This post is also available in: Español
Pour la Conservation du Dépôt de la Foi!
Pour que le Règne de Dieu arrive!
To be a Shepherd
by Father John Gregory of the Trinity
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. But the hireling, who is not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf snatches and scatters the sheep; but the hireling flees because he is a hireling, and has no concern for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd, and I know Mine and Mine know Me, even as the Father knows 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.”
(Holy Gospel, St. John 10:11-16)
I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, says Jesus in the Holy Gospel. (St. John 10:11)
Our Lord gave up His life for us on the Cross, and He continues feeding us with His Body, His Blood, His Soul and His Divinity through the Holy Eucharist. The hireling, on the contrary, is not a real shepherd; he is a hired man to whom the sheep do not belong. He has no interest in the flock. He sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. (St. John 10:12)
What lessons there are in these words! Jesus is the Shepherd of shepherds, but on earth He wants shepherds and pastors like Himself, and it is to us, Christians, that He speaks. He asks us to take care of souls.
God wanted to gather us here, He has raised up this Work in order to find shepherds. We must remember this every day. We are gathered here to be united to Jesus our Saviour, our Redeemer, who died for us on the cross to save souls. The Good Shepherd wants to associate us to His work of salvation, continued throughout the ages.
A shepherd is in charge of a large flock, whereas a pastor takes care of a more limited flock. Thus, God entrusts us with the responsibility of souls to different degrees. He asks us to fight, not flee, when the wolf attacks the sheep. Shepherding is not a very restful employment. By day and by night — especially by night — the shepherd watches over his sheep so that the wolf may not come and take them. He sleeps with one eye open, and if the wolf comes close he takes up the staff and chases it, risking his life for the safeguard of his sheep.
My dear brothers and sisters, I would like each one of us to become aware of his role, his responsibility. We too are little shepherds following Jesus, under the authority of Jesus, the Great Shepherd of shepherds.
Far too often, we have the temptation to passively deplore the general situation in the world, saying, “Oh, things are going badly! It’s dreadful to see all that is happening. People are more and more godless, moral corruption is at its peak.”
It is a little as though we regarded ourselves as practically innocent in all that; we are the “saints” looking upon all the abominations as spectators, the “good souls” faithful to God, who perhaps consider others a little with a certain scorn, or with stupor and horror. We are scandalized, forgetting that we have a grave responsibility in this whole state of affairs. Indeed, if the situation has become so lamentable it is because many shepherds and pastors have not accomplished their task; they have not wanted to pay the price for souls. Currently the Church lacks many shepherds and pastors ready to suffer in order to save so many souls threatened by the wolves. These wolves are the devils and the henchmen of Satan; they are devouring God’s flock in every way. So we have a war, a real war to wage, and whenever we let up in this spiritual warfare, the situation deteriorates even further.
I repeat: the will of God in gathering us here is to raise up shepherds and pastors who will save many souls. We save souls by our prayers, our sacrifices, our fidelity, our self-denial, and all the holy works and acts of virtue we accomplish for the love of God.
To have direct responsibility for souls is a charge, it is not a mere title or an easy job. Shepherds are not appointed to receive honors, to be liked and to be popular, but solely to labor for the good of souls.
Saint Paul said, I could wish to be anathema myself for the sake of my brothers. (St. Paul, Romans 9:3) This means, “I want your good so much that I am ready to be hated, if need be, to save your souls. In the long run I will get on your nerves; you will always hear me repeating the same exhortations, the same corrections because you are dear to me and I seek only the good of your souls.”
That is a true shepherd. And if you read the epistles of Saint Paul, you will see all the concern he had, all the pains he took for his flock, for the Church.
We too must take pains. The situation in the Church is presently so lamentable because there has been too much unconcern, there have been too many false shepherds… They have done nothing for the good of souls. All too often they have profited from their position to rise higher, to be great, to create a popularity detrimental to souls.
Ever since Our Lord founded His Church, hell has been working continually to demolish it by destroying the Faith, the evangelical doctrine which is the basis of the Church. Attack the faith, and you destroy the Church; but Our Lord promised that despite every assault, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (St. Matthew 16:18) It is primordial to be souls living by faith; not natural souls who judge everything from a human standpoint, but souls who judge everything from the supernatural standpoint. This requires lots of spiritual gymnastics; it is a task that has to be taken up every day, a perpetual combat. If you are boating on a swift-flowing river and want to row against the current, it takes great effort. This is an image of all the activity we must conduct to become supernatural souls. When you row against the current, you cannot permit yourself to stop for a moment; if you do, you lose everything you gained. And if, unfortunately, you are close to a waterfall, it is a catastrophe: you are dashed to pieces.
I also like to use the image of a violin that must often be tuned to play a melodious tone. Our soul is like a violin; if we want it to play music that is harmonious for the ears of God the Father, we must continually adjust ourselves to the desires, the thought, the wishes of God. Do we want to be the saviours of souls that the Good Shepherd needs? Then every day, several times a day, we must tune our violin. In His eternal Wisdom, God has decided to associate man to His work of Redemption. In the human order, He has wanted to associate humans to His work of Creation; in the spiritual order, He also wants to associate us to His work of Redemption.
When Our Lord came on earth, He could have evangelized the whole world all alone, but He wanted to associated the Apostles to Himself.
Act With Conviction
Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, says Our Lord, I also will acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. (St. Matthew 10:32) Many people have been ashamed of God all their life; they have never defended His cause, and they think they are going to enter directly into Heaven. That is not how it works. Whoever disowns Me before men, I in turn will disown him before My Father in heaven. (St. Matthew 10:33) Those are very serious words.
We must be souls of conviction who deeply consider all the truths of faith, who are penetrated with them, live them and are ready to defend them. All too often we are superficial, we live in a lightheaded manner. With desolation is all the land made desolate, because there is none that pondereth in his heart. (Jeremiah 12:11)
My brothers and sisters, God wants us to become aware of the greatness of supernatural things, of the fact that we must have respect for them and defend them resolutely, without any fear of men. God is with us! I have overcome the world, (St. John 16:33) said Our Lord. It is He who has won the victory.
In every era there have been “smart alecks” who attempted to confound God. Renan said, “I will personally destroy what the twelve apostles built.” But today Renan is underground, and people hardly talk about him any more except to point out his failure. Read the history of the Church and you will see that sooner or later, those who have risen up against God have been struck down. They had a little passing glory on earth, and then they are forgotten, defeated. On the contrary, centuries later people speak of the Saints as though they lived yesterday. The memory of Saint Francis of Assisi is present… We are under the impression that he was there only yesterday, we feel him so close to us. The glory of the Saints, like their Master, is immortal.
My brothers and sisters, may this fact prompt us to work for something that is worth the trouble. Let us leave aside the short-lived little careers of earth, careers that end at the grave. Go to the cemetery, go and see where the grandeurs of this world have gone. They are there, in the ground! Whereas the Saints are in happiness and in glory with God for all eternity. That is the truth. God does not pass away. Heaven and earth will pass away, said Our Lord, but My words will not pass away. (St. Matthew 24:35) This means, “I do not change, I do not adapt to the times; I am immutable. My commandments are still the same, My Gospel does not change. I am no opportunist, I do not play politics by choosing the strongest side.”
God does not do this, and those who are with Him do not do it either. They are all alone, if need be. If people want to abandon you because you are walking in the footsteps of Christ, accept to be abandoned. You will remain alone, but with the One who is eternal. This must be the way we think, the way we speak.
The way the Saints interpreted the Gospel 2,000 or 1,000 or 500 years ago is still the same. Many people with a satanic spirit would like to change the meaning of the Gospel. They will not succeed because God is almighty, and for over two thousand years, through every kind of storm, He has always had the last word.
Each one of us in his little sphere should be a good shepherd, a good pastor, because Our Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted us with His flock. We must spiritually bring forth other souls to grace.
In the Gospel, Our Lord says that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. Have you ever noticed that He does not speak of “lambs,” but of “sheep.” Jesus has a reason for using this expression: it is because the sheep is a mother; she is the one who gives birth to the lambs. The sheep are the object of the Good Shepherd’s concern.
At baptism we received the life of God in us, we became children of God. Later, through the sacrament of confirmation, we were included among the soldiers of Christ, the defenders of the rights of God. Thus, even as children, God calls us to begin fulfilling on a small scale the role He will ask us to play later. He who is faithful in little things is faithful also in great ones, (St. Luke 16:10) says Our Lord.
Sometimes we dream of converting the world, yet God gives us a few people to take care of and we hardly bother with them.
In families, for example, the parents are the shepherds of their children. They are responsible for their children’s human life, but even more for the life of their souls. Unfortunately, many parents bypass their responsibilities; for example, they leave without necessity, without serious reason, and entrust their children to some guardians who are more or less reliable. What detriment results for their children’s souls! Good parents, aware of their serious obligations as shepherds, are full of concern and even worry for the moral care of their children.
Because you have been faithful in a few things, I will set you over many. (St. Matthew 25:23) It would be a great illusion to dream of doing great things for God if first we do not accomplish the little things of the present moment.
If we dream of accomplishing great things for God, whereas we neglect the little things He asks us to do now, we are in error, we deceive ourselves, we are in illusion… We would like a promotion that would allow us to exercise our zeal, whereas we are hardly accomplishing the little functions already entrusted to us.
For example, God has presently entrusted us with this community. If we neglect the care of souls and lack in zeal, how will we ever be able to take care of the whole world? We must begin with what is immediate. My brothers and sisters, if you have the charge of an employment, you have not only a material charge, you have the care of the people who are with you. These souls must make spiritual progress. You must favor them in this… That is when you become shepherds.
Sometimes we can limit ourselves to being extremely busy, human and material administrators, but what are we doing about the spiritual aspect? We must not forget it. A charge is not only material, it also implies responsibility for souls. We must honor our obligations, each one in his little sphere, and be the shepherds God expects us to be.
I would like to remind everyone of his duty of zeal, care and attention. Let us accomplish the task entrusted to us with ardor and application; and even if the task is a little one, it will merit for us the grace to obtain greater responsibilities which will be accompanied with greater merits. Let us think well that it is for the greater glory of God… If you have the charge of three souls, and thanks to your care those souls make spiritual progress, you have the merit for it. God will say, “Well, My child, I entrusted you with three souls and you took good care of them. Those souls made spiritual progress thanks to your zeal, thanks to your charity and your care, thanks to your initiative, your prayer, your kind words, thanks also to your good example, patience and teaching, so I will entrust you with others.”
Saint Paul said to his disciple Timothy who had charge of souls, Preach the word, be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and teaching. (St. Paul, II Timothy 4:2.) This means do it without tiring, keep getting back to the task… We need such shepherds, dedicated shepherds, shepherds full of great love and dedication. It is easy to find people who will cry out and deplore the situation. It is easy to criticize others; but who wants to do better, who wants to dedicate himself, sacrifice and immolate himself every moment of his life for the good of souls? Who wants to always patiently begin his teaching over again, exhorting day and night? Who wants to do that for God?
There is no lack of critics who find fault with everything. I say to people, “Are you ready to do something for God? If so, then begin right now. Stop complaining about the situation, roll up your sleeves and get to work, each one in your sphere. You who are a father, take care of your family. Start by giving good example, by sacrificing yourself for your children. Begin in your little sphere, in your little diocese.” We dream of great things, or of something else, and often we are not even capable of accomplishing our duty well. That is pure illusion!
One day a priest was complaining to the Curé of Ars about not being able to convert his parishioners. “You have prayed,” said the Saint, “you have wept, groaned and sighed. But have you fasted, have you watched, have you slept on boards, have you scourged yourself? As long as you have not done all of that, do not say you have done everything you could.”
“You can offer yourself as a victim for a week or two for the conversion of sinners,” said the holy Curé of Ars. “Suffer from the heat or the cold; deprive yourself of looking at something, of going to see someone you enjoy; make a novena; go to Mass every day of the week for this intention, especially in cities where that is easy. But there are those who would not take a hundred steps to go to Mass. Those who have the joy of receiving communion often can make a novena of communions.”
Here is another narrative concerning the Curé of Ars’ love for poor sinners; after this we will say nothing more about it, because after what you are about to read, there will remain nothing to be said.
One day a priest asked him, “Father, if God proposed that you either go up to heaven at this very moment or stay on earth to labor for the conversion of sinners, what would you do?”
“I think I would stay.”
“But Father, how can you say that? The Saints are so happy in heaven! No more temptations! No more misery!”
“That is true, my friend,” answered Father Vianney, “but the Saints are title-holders! They have worked hard, since God punishes laziness and rewards only work; but they can no longer glorify God as we can, with sacrifices for the salvation of souls.” ( Bulletin Eucharistique, Montreal, November 1903.)
As long as we have not sacrificed ourselves completely, like the Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep, we cannot say that we have done everything.
The Fire of Love
And to do all of that, my brothers and sisters, we need the fire of the love of God in our heart. It is this fire that gives zeal for souls. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that on Pentecost Day, the Holy Spirit came down to transform the Apostles and light the fire of divine love in them. Once fearful, they then suddenly became ardent, courageous, intrepid. Nothing was able to stop them ever again. They set out to convert the world, ready to suffering everything, even martyrdom.
Let us pray often, pray always for God to light this divine fire in us too. May He give us zeal and a greater awareness of our responsibility towards souls. Each and every one of us has the responsibility of the Church on his shoulders, and no one can say, “It is not my concern.” No, it is our responsibility and we must, each one of us in his sphere, do everything in our power for the salvation of souls. No one should ever think he has exhausted all his zeal.
Simply with prayer and sacrifice, what things we could accomplish in the supernatural sphere for the salvation of souls! It is the apostolate of the hidden elite of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Saint Charbel Makhlouf, Blessed Charles de Foucauld and so many other Saints who lived in prayer and penance, and who in this way were the Church’s most formidable apostles.
We need ceremonies and preaching, we need the publication of Christian books, we need to organize all kinds of Christian works, but above all we need the supernatural, that is, the union of the soul to God which gives value to every human activity. If our apostolic works are not, so to speak, watered by the grace of God, they are doomed to failure. And we obtain this grace through prayer, sacrifice and union to God.
So let us invoke the Holy Spirit often, let us ask Him to transform us and give us the fire of divine love in abundance, for it will make us true shepherds with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
“The gates of hell shall not prevail against My Church…” (St. Matthew 16:18)
“Let them confine the Pope, Christ and freedom in the Catacombs. The volcano will erupt, even if they should stop it up with the weight of the world: all their court cases will fly away like the dust. Nothing on earth is so beautiful, nothing so great as that one disarmed man against whom so many powers rise up, and who holds them in check and will not be overcome. Nothing is so beautiful as the sight of faith in the disaster of human affairs, nothing so beautiful as the sight of humility in this assurance of faith by the Holy Father: “If I trusted in myself, I would fall; but it is in God that I trust.”
Louis Veuillot (written in 1862)
From the Magnificat Magazine, May-June 1999, p. 79-85