Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Shepherd knows His Sheep

"I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away... I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep"
(Jn 10:11-15).

These verses of today's Gospel are beautifully illustrated by the stained glass windows above and below from Norwich Cathedral. This image of Christ the Good Shepherd is one of the best-known and well-loved of the many found in the Gospel. It has evoked Christian song and art since the earliest days of the Church when it was first depicted in the catacombs; indeed a 3rd century image of Christ as shepherd graces the cover of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and its more recent Compendium.

The explanation of the logo (on the right), which is taken from the catacombs of Domitilla in Rome, on the cover of the Compendium and CCC says that "Christ, the Good Shepherd, who leads and protects his faithful (the lamb) by his authority (the staff), draws them by the melodious symphony of the truth (the panpipes) and makes them lie down in the shade of the 'tree of life', his redeeming Cross which opens paradise."

Reflecting on today's Gospel and offering an insight into the image of Christ the Good Shepherd, fr Geoffrey Preston OP writes:

"Jesus claims to be the one who really satisfies our hunger for someone to shepherd us, to lead us, to give us a sense of belonging. In the East the relationship between sheep and shepherd is different from the relationship with which we are familiar. In the East sheep are kept for their milk and wool, not as a source of mutton. The shepherd and his sheep, therefore, may be together for as long as eight or nine years. Each shepherd has his own particular call which his sheep recognize and follow. He goes first, leading his sheep to places where he knows it is safe for them to go; and in this procession each sheep receives a name... We can all be content to be sheep, defined in relation to our glorious Good Shepherd.

And yet we also have to be shepherds. There is no contradiction in this. Once again, it is the way of Jesus, implied in the task of growing up in all things into Christ who is our Head. Shepherding is a ministry in the Church... but as with so many forms of service in the Church, they really bring to a point and make obvious and total what must be an aspect of the Christian lives of us all. All of us have some sort of obligation to care for others. Such activity may well include the kind of activity that Israel's shepherds found themselves engaged in, the guarding of the flock, even to the point of the destruction of its enemies. Christ is not just a mild shepherd-lad piping down the valleys wild, sitting under the shade of the trees at noon. David said to Saul: 'Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion or a bear and took a sheep from the flock, I went after him and smote him and delivered it out of its mouth; and if he arose against me, I caught him by the beard, and smote him and killed him' (1 Sam 17:34-35)...

As Christ the Conqueror he wins the victory over the non-human forces that threaten his people... A balanced theology cannot escape integrating the place of the demons into its picture of existence. The Bible and the Church accept the common experience of mankind that between man and God is a realm that is neither human nor divine, the realm of principalities and powers. These powers can and do threaten the life of man, for, while in principle good, they fall and become snares and delusions... We too share in that struggle and victory of the strong Shepherd, that war in heaven [against Satan and his powers].

In the Byzantine Church, the epistle for the Mass of monastic clothing tells the novice that he 'must have his loins girded with truth, putting on the breastplate of righteousness, equipped with the gospel of peace on his feet... donning the helmet of salvation and taking up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God'. The arms of the gentle but the arms of those who have to fight. As so often, the monk stands for the whole Church. We are told that we are 'contending not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the air' (Eph 6:12)."
(Hallowing the Time, pp127-129)

As such, today's Gospel also gives rise to reflection on the call of some men to share in Christ's pastoral ministry as priests and also the call of others - men and women - to the consecrated life. The ministry of leading, safe-guarding, protecting, caring for and sheltering the flock belongs primarily to those who are sharers in Christ's priesthood while the ministry of spiritual battle through prayer and living the evangelical counsels accrues especially to those who have professed to live a consecrated life.

Of course, underlying both these Christian states of life is our fundamental baptismal call to holiness. Certainly we are all called to care for others and to work for the salvation of souls, but some are more specifically called to exercise this as an Ecclesial ministry in the image and likeness of Christ Himself and also as a deepening of their configuration to Christ in baptism. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI in his Message for today, the 43rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations says:

"Within the framework of this universal call, Christ, the High Priest, in his solicitude for the Church calls persons in every generation who are to care for his people. In particular, he calls to the ministerial priesthood men who are to exercise a fatherly role, the source of which is within the very fatherhood of God (cfr Eph 3,14)... Another special vocation, which occupies a place of honour in the Church, is the call to the consecrated life. Following the example of Mary of Bethany who 'sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching' (Lk 10:39), many men and women consecrate themselves to a total and exclusive following of Christ. Although they undertake various services in the field of human formation and care of the poor, in teaching or in assisting the sick, they do not consider these activities as the principal purpose of their life, since, as the Code of Canon Law well underlines, 'the first and foremost duty of all religious is to be the contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer' (can. 663 §1)."

It is for those who are called to these states of life, and for priestly and religious vocations, that we pray today:

We pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the harvest, giving to His Holy Church many shepherds after His own Sacred Heart and also many men and women full of faith, hope and love to consecrate their lives to Him.

May the Holy Spirit guide and remain in the hearts of our priests and religious, especially those responsible for priestly and religious formation.

May the same Spirit grant prudence, courage and wisdom to those who are discerning their vocation and enlighten, strengthen and gift with every grace and virtue those who are in formation.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother of Vocations, intercede for the Church and may we sinners who are called to holiness look to her, the sinless and obedient one, finding a refuge in her Immaculate Heart.

Of your charity, please pray for me and all novices and especially for those who are struggling in their vocation.

The stained glass window of Our Lady at Pentecost is from our former Dominican priory church at Hawkesyard.


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