Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Sign Of His Love

I believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ.  I believe in His willing crucifixion, as a sign of His love.  I believe in His presence in His Church as a sign of His love, and I believe in you, my friends … as a sign of His love in the world today.
It’s taken me years to appreciate more fully that I am meant to be a sign of God’s love in the world, that in some mysterious way He is part of me, and that through me He acts.  Through me he would act, and perhaps do important things in this world, acts of His love, if only I didn’t let MY will and desires block His way.  His will is to love all those whom He brings into contact with this earthen body; so often, however, my will is to love myself first.
“I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus proclaims.  “I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me.”  But sheep are dumb and so easily distracted, and confused.  And some wander off, lost.
I know what Jesus thinks about those lost sheep: Even for one, He will go searching and leave the 99 behind.  I wonder sometimes, however, about that one, and those 99:  What are THEY thinking?  Jesus called the one a “lost” sheep, but what does that one think of his situation?  Pondering this, I think that the one who has wandered off likely does not consider himself lost, at least not in the beginning.  He does not consider himself in any danger, or he would not have set out from the flock.  No, I think he honestly thought that there was a better place to go, or at least there might be, and so he left to “check it out.”  Considering our society today, and our Church, there is no doubt that many are wandering off, thinking something might be better just over the horizon --- some are so confident, in fact, that they call to the others in the flock: “Come!  Follow me!  I know of better fields.”  I think they choose to wander in sincerity, perhaps even thinking themselves in service for others of the flock (without daring to say it, they think of themselves as good shepherds).  What they don’t ask themselves, in their confidence, is: “Why do I think I know the way, and neither the Shepherd nor the 99 do?  Why do I think I am so special in my knowledge?”
That’s a problem today.  So many people think themselves special:  “I know the way,” they would shout.  Or: “Certainly I, more than anyone else, know the way for me.”  They don’t stop and seriously consider:  Wouldn’t many of the 99 think the same thing?  I don’t think they see themselves as bad people, wanting to go astray and leading others astray.  It seems a natural and right thing (in their minds) to do, to want to do what it takes to make themselves happy.  But unfortunately, they don’t consider that there are others, doing what comes naturally to themselves also, doing naturally what would make them happy --- but they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, who define their happiness as eating the sheep.  In looking to lead, or even being one of the ones led astray, they don’t consider the possibility that there are wolves.  And they can’t see themselves in the mirror, and so they can’t possibly consider a horror:  that perhaps it’s they, who might be the wolves.
A great problem in the world today is the Self, the “I” that wants so much, and societies which proclaim that the wanting-for-self-first is a good thing.  So many in our society claim the Self, the one, the “I,” is so important, and they must wander where it wishes.  And they don’t see wolves anywhere, nor safety in the flock, nor the Good Shepherd.  They don’t see because they don’t sincerely look to see.  They think they know.
This independent streak is hard for a man to overcome.  In democracies it once was proclaimed that you CAN GET all you want, if you sacrifice for it.  But so often now others say: “No, you DESERVE all you want, just ask.”  And the good of the flock, and the good of The Shepherd, are left behind, as they wander toward the lure of “happiness for myself.”
The Catholic Church is blessed in having a leader who is defined as the successor, the lieutenant if you will, of the Good Shepherd.  While many in society loudly proclaim: “Follow me; I can make you happy,” the pope’s job is to proclaim all the louder: “You don’t have to wander in searching for happiness, or try to build it.  It is here already, already built.  And it will not just give you a promise of earthly happiness, but the reality of eternal happiness.”
As one shepherd of the Church retires today, a job well done, another springs up in his place, charged and taught by the original Good Shepherd: “Feed My sheep.”
There are some who proclaim that it is the pope who is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, as they say: “Follow me instead.”  I would only ask anyone so disposed to think, to have reason and logic and ask: “Is not it the wolf’s desire, naturally, to also strive to get what he feels is good for himself?  I beg you to look at the popes we have had, who you yourself have seen:  Do they look like someone who is getting what he desires?  Are all their travels, sufferings, humiliations in the world something any wolf would seek?”  Pope John Paul II lived up to the task he felt assigned him by the Holy Spirit, in spite of his sufferings at the end.  “Would Jesus come down from the cross,” he asked.  But now Pope Benedict XVI steps down in retirement, in humility, saying that he no longer is the man the Holy Spirit tasked to lead the flock, nor the one strong enough to wander the mountains looking for the one lost sheep.  In doing what they were called to do, did either of these men look like they were doing this challenging work for their own benefit?  Or was it for the flock?
No, these were faithful servants of the Good Shepherd.  In love, they laid down their lives and their wants, for Him.  (If you should doubt this, just read the words of JPII before he became pope.  He had great plans for his life, plans which he thought would make him happy, and yet still do the work of God.  And yet he humbly put those plans aside, for God’s plans.)
I pray that the next pope will live up to the standard of his predecessors, in love of that First Shepherd and His flock, and be a sign of His love to the world.        

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