quality of the true Spouse of Christ.
Jesus was one day, previous to His Passion, in the country of Cesarea Philippi; His Apostles were standing around Him, and He began questioning them about what they thought of Him. One of them, Simon the son of John or Jonas, and brother to Andrew, answered in the name of all,and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God! Jesus expressed His pleasure at receiving Simon’s testimony, which was not the result of any human knowledge, but the expression of a divine revelation there and then granted to him; and He immediately told this Apostle, that from that time forward he was to be, not Simon, but Peter (which means a Rock). Christ had been spoken of by the Prophets under the name of a Rock, or Stone; by thus solemnly conferring upon His Disciple a title so characteristically that of the Messias, Jesus would give us to understand, that Simon was to have something in common with Himself, which the other Apostles were not to have. After saying to him: Thou art Peter, (that is, thou art the Rock,)– He added: And upon this Rock I will build My Church.
Let us weigh the force of these words of the Son of God: I will build My Church. He has, then, a project in view, –He intends to build a Church. It is not now that He will build it, but at some future period; but one thing we already know as a certainty, –it is, that this Church will be built on Peter. Peter will be its foundation; and whosoever is not on that foundation, will not belong to the Church. Let us again give ear to the Text: And the gates of hell shall not prevail against My Church. In scriptural language, gates signify the powers: the Church of Christ, therefore, is to be proof against all the efforts of hell. And why? Because the foundation, which Jesus is to give to it, shall be one that no power can shake. The Son of God continues: And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. In the language of the Jews, keys signify the power of governing; and in the Gospel Parables, the Kingdom of Heaven is the Church built by Christ. By saying to Peter, (which is henceforth to be Simon’s name,) I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, Jesus implied this: “I will make thee the King of My Church, of which thou art to be the Foundation!ˮ Nothing could be clearer. But let us remember, that all these magnificent promises regard the future.
That future has now become the present. We have now come to the last days of Jesus’ visible presence here below. The time has come for Him to make good His promise, and found the Kingdom of God, –that Church which He was to build upon the earth. The Apostles, in obedience to the order sent to them by the Angels, have come into Galilee. Our Lord appears to them on the shore of the lake of Tiberias: after providing them with a mysterious meal, and while they are all attentive to His words, He suddenly addresses Himself to Peter: Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me? Observe, He does not call him Peter; He, as it were, goes back to the day when He said to him: Simon, son of Jonas, thou art Peter; He would have His Disciples note the connection between the promise and its actual fulfilment. Peter, with his usual eagerness, answers his Master’s question: Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus resumes, with a tone of authority: Feed My Lambs! Then repeating the question, He says: Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me? Peter is surprised at his Master’s urging such an inquiry; still, he answers with the same simplicity as before: Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee! And as soon as he had given this answer, Jesus repeats the words of investiture: Feed, My lambs!
The Disciples respectfully listen to this dialogue; they see plainly, that, here again, Peter is made an object of Jesus’ partiality, and is receiving something which they themselves are not to receive. They remember what happened at Cesarea Philippi, and how, ever since that day, Peter has been treated by their Master with special honour. And yet, there is another privilege or office to be added to this of feeding the Lambs. A third time, then, Jesus says to Peter: Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me? This is too much for the Apostle. These three questionings of his love bring to his mind the three denials he had so sinfully made to the servant girl of Caiphas. He feels the allusion to his recent infidelity; and this third time, his answer implies a prayer for forgiveness; his reply bespeaks humility rather than assurance: Lord! says he, Thou knowest all things! Thou knowest that I love Thee! Then, making Peter’s authority complete, Jesus pronounces these imposing words: Feed My Sheep.
Here, then, we have Peter made Shepherd by Him, who says of Himself: I am the good Shepherd. Firstly, our Lord gives His Apostle, and twice over, the care of His Lambs; –this does not make him the complete Shepherd. But when He bids him feed His Sheep too, the whole Flock is subjected to his authority. Now, therefore, let the Church show herself, let her take her stand, let her spread herself through the length and breadth of the nations; Simon, the son of John, is proclaimed its visible Head. Is the Church a Building? he is the Foundation-Stone, the Petra, the Rock. Is she a Kingdom? he holds the Keys, that is, the sceptre. Is she a Fold? he is the Shepherd.
Yes, this Church, –which Jesus is now organising, and is to be proclaimed to the world on the day of Pentecost, –is to be a Fold. The Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, has come down from heaven, that He may gather together in one Fold the children of God, that were dispersed; and the time is at hand when there shall be but one Fold and one Shepherd.
O Jesus! our Divine Shepherd! we bless Thee, we give Thee thanks. It is by Thee that the Church, Thou art now founding, subsists and lives through every age, congregating and saving all that put themselves under her guidance. Her authority, her strength, her unity, all come from Thee, her infinitely powerful and merciful Shepherd! We likewise bless and thank Thee for that Thou hast secured this authority, this strength, this unity, by giving us Peter as Thy Vicar, Peter our Shepherd in and by Thee, Peter to whom all, both Sheep and Lambs, owe obedience, Peter in whom Thou, our Divine Head, will be forever visible, even to the end of the world!
Lesson of the Epistle of Saint Peter the Apostle, I. Ch. II.
Dearly beloved: Christ also suffered, leaving you an example, that you should walk in His steps. Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. Who, when He was reviled, did not revile: when He suffered, He threatened not: but delivered Himself to him that judged Him unjustly: who His own self bore our sins in His body upon the tree: that we being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going astray; but you are now converted to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
Reflexion on the Epistle
It is the Prince of the Apostles, the visible Shepherd of the universal Church, who addresses these words to us. Observe, how he ends by turning our thoughts to the invisible Shepherd, whose Vicar he is; and how carefully he avoids any allusion to himself. So, also, when assisting his Disciple Mark to write his Gospel, he would not allow him to relate the history of Christ’s having made him the Shepherd of the whole Flock; whereas, he insisted on his telling every circumstance of his thrice denying Jesus to be his Master. See, too, how feelingly the Apostle here speaks of his Saviour, –of the sufferings He endured, of His patience, of His devotedness for those poor straying sheep of whom he was to form His fold! These words will one day be verified in Peter himself. The hour will come, when, like his Master, he will be fastened to a cross, and patiently endure every insult and cruelty. Jesus told him that it was to be so. After entrusting him with the care of the Sheep and Lambs, our Lord told him, that when he should have grown old, he would stretch forth his hands upon a cross, and suffer violence from men. This is to happen not merely to Peter, but to a considerable number of his successors, who are one with himself, and whom future generations are to see continually persecuted, exiled, imprisoned, and put to death. Let us, also, follow Jesus’ steps, by cheerfully suffering for justice’ sake: we owe it to Him, who, from all eternity, being equal in glory to God the Father, deigned to come down to our earth, that He might be the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Saint John, Ch. X.
At that time, Jesus said to the Pharisees: I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd giveth His life for His sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and flieth, and the wolf catcheth, and scattereth the sheep: and the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep. I am the good Shepherd: and I know Mine, and Mine know Me. As the Father knoweth Me, and I know the Father: and I lay down My life for My sheep. And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd.
Reflexion on the Gospel
Divine Shepherd of our souls! how great is Your love for Your Sheep! You give even Your life to save them. The fury of wolves does not make You flee from us; You become their prey, that we may escape.
You died in our stead, because You are our Shepherd. We are not surprised at You requiring from Peter a greater love than You required from his Brother Apostles: You willed to make him their and our Shepherd. Peter answered You, without hesitation, that he loved You; and You conferred upon him Your own name, together with the reality of Your office, in order that he might supply Your place after Your departure from this world.
Blessed are You, O Divine Shepherd! for having thus provided for the necessities of Your Fold, which could not be One, were it to have many Shepherds without one supreme Shepherd. In obedience to Your command, we bow down before Peter, with love and submission; we respectfully kiss his sacred feet; for it is by him that we are united to You; it is by him that we are Your Sheep. Preserve us, O Jesus, in the Fold of Peter, which is Yours. Keep far from us the hireling , who usurps the place and rights of the Shepherd. He has intruded himself, or been intruded by violence, into the Fold, and would have us take him as the master; but he knows not the Sheep, and the Sheep do not know him. Led, not by zeal, but by avarice and ambition, he flees at the approach of danger. He that governs through worldly motives, is not a man to lay down his life for others. The schismatic Pastor loves himself; he does not love Your Sheep; how could he give his life for them?
Protect us, O Jesus, from this hireling! He would separate us from You, by separating us from Peter, whom You have appointed Your Vicar; and we are determined to recognize no other. Anathema to him who would command as in Your name, and yet not be sent by Peter! Such a Pastor could be but an impostor; he would not rest on the Foundation; he would not have the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; to follow him would be our ruin. Grant, then, Good Shepherd , Jesus! that we may ever keep close to You, and to Peter; that as he rests upon You, we may rest upon him; and thus we may defy every tempest, for You, dear Lord, have said: A wi se man built his house upon a Rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not; for it was founded on a rock.
I give you our watchword for 2021 by way of an invitation. I invite you to fight, to combat.
Prayer of supplication to our good Father in Heaven to ask Him for salvation and protection in these difficult times.
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Jesus said to Thomas: “Because you have seen Me, Thomas, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.”
“A little while and you shall see Me no longer.ˮ