The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Good Shepherdess
Good Shepherd Sunday
(The Apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel)
Each year on the Second Sunday after Easter, Holy Mother Church places before us for our edification what has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd of the Flock. The Lamb of God has laid down His life for His Flock, and now He desires that we follow where He has led. It goes without saying that we are meant to dwell as faithful members of that Flock, that the Good Shepherd might guide us to good pastures, free from fear, free from want, free from the prowling wolves unleashed by the world, the flesh, and the devil.
How does one go about being a good lamb in the Flock of the Good Shepherd? Thomas a Kempis in his Imitation of Christ suggests we heed the Good Shepherd saying to us: / have often said to thee, and I repeat it again: forsake and resign thyself, and thou shalt enjoy a great inward peace. Give all for all; seek nothing, call for nothing back; stand purely, and with a full confidence in Me, and thou shalt possess Me. When Saint Therese, the Little Flower, sought to employ the wisdom expressed by Thomas, she explained: Jesus has shown me the only way that leads to the fire of divine love: it is that of a little child who, full of trust, falls asleep in its father’s arms. The Holy Ghost speaking by the mouth of Solomon says: Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me (Proverbs 9:4); and the same Spirit of love affirms that to him that is little, mercy is granted (Wisdom 6:7). The Prophet Isaias reveals to us that at the last day the Lord shall feed His Flock like a Shepherd; He shall gather together the lambs with His arm, and shall take them up in His bosom (Isaias 40:11). As if these assurances were not enough, the same prophet cries out in God’s Name: You shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you. As one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you (Isaias 46:12).
Leave it to the Mother of God to make a very brief summary of these tremendous truths taught us by Holy Scripture, by the Saints, and by the constant custom of piety in the Church. Ask Mary how to perfectly belong to the Flock of the Good Shepherd and She says: Ecce ancilla Domini! Fait mihi secundum verbum tuum! Behold the Handmaid of the Lord! Be it done unto me according to thy word. Mary tells us to let God do it all.
And what does God do? The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us! When God willed to give the perfect model of perfect discipleship, the Son of God set aside His Divine rights, took flesh, and placed Himself wholly at the disposal of the creature He made to be His Mother:
Do all things without haste, gently, as do the angels; follow the guidance of divine movements, and be supple to grace; God wills us to be like little children… If one had asked the sweet Jesus when He was carried in His Mother’s arms, whither He was going, might He not with good reason have answered: “I go not; ’tis My Mother that goes for Me.” And if one had said, “But at least do You not go with Your Mother?” might He not reasonably have replied, “No, I do not go, or if I go whither My Mother carries Me, I do not Myself walk with her nor by My own steps, but by My Mother’s, by her and in her.” But if one had persisted with Him, saying, “But at least, O most dear divine Child, You really will to let Yourself be carried by Your sweet Mother?” No, verily, might He have said, “I will nothing of all this, but as My entirely good Mother walks for Me, so she wills for Me; I leave her the care as well to go as to will to go for Me where she likes best; and as I do not go but by her steps, so I will not but by her will; and from the instant I find Myself in her arms, I give no attention either to willing, or to not willing, turning all other cares over to My Mother, save only the care to be on her bosom, to suck her sacred breast, and to keep Myself close clasped to her most beloved neck, that I may lovingly kiss her with the kisses of My mouth. And be it known to you that while I am amidst the delights of these holy caresses which surpass all sweetness, I consider that My Mother is a tree of life, and Myself on her as its fruit, that I am her own heart in her breast, or her soul in the midst of her heart, so that as her going serves both her and Me without My troubling Myself to take a single step, so her will serves us both without My producing an act of My will about going or coming. Nor do I ever take notice whether she goes fast or slow, hither or thither; nor do I inquire whither she means to go, contenting Myself with this, that go whither she pleases I go still locked in her arms, close laid to her beloved breasts, where I feed as among lilies”…Thus should we be, Theotimus, pliable and tractable to God’s good pleasure. – Saint Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Book IX, chapter xiv.
Heaven is nothing but perfect union with the Will of God. Perfect union with the Will of God begins on earth in the soul that seeks to imitate Christ in all things, heart, soul, mind, and strength. Christ demonstrates perfect submission to His Father’s Will by perfectly submitting Himself to the Will of His Mother. His Mother perfectly rules Jesus by perfectly serving the Divine Will of Love with all of Her Immaculate Heart, all of Her selfless Soul, all of Her humble Mind, and all of Her fervent Strength. The greatest Commandment is to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength; none will ever obey that Command as Mary fulfilled it by loving Her Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. If he loves well who loves his father, then Mary is the perfection of love in Her filial piety to the Father who gave Her being as His Immaculate Conception. If he loves well who loves his wife, then Mary is the perfection of love in Her fidelity to Her espousal by the Holy Ghost. If he loves well who loves his child, then Mary is the perfection of love in Her love for Her Son Jesus, who is God. Mary would have us do as God wills. God would have us follow the Way of His Son. Jesus would have us live as He lives, in the Love of His Father manifested in the Love of His Mother. In short, we obey the Father by joining the Son placed in the care of His Mother. The Good Shepherd leads the good lambs of His Flock by placing them beside Himself in the arms of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Good Shepherdess.
Where does the Good Shepherdess carry the Flock of Christ? Wherever the Love of God requires. The Love of God never requires fear. So Mary, the Good Shepherdess, leads Her children, the faithful lambs of Christ’s Flock, to perfect trust in Divine Providence. The child of Mary can lie asleep in Her arms, fearless that any harm will come to him, fearless that any need will go unmet, fearless that any sin will touch him. No infant in his* mortal mother’s arms can conceive of worry. A newborn babe born into the severest poverty does not wonder where his first meal is going to come from; that baby is certain that his cries for his mother’s milk will be heard and satisfied instantly. How much more, then, ought the children of the Mother of God rest secure at Her bosom, perfectly confident that all that is needed shall come when it is needed, as it is needed, and in the amount that is needed, just as the Father provided the Son through Mary.
God’s love does not require pride. So Mary, the Good Shepherdess, leads Her children, the faithful lambs of Christ’s Flock, to perfect humility before the Majesty of God. The child of Mary believes God when He says, / love you! It does not occur to a humble child to accuse his mother of lying when she tells him that both of his parents love him. That humble child does not seek to confirm the truth of the teachings of his parents, or to acquire wealth of his own on the off chance that his parents will prove incapable of providing sustenance, or to redefine the bases for happiness according to the child’s whims opposed to the parents’ will. How much more, then, ought the children of the Mother of God accept the Faith transmitted through the Church of which Mary is Queen, and Hope in the promises of which Heaven is the fulfillment, and Love the Lord Who is the Author of all that is good! No more should a lamb of the Flock of Christ doubt that Mary is his Mother than one of us should deny love to the womb that brought us to birth. No more should a lamb of the Flock of Christ wonder if God is his Father than one of us would delude himself that he caused his own birth. He who has not Mary for Mother and God for Father is not only not of the Flock of Christ, not the brother of Jesus, and not destined for Heaven, but such a fool is stark raving mad with pride.
God’s love does not require fratricide. So Mary, the Good Shepherdess, leads Her children, the faithful lambs of Christ’s Flock to perfect fraternal charity. Brothers and sisters growing up do not believe that they do not share the same flesh and blood. Brothers and sisters have their arguments and fights, but none but the heirs of Cain and Judas would think it a victory to kill his siblings. Brothers and sisters have no friends before they befriend the brothers and sisters with whom they live. How much more, then, ought the children of the Mother of God rejoice in the large household to which they have been called to live as royal heirs. Christ’s Flock exult in the Lord who has not justly condemned them to eternal rot in the grave, but mercifully wills them receive an everlasting inheritance of Life. Christ’s Flock exult in the fact that they have a birthright, shared by countless brothers, of an inexhaustible store of joy whose dimmest shadow is this life, and whose perfection eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and mind has not so much as dreamt of. Christ’s Flock exult in the chance to participate in that joy by way of approaching their brothers in this life with the same love, respect, and admiration that will be revealed as the portion of all of the Elect on the Day of Judgement. The members of Christ’s Flock in eternity are known in time by the immensity of the love they offer without discrimination to men on earth.
It might be objected by some that such sentiments as I have expressed thus far in this sermon smack of a certain quietism, a refusal to shoulder one’s own burdens as the responsibility of adulthood demands. I would caution those who think such to remember that it is those who are like little children that come into the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven. But it is true that holy childhood does develop into the fullness of the manhood of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven is not populated with Peter Pans who never grow up. So what does it mean for a child of God to come into his maturity while in this vale of tears?
Thomas a Kempis, Saint Therese, and Saint Francis de Sales have already assisted us this morning; let us ask another Saint for some guidance in the task of conforming ourselves to the Will of God by being conformed to the example of Jesus in His conformation to the Will of Mary. Here is how Saint Louis de Montfort describes what the Good Shepherdess does when She continues the work of making the lambs of the Flock perfectly like the Lamb who was slain:
She kills them, makes them die to the life of the old Adam; She flays and strips them of their natural skin, their natural inclinations, their self-love, their own will, and all attachment to creatures; She cleanses them of spots, their vilenesses and their sins; She dresses them to the taste of God, and for His greatest glory…
How, pray tell, it will surely be demanded, did Our Lady ever do such things to Our Lord?! Jesus did not consider it robbery to be thought equal to God, but He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave. It was Mary who gave the form of a slave to Jesus according to the Will of the Father by the power of the Holy Ghost. In effect, Jesus in becoming man died to His divinity, insofar as He set aside the absolute prerogatives owed to a Divine Person in His relations to His creatures. The very life of Jesus begun in the Womb of Mary is a death, a death to self, in which the Second Person of the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Omnipotence, subjected Himself to creaturely existence, material privation, and, ultimately, bodily death. Imagine if you can – and neither you nor I nor any son of Adam can imagine it – what went through Mary’s mind in the joy of receiving God as Her Son, but contemplating what it would cost Her Beloved Son to reduce Himself to the estate of a mere creature! Mary thought it not robbery to be Mother of God, and She allowed God to empty Himself fully into Her Womb!
Yet the Will of God and the Love of Mary goes still further. On the Eighth Day after Christmas, Mary submits Her Son to the knife. God spills His Blood in observance of the Law He has imposed on sinful flesh. The flesh of Mary is tainted by no sin. The flesh of Jesus, wholly taken from the flesh of Mary, is tainted by no sin. And yet the Mother offers Her Son to the priest to pay the ransom owed by sinners. There is no fallen nature in Jesus or Mary; there is no inclination to sin in Jesus or Mary; there is no self-love in Jesus or Mary; there is no self-will in Jesus or Mary; there is no attachment to creatures in Jesus or Mary — but Jesus and Mary accept the remedy for the fall, forconcupiscience, for pride, for disobedience, and for lust, as if they were themselves sinners. O, the injustice! Mary, the Mother of God, wills alongside God the Father that the Son enter fully into the lot of sinners that the Sinless might thus pay the price of sin.
And the price that is paid is not wholly rendered until the Son renders up the ghost on Calvary. God the Father gave God the Son to Mary as Her true and Only-Begotten Son. The Father did not take that gift back. Mary rendered unto the Father that which came from the Father, just as each of His creatures must make an accounting to the Lord of all for the graces bestowed by Divine beneficence. Mary was given the Son of God as Her portion of the grace of God; Mary hesitated not to render Her portion unto the Lord according to the will of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to thy word! Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done! Not my Will, Father, but Thine be done! Jesus caused these truths and taught these truths; in His Mother these truths are observed with perfect fidelity, Thomas a Kempis said: seek nothing, call for nothing back; when the Lord required the Immolation of His Son on Calvary, Mary did not insist on the rights She had as His Mother, She did not ask for a recompense, She did not call God ungenerous. Mary offered Her Son as Her Son offered Himself, as the Father had offered the Son to mankind for its salvation; all offered in the Love of the Holy Ghost, the Love of God that is selfless, the Love of God that is self-forgetful, the Love of God that is self-sacrificing.
Is the Love of God, then, a death sentence? Perish the thought! He who goes to Jesus is given to Mary. He who is given to Mary is given the wonderful instruction: Whatsoever He shall command, do ye! What does Jesus command? Life) / am come that they may have life and may have it more abundantly!
Mary was the efficient cause of the first miracle of Jesus. “Efficient cause” is the fancy philosophical way of saying that Mary asked for it, and Her asking was the occasion for God doing. Mary has never stopped asking on our behalf ever since. When the little girl died of the fever, Mary asked that she be spared. Jesus took the lass by the hand and commanded her, Damsel, I say to thee, arise! And the child obeyed, rose up and walked. Jesus gave the girl to her mother and father.
When the widow of Nairn accompanied the funeral bier of her only son, Mary begged Her Son to aid that sorrowful mother. And Jesus was moved with mercy for her. He bade her to cease her weeping and the bearers to still their progress to the grave. Jesus commanded the dead man,Young man, I say to thee, arise! And the young man obeyed, sat up, and began to speak. Jesus gave the man to his mother.
When Lazarus died, Mary beseeched the Lord of life to ease the suffering of Martha and Mary, and to show forth His power over death. Jesus asked Martha and Mary, and they confessed that He had the power to raise the dead on the Last Day. Jesus reminded them that He is the Resurrection and the Life, and that Faith in Him prevents death. But the death of Lazarus moved Jesus to weep for love of His friend. Jesus bade the grave of Lazarus be opened, gave thanks to His Father, and commanded, Lazarus, come forth! And Lazarus came forth from the tomb, bound hand and foot, blindfolded, and Jesus commanded Him to be set free.
When Dismas was on the cross in punishment for his innumerable and unspeakable sins, Mary besought Her Son while He, too, lay dying, to have mercy on that miserable sinner. Saint Dismas repented his sins, admonished his fellow criminal, and begged the Lord remember him in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus did not spare Saint Dismas death. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, bestowed a far greater gift on His lost sheep, the Good Thief. God the Son commanded Heaven itself: Amen I say to thee: This day thou shaft be with me in Paradise! And Heaven obeyed, its gates were thrust open, and Saint Dismas entered in with the Victor over sin, death, and hell.
Mary counsels us: Whatsoever He shall command, do ye! Jesus commanded the little twelve-year-old girl to rise from death, and she rose. Jesus commanded the young man, the son of the widow, to rise, and he rose. Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb, and Lazarus came forth. Jesus commanded Heaven to admit the Good Thief, and the Feast of Saint Dismas is celebrated on March 25th on the anniversary of his birthday into Paradise. March 25th is the day that God commanded the slime of the earth to become a living soul, and Adam was created. March 25th is the day that Mary commanded the Archangel Saint Gabriel, Be it done unto me according to thy word! and instantly God obeyed, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us! Jesus commands the dead to live, while Mary commands God to rule Her by His Will that Life take life in Her Womb! Jesus and Mary command us to receive birth in the waters of Baptism, and be true sons of the adoption of God. Jesus and Mary command us to die each day by the crosses we take up according to the Will of God for us, and to be killed in the flesh, in our self-will and in our self-love. And Jesus and Mary command us to permit the death inflicted on us by the Grace of God in Faith, Hope, and Love, to bear fruit in us in the Eternal Life received by those who have tasted from the Tree of Life, the Cross of Calvary, and have enjoyed the fullness of sweetness within the Fruit of that Tree, the Fruit of the Womb of Mary, the Body-Blood-Soul-and-Divinity of Jesus Christ, who was Crucified, who died, and now is Risen, never to die again! The Risen Lord commands us to come to Him, the Good Shepherd, to be fed the Bread of Life, to drink the Chalice of Salvation, and to dwell in the Pastures of Heaven singing with the Good Shepherdess the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost for ever and ever! Amen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen!