The Good Shepherd

Our Lord is the Shepherd of our souls. He it is who watches over us and tends to our every spiritual need. Remember what a great and loving Saviour it is that we have.

Sermon from Fr. Francis Cuthbert Doyle, 1879

“I am the good Shepherd.”–St. John X. 11.

The allegory under which Our Lord represents to us His undying love and never-wearying care, was drawn from a picture which is often looked upon, and may be seen in all its minutest particulars in the East, even at the present day. The shepherd in Palestine is a very different character from the shepherds we are accustomed to see among ourselves. He does not, as with us, drive his sheep before him; to do so would in many instances be to urge them on to certain destruction. He goes before them, to see that the mountain-paths are practicable, to remove obstructions, and to find suitable pastures for them. The sheep are so well trained by him that they know his voice; for if he sees them straying from the flock, or loitering behind, or climbing into dangerous places, he calls to them and rebukes them, and they know his voice; for if a stranger call to them they at once lift up their heads, stand for a moment irresolute, and then perhaps rush off in alarm, and with headlong speed. The shepherd goes before them, wellarmed and prepared to defend them from harm, whether that threaten them either from wild beasts, or from robbers. Often he himself is in peril of death, and at times the shepherd is actually overpowered and slain by the wild Arabs of the desert, who rush in upon him and kill him. His tenderness and gentle care are shown, both by the way in which he accommodates his speed to the condition of the flock, and from the love with which he lifts the weak and tender lambs into his arms, and bears them in his bosom. And should he miss one, which has strayed, or climbed into danger, he goes at once, and often at the peril of his own life, bears back the wanderer upon his shoulders to the fold.

In each of these qualities of a good shepherd, you have a most faithful picture of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd of your soul. Each one of you is intimately known to Him, as intimately as if you were His only child. All your failings and shortcomings are before His eyes. All your necessities, your struggles, your difficulties, your aspirations, lie open before Him. All your past, whether it has been good or bad, is to Him as an open book, upon whose pages are traced the thoughts which have passed through your minds, the desires you have conceived in your hearts, the words you have spoken, the actions you have done. There is no secret corner veiled from His sight. There is no depth into which His eyes do not penetrate. He is well aware of all the difficulties which stand in your way, and prevent you from being virtuous. He knows that it is mostly up-hill work for you, with many a tangled, thorny thicket to be passed through, and many a slippery path to be carefully trodden, before you can stand in safety. But remember, He goes before you, to clear a passage through the thorns, and to make firm the uncertain foothold. Whatever may cause you pain in your upward journey, has first of all pained Him. You are the little ones of His flock. Oh, how tenderly does He love the young–the young boy whose soul is just looking out into the world of sense, and, finding it so fair, so attractive–and the world of the spirit, so hard and so wearisome! Like the shepherd, He carries you in His very bosom, and shelters you there from the storm, and beguiles the weariness of the journey. The wolves which prowl about to tear and to destroy, He keeps at a safe distance. He sustains your feeble life with His own body and blood, and should you unhappily stray, and become entangled in the briars and thorns of sin, He goes forth to seek you and draws you thence, more tenderly than the tenderest mother, and, bearing you back in His bosom, restores you to the fold where alone safety and true happiness are to be found.

In return for this unutterable love, you owe to your Shepherd a very deep debt of gratitude. But how are you to pay it? You cannot give anything to God, which He will accept more graciously, than the entire and undivided love of your heart. If you love Him, you will keep near to Him by extreme purity of life, fearing to offend Him even in such matters as most people would esteem trivial. You will hearken to His voice, by following the inward promptings and inspirations of His Holy Spirit, Who will secretly draw you after Him into yet more perfect ways. You will close your eyes to the tempting pastures which lie on either side of you, almost within your reach; you will turn away from them, be they never so fair, and press onward, treading in the footsteps of Him Who goes before you. But if you love Him not, you will stray away and put yourself beyond His reach, you will fall away from the body of the flock, and then the prowling robber or the lurking wolf will seize upon, slay, and devour you. Jesus, your Shepherd, has put a visible shepherd in His place, who must be obeyed and followed with the same docility, as if He Himself were present and called you with His divine voice. This shepherd is your prefect or your master. He has at times to make you walk in hard, and difficult ways–ways very displeasing to flesh and blood. Hearken to his voice, for the Good Shepherd has said: “He that heareth you, heareth Me.” Follow his counsels. Shun what he bids you avoid. Forego those pastures which seem to you so pleasant, so far removed from danger. Remember, your shepherd stands on the mountain-top. He commands the whole situation. He can see danger where you see none. Therefore trust him, be obedient to him and very docile, and he will guide you safely to the fold of the Good Shepherd, into which no robber can enter to steal, nor prowling wolf leap over to kill and to destroy.

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