In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
There are many people that because of the circumstances of their lives or the times we live in or whatnot, feel that if there is a God, He can’t possibly care about them. They may vaguely believe in Jesus, for example, or God in general. But they have this idea that, Well, I am sure if He exists, He doesn’t care anything in particular about me, I’m just one of many. I am a number or even if that and He doesn’t think of me. Because if He did think about me things would be so much better for me or whatnot.
Now, today both the epistle and the gospel are answers to any one of us who might think something like that, that the Lord has abandoned them, that He doesn’t care about them in particular, or maybe He doesn’t even know about them. And today, the second Sunday after Easter, is called Good Shepherd Sunday, obviously from Our Lord’s image of Himself as the good shepherd over all of us. By the way, the good shepherd was Father Schell’s favorite image. Father Schell founded this ministry many years ago, and his favorite image was the good shepherd. For that reason we had the stained glass window up there made of the Good Shepherd in his memory. He always loved that, he loved to talk about it, he loved to meditate on it, and it is a good thing for all of us. Certainly, Our Lord is the good shepherd, but, you know, we priests like to think that we are worthy successors and that we in our small way are good shepherds to the flock as well. That is certainly our ideal.
So, I wanted to say a few words about the good shepherd. Thinking about shepherds started at least with me many years ago. Although I had never seen a shepherd, it was kind of in an indirect sort of way. We have this old farm way up in Northern California we call the ranch, and the neighbor’s property was usually abandoned. There was nobody there, there was buildings on it from the 1800s or early 1900s. And up on the hill by the neighbor’s property was a cistern. Now cistern is not the plural of sister, there wasn’t a convent. A cistern is a big vat or concrete-lined basin, which this was. Picture a swimming pool about 15 ft. deep and about 15 ft. on the side, it’s just made to catch rain water, and that’s what this thing was before they had the wells and things up there.
Well, in the cistern were the bleached bones of a former sheep. It was the closest thing to scary that was up there. So every time — you know, I was five, six, seven years old, something like that. And every time somebody would come over, I would go, “You want to see the scary bones?” So we’d jump over the barbed-wire fence and hope we didn’t get caught on it, and go up the hill to the cistern and look in and there’s the bleached bones of the poor dead sheep. Now, on one hand it started us thinking, well, it’s too bad because, you know, we had sheep on our property, too, and it’s too bad because I’m sure that was once one of those cute little sheep like ours and too bad someone wasn’t here to rescue that sheep. No one was and so because for lack of that very thing, a shepherd, that poor sheep perished, and it started me thinking at least along those lines many years ago. And when I thought about it later, I thought, well, you know, that was scary, the bones of a dead sheep, but what did we think, like kids, you know, the soul roamed the fields going like baahaa baahaa (Monsignor motioning in a ghost-like manner) or something like that. (Monsignor laughing) I don’t know. But bones are scary anyway.
Anyway, that started me thinking about shepherds in general and, of course, the image that Our Lord gives is from people who are — two people — He was talking to the Pharisees, but the people in general of the area who were much more familiar with the real thing, a real shepherd. We have an idea, you know, but we don’t live with shepherds. I’ve lived in countries with lots of shepherds and if you were driving along the road you would have to figure in your time getting to Mass or whatever, because you may have to park while the shepherd leads his sheep across the road. You know, you don’t know what to do. You don’t want to beep and cause a sheep stampede. (Monsignor laughing.) I’m not sure what that would be, they would trample all the rabbits or something. You know, you have to just wait there patiently and he’ll lead them across the road and they all follow and eventually the road clears up.
But a few things about shepherds, because Our Lord is using this image for people who were surrounded by shepherds. And first of all the shepherd was part of the family who owned the sheep. They didn’t just get somebody and say, Would you watch my sheep? The family owned those sheep and depended on those sheep, and they would get somebody in the family who would lead the sheep and become their shepherd, generally dedicating a good portion of their life to this. So we can’t imagine. But I have seen and talked to people who were shepherds for 40 or 50 years, being with their sheep. They always stay with them. They stay outside, they sleep outside with the sheep many times, except in places where the weather is very severe, and even in places I’ve been where the weather was a little more severe, they had these little huts in the fields that the shepherds could climb inside when they were doing their watches and sleep with at least a little bit of shelter over their heads.
Not only would they stay with the sheep, eventually the sheep came to think of them as one of their own. They certainly smelled like sheep after a while, I suppose, because I didn’t see any evidence of any showers out there. And they would just be with the sheep to the point where the sheep knew that they were leaders somehow, and they would follow them wherever they go. And they were leaders. They would rotate the fields. The sheep would graze in this area and when the grass was starting to get a little bit short and low, the shepherds would take them up the way to a place where the grass had a chance to grow a bit more and they would have their fill there, and then go somewhere else, in places where there were really wolves and there really were wolves in some of these places. The shepherds, armed with nothing more than their crook — a crook is a pastoral staff. It has the little curvy part at the top, it’s curled over, and they walk around with it. It’s like their staff. And that, in fact, is what the bishop’s crosier is based on. It’s to remind the bishops that they are supposed to be good shepherds. Of course, I have to tell you about real shepherds now because our bishops have become wolves and they are not a good example for what a good shepherd is, most of them. They are the ones who are dividing the flock and causing the casualties.
So, armed with nothing more than their crosiers, they would often put themselves between the wolves and their sheep. Now, we tend to think of wolves as domesticated. You know, a wolf is not a Chihuahua. We tend to think that the man standing there with his crosier is enough to have the little thing go yip, yip, yip, yip yip, and run away. No. Wolves can and do eat people. And that is the extent to which these shepherds would go, to place themselves between those wolves and the sheep that they had.
So this is just an image of shepherds, now, that Our Lord was relating to those who were of these scribes and Pharisees there, but to everybody who listening. And He starts out, He goes, “I am the good shepherd”. Now, straight away, He identified ownership of the flock just as in real life the shepherds belong to the family who owns the sheep. Our Lord identified ownership over them. What does He say to them? He says, “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, etc.” He says, “I am the good shepherd”, not a hireling. And what’s the difference? A good shepherd has ownership over the sheep. Now, what does that mean. How does He have ownership over that flock we call the Church that we are a part of? In the first place, His ownership extends to us through the fact that He created us. He is establishing by a simple statement that we belong to Him. And we are sheep. And so it is. He created us, there can be no dispute that we belong to Him absolutely. And so he says, “I am the good shepherd. I am not a hireling. I own this flock”. And the first way He owns us is because He created us. That’s claim number one.
But, you know, for those, like I said, who are tempted to think that God does not give them a thought, Christ says to us that He loves us. How do we know that? He says, “I laid down my life for my sheep”. If he didn’t love his flock, why would he do that? And He did lay down His life. And that is claim number two on owning us, because He owns us because He purchased us with His blood. So He created us, He owns us, but, secondly, He bought us, He paid for us, He paid the price of sin for us with His very blood. He died for the Catholic Church. People seem to lose track of that one. Christ did not die so that everybody in the whole world will automatically by the fact of His death go up to heaven eventually. That will not happen. That’s why in the Consecration we say, “For you and for many”, and not for you and for all. Because, although there’s a sense in which Christ died for all, not all will take advantage of the redemption that He got us. And, so, He did, in fact die, especially for the elect, but He died for the Catholic Church, both to found the Catholic Church and to redeem it.
Not only that, He says, “Not only do I love you, not only are you Mine, but He cares for us individually”. And here’s the point that so many people have trouble with. They wander through life, they need therapy, practically, because they lose track of the fact that there is a God that loves them. And when He says He cares for us individually, He says, “I am the good shepherd. I know Mine and Mine know Me.” He knows us individually. In fact, He knows us better than we know us. You know, how many atoms are in your body? Give me an exact number right now. He knows it. He knows that at any instant. Not only does He know how many atoms are in our bodies, He keeps them in existence, every single atom in your body is kept consciously in existence by the thought of Our Lord at every single moment. So He knows us which means He cares for us individually.
See, they have this image of what they call the clock maker god — you’ve probably heard this before but some people haven’t — whereby like a clock in a clock factory they think they’ve been made like the clock and then you push the clock out the door and sell it and you don’t know what happens to it after that. They wind it every so often and it goes. Well, that’s some people’s idea of the god that made them, and it is far from the truth. He cares for each person individually and knows us individually, loves us, gave His life for us, and claims us as His own.
So, then, what do we do. We have to, then, if He says, “I know Mine and Mine know Me”, in order to be part of this fold we have to, of course, recognize Him as our shepherd, which we do. There is no problem there. But for our part, in general, too, we must be good sheep. He used that image, and He didn’t mean it in a derogatory sense but in a realistic sense. When He says that we are sheep, well, then, if you know about sheep, it wouldn’t be a compliment like if somebody called you a sheep besides God. Okay. It would be derogatory. But what He meant is that He is the one leading the flock who truly knows where the greener pastures are, and in which way to lead us. And we, like those simple sheep, have just to follow Him. You know, sheep don’t ask a lot of questions. They don’t have a parish meeting or whatever, a flock meeting, whatever you call it, when the shepherd wants to lead them to a place. They don’t vote on it. They simply know that this is the best thing for them in some instinctual way, and they follow him and, of course, the green pastures that they are led to is far beyond anything their little sheep imaginations can come up with.
So, we have to do the same, then, and have that same kind of humility and trust in Our Lord. And the humility is in knowing that our shepherd, our good shepherd knows more than we do about this. We should all be saying, then, when we meditate on the image of the good shepherd, Lord, let us live and die in You as one of Your sheep. That’s all we ask. And what simpler prayer can you get, acknowledging that we are sheep and acknowledging the good shepherd as our head, and wanting always to be with Him both in this life and the next.
I want to add to finish with just a little comment that’s kind of funny. We all wear our scapulars, please God, and the scapulars we get here, really, they are the best ones that are made. And the company was founded by this woman, I think, unfortunately, she has passed away since, but I used to talk with her back when on the phone. She was a real talker, and one of the complaints that she would have was that she couldn’t source any real wool for the scapulars. And I was saying, Well, okay, if you can’t find the real wool, I’m sure a polyester scapular would not be invalid. And she goes, “No, we are sheep and we have to have our wool.” And, so, it’s kind of funny but it’s a cute little thing, too, that she insisted that her successors, her daughter and her husband who make them to this day, insist that they are real wool because sheep must be clothed in their wool. So, if you are wearing your scapular, we don’t think about it much, but think about that aspect of it. It reminds us that we are sheep because we have wool front and back at all times that’s real wool made that way for a reason.
So I just wanted to end with that nice little story. It’s a nice thought, and remember that we are sheep and we are one of His, He knows us and we know Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.