[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Text of Today's Mass]
[Latin Text of Today's Mass]
In today's Gospel our Lord speaks of Himself as “the
Good Shepherd,” distinguishing Himself from the “hireling” who has no
personal interest in the sheep. The Good Shepherd has a personal concern
for the sheep; they are His, and He has cared for them since birth, He
can distinguish one from another, and has a name for each one of them.
Obviously, this “Good Shepherd” is a metaphor for God who created us,
conserves us in existence, and provides for each one of us personally.
The Good Shepherd is a metaphor for Jesus Christ,
Himself. It is only by following the teachings and example of our Lord
that we can make our way through the world, escaping the grasp of the wolf.
and the serpent, and the roaring lion. In saying that “I know mine,
and mine know Me,” our Lord is asking that we make the effort to know Him,
to love Him and to follow Him. The job of the shepherd is far easier
when the sheep observe him and follow him, instead of running off in random
directions. With the sheep that is instinctive—it may be something
that we humans gain only through practice.
In a lesser
sense, this metaphor of the Good Shepherd can also be applied to all of the
good priests and religious who follow our Lord faithfully, trying to maintain
the spiritual welfare of His flock. Our Lord alluded to these priests
and religious when He spoke of the other sheep that must be brought into His
fold, for the Church was not to be confined to the relatively small number of
souls whom Christ would meet personally during the few years of His public
ministry. Indeed, His Church was intended to span the oceans, and the
thousands of years. And this work would require a veritable army of men
and women devoted to His service.
On Holy Thursday
and Good Friday, He offered Himself up in sacrifice. As God and man He
was the perfect priest, for that is the essential function of a priest; to
mediate between man and God. As God, He was the perfect victim, the only
offering worth enough to pay the price of man's sins.
On Holy Thursday
He began this vast army of His by allowing His Apostles to share in His
priesthood. From that day, until eternity, they would be “other
Christs,” acting in His stead to renew that Paschal Sacrifice throughout
time and in every place. They would represent Him, sharing in His
priesthood, and to some degree in His victim‑hood. All of His
apostles, except John, would die as martyrs—as would many, many, more upon
whom they laid hands in order to replace themselves.
Over the years
they would communicate the fullness of Jesus’ priesthood to those whom we
call bishops. Many more would assist the bishops, being given the power
to offer the Holy Sacrifice, to forgive sins, and to anoint the sick.
These simple priests, in turn, might be assisted by deacons; first to do the
charitable works of the Church, to chant the Gospel at Mass, and then to
confer some of the Sacraments in the absence of the priest—marriage,
baptism, and occasionally Holy Communion. Bishop, Priest, and Deacon all
received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, each in their respective degree.
Subdeacons would be ordained, to care for the things of the Altar; the sacred
vessels, and linens, and vestments; and to chant the Epistles at Mass.
Other men would be ordained Acolytes to serve the priest at the Altar of
Sacrifice. There would be Exorcists to banish the devil and all of his
works; Lectors to read the lessons from the Old Testament; and men
known as Porters, who would quite literally stand guard at the doors of the
In modern times,
each of the lower orders have been thought of as stages in the advancement of
a man who was becoming a priest. But in the early Church they were often
lifetime vocations. And Church history is filled with accounts of
martyrdom from all of the ranks of the clergy.
And lest anyone
think that Christ's vast army of “Good Shepherds” included only men, let
me be quick to say that many women followed as well. If the men of the
priesthood were “other Christs,” then we might call these holy women
“other Marys.” For just as Jesus the “new Adam” had His
representatives, Mary the “new Eve” had hers in working out the salvation
of fallen mankind. The Sacred Scriptures make it abundantly clear that
such women followed the apostles, tending to their material needs. And
in several places, Saint Paul speaks of women consecrating their virginity or
their widowhood to Christ—perhaps for the first time in the ancient world
recognizing the value and dignity of a woman apart from her husband.
In a thousand
ways, these holy women carried out the work of Mary, imitating her chastity,
her humility, her charity, and her long term perseverance. In cities and
towns, in convents and hermitages, they cooked and cleaned, taught school and
ran hospitals—and above all they prayed.
So, our Lord has
had His good shepherds and good shepherdesses and hopefully
always will. He has had His share of hirelings too
unfortunate, but we have His assurance that the good ones will keep things
going until the end.
But please bear
in mind that these “other Christs” and “other Marys” come from among
people just like yourselves. Vocations to the religious life can come
only from you, or your children, or your grandchildren. Now, for
whatever reason, it may not be possible for you as an individual to have a
religious vocation—but please don't ever forget to pray for vocations.
Pray for good shepherds, and not for hirelings. For there are many other
sheep “out there” who need to hear our Lord's voice; to be gathered into
the one fold of the Good Shepherd.