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Chief Shepherd of the Flock
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; this is because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. (Jn 10:11-151)Yes, the Good Shepherd has given His all for us. Through His life, His brutal and agonizing suffering and death on the cross, and His glorious resurrection, He has achieved new life for us. Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, Jesus has provided His Church with priests who play a major role in the dispensing of this life which Jesus has come to give and to give most abundantly. There follow various thoughts on the priesthood.
"Christ's friendship assumes different forms. His love for Peter and John appear to have been outstanding in the case of his disciples, but he loved them in different ways. His love for John is more tender, and John will be known 'as the disciple whom Jesus loved.' All the disciples were, of course, disciples whom Jesus loved, but the words indicate that he had a particularly tender love for John, a love corresponding to John's sensitive nature. John is attracted by Christ from the first moment he meets him. Until then, apparently, he had been a follower of John the Baptist in his search for an ideal way of life and a spiritual master. It is not difficult to understand that the gentle ways of Jesus must have made an immediate impression on him, compared with the harsh asceticism of the Baptist. He therefore abandons the company of the austere prophet who threatens the people with divine wrath to follow the 'lamb of God,' who has come to take away the sins of the world. He feels a special need for affection himself and is drawn to a Master whose preaching is so obviously inspired by his pity for the crowds and whose miraculous cures show that he is constantly moved by goodness. Hence he is the disciple who becomes the closest follower of Jesus, in the sense that he is the nearest to him and most sensitive to all the manifestations of his friendship. Along with Peter and James he witnesses the Transfiguration on Tabor and the agony in the garden at Gethsemane. But above all he has the good fortune to lie on Christ's breast at the Last Supper. The physical heart of Jesus has a particular meaning for him, and he abandons himself to it, so to speak. This action marks the climax of his friendship and expresses the full measure of his love; it is also destined to remain the permanent symbol of his love, for John will be called 'the disciple who leaned upon the breast of the Lord.' At Calvary John takes his place at the foot of the cross along with the woman, and Christ confides to him the one he holds dearest in this world, his own mother. He gives the most loving of his disciples his most tender gift. The friendship John has formed with the Son was destined to be continued with his mother in the same atmosphere of gentle affection. At Calvary John also witnesses something destined to make a profound impression upon him, the piercing of the side of Jesus by the spear of the soldier. The spear of course only pierces a dead body, but it reaches the human heart on which the beloved apostle has been leaning less than twenty-four hours before in a transport of love. In the same way that the gift of his heart on the previous evening had been a symbol of his great friendship for him, so the piercing of his side now appears to John as a symbol of a love which has suffered to the bitter end. This spectacle serves to bind him to Christ more than ever and puts the seal, as it were, on their friendship.
John is the first of the apostles to arrive at the empty tomb on the morning of Easter. He is also the first one to recognize the Lord on the shore of the sea of Tiberias, because his love is more tender and therefore more perceptive. Finally, Christ promises John that his death shall be a prolongation of their friendship. The chief of the apostles is destined to undergo martyrdom, but John will only have to remain here until the Lord comes. His death will recall their intimacy at the Supper; Christ will simply come and allow the apostle's head to rest on his breast. The beautiful expression often used to describe a Christian death, 'going to sleep in the Lord', is especially applicable in the case of John, because he learned so well to know the meaning of that rest." 10
Pope John Paul II tells us: "The Church professes the mercy of God, the Church lives by it in her wide experience of faith and also in her teaching, constantly contemplating Christ, concentrating on him, on his life and on his Gospel, on his cross and resurrection, on his whole mystery. Everything that forms the 'vision' of Christ in the Church's living faith and teaching brings us nearer to the 'vision of the Father' in the holiness of his mercy. The Church seems in a particular way to profess the mercy of God and to venerate it when she directs herself to the heart of Christ. In fact, it is precisely this drawing close to Christ in the mystery of his heart which enables us to dwell on this point-a point in a sense central and also most accessible on the human level-of the revelation of the merciful love of the Father, a revelation which constituted the central content of the messianic mission of the Son of Man." 11
The Resurrected Christ has sent the
Holy Spirit to sanctify the world:
Still, I am telling you the truth:
it is for your own good that I am going,
because unless I go,
the Paraclete will not come to you;
but if I go,
I will send him to you (Jn 16:7)
The task of the Holy Spirit is to imprint the mystery of Christ ever more deeply upon the whole of creation. The Spirit is gradually leading us to full communion with the Father through Christ.
As this process evolves, the Holy Spirit concentrates His action upon the Church.
The Church progressively evolves by assimilating more perfectly the mystery of Christ. The Holy Spirit guides this process. He is the soul of the Church. He constantly labors to unite the diversified elements of the Church so that she is constantly being formed more and more according to the image of Christ.
The Holy Spirit as Sanctifier not only guides the entire Church, but He also guides each member of the Church. He strives to deepen the image of Christ which has been indelibly imprinted upon the Christian through Baptism and Confirmation. He labors to guide the Christian so that his or her activity becomes increasingly Christ-like. In this regard we notice the biblical distinction between living according to the Spirit rather than according to the flesh. To live according to the flesh does not refer only to sins against chastity. It refers to anything in one's life which is not according to the Spirit. Therefore, capitulating to intellectual pride, something "spiritual," would be living according to the flesh.
On the other hand, to live according to the Spirit can include the most intense involvement with material creation. This is Christ-like activity as long as one is following the lead of the Holy Spirit.
In summary, the Holy Spirit promotes the process of our growing as sons and daughters of the Father in Christ: "All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God; for what you received was not the spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, provided that we share his suffering, so as to share his glory." (Rom 8:14-17).
Laurentin also speaks about the presence of Mary in the life of the Church: "Mary's discreet and universal presence continues throughout the life of the Church: visible and invisible, in history, its churches, its religious art. The call for her intercession appears throughout the dogmatic history of the Councils and the various complex struggles within the Church which, during the Carolingian era, inspired the famous anthiphon: 'You have conquered all heresies throughout the world.'
"She was also the inspiration for the initiatives and victories of the Church. Many feasts were instituted in order to commemorate her efficacious assistance. From the earliest centuries, the most ancient churches were dedicated to her since she was the first temple of God and remains the model of all others. Mary, model of the Church, is also the model of the churches where the eucharistic presence of the Lord is renewed and where prayer takes place continuously."
Present to the universal Church, Mary is also present to the individual Christian. Laurentin quotes from the writings of numerous holy men and women who give witness concerning this personal presence of Mary. There follow some of Laurentin's quotations regarding this testimony.
He refers to St. Anthony of Padua: "And St. Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church, whose canonization broke all records, taking place less than two years after his death, concluded one of his principal homilies with this prayer: 'We beseech you, Our Lady, our hope, tossed about as we are by the storm. You, Star of the Sea, bright ray, direct us towards safe harbour, assist our arrival by the protection of your presence. (Sermon 3 in Praise of the Virgin, op. 1, p 163.)"
Laurentin also refers to Jean Jacques Olier, founder of the Sulpicians, and one of the most prominent figures of the French School of Spirituality. He quotes Olier: "One Saturday Mary became interiorly present to my soul...She recalled to me that her dear son had told me that he would only live in me through her...as if she were a sacrament by which he wished to communicate his life to me. (Brettonvillers, L'esprit de Monsieur Olier, t. 1, 1, 9 pp. 396-397)."
And it is not surprising that Laurentin, in his discussion of Mary's presence to us, refers to St. Louis de Montfort, one of the greatest apostles of devotion to Mary. Laurentin says: "Let us not pick any further from the petals of the dossier (Laurentin refers to the list of citations he has made concerning Mary's presence to us) which stretches over the centuries and which seems to justify de Montfort's prediction in his Treatise on True Devotion (no 46): 'At the end of the world, the greatest saints will be those who are most devoted to praying to the most Holy Virgin, and who have had her always present... in order... to have her as their powerful helper in their time of need '' " 12
Let us remind ourselves, regarding St. Louis de Montfort, that his Marian devotion is deeply Christocentric. J. Patrick Gaffney, S. S. M., tells us: "Montfort's intense devotion to Mary is clearly Christocentric. So strongly does the saint insist upon the point that he forcefully teaches that if devotion to Mary alienated us from Jesus it would have to be rejected as a diabolical temptation...with Mary we enter into a more intense and more immediate union with the Incarnate Wisdom. To wrench Mary from salvation history and therefore from Christian life is, for Montfort, to reject the plan of salvation as decreed by the Father." 13
St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Ignatius of Loyola have all spoken with great spiritual insight on prayer. Fr. Thomas McKenna, C.M., offers some astute observations concerning their spiritual doctrine: "Confessing that the approach to God happens only in God's terms, Teresa nonetheless painted the way there in warm and welcoming colors. Her chronicle of the journey through a series of successively enclosed chambers (mansions) is classic among the descriptions of the mystical path. Sparkling as it does with images of emerging butterflies and bubbling artesian wells, it depicts her move from active to passive contemplation. Hardly a passive personality, Teresa initiated a prodigious reform within the Carmelites and this also testified to the synergy between genuine interior life and effective apostolic action."
"If Teresa sketched resting points along the spiritual ascent, her prodigy, John of the Cross, fixed his gaze on the summit. Compactly in his poetry but also in interpretive prose, John detailed the melting-down and recasting of human desire as it draws near the Divine. His is a shadowy passage through a twilight of the senses and spirit, an intensely dark nocturne, and out into a dawn streaked with the divine light. Over the course of that night, the darkness that blinded the traveler is revealed as the radiance of God, which at the earlier stage could not be recognized for the light it was...
"Ignatius of Loyola took a different tact as he found intimacy with God in the press of active service. As he interacted with his times and circumstances, he discovered certain patterns of divine guidance embedded within his experience and subsequently constructed an imaginatively rich method to help others appropriate theirs. Basic to his logic was a conviction that the Spirit of Jesus is 'afoot in the universe,' particularly within each individual, and that therefore the Spirit-filled person is able to know by both interior and exterior signs which activities are the genuine works of Christ. Such a mystical perception of the world ties the closest of bonds between prayer and ministry, providing the apostle to view all activities in their relation to their divine ground, and conversely to find that source in all things." 19
There are certain days which make us especially glad to be alive. Sometimes,-but not always-the weather is consonant with our inner feelings. If it happens to be fall (I speak as a resident of the mid-west in the U.S.A.), the air is crisp, quickened with October freshness. The leaves spellbind us with their rich and varied colors-their golds, and reds, and browns. The sky is autumn blue, clear blue, crowned with a golden sun. Or, if it happens to be spring, a deep and fresh greenness seems to cover everything, breathing forth new signs of hope for the world. A gentle breeze mixed with the sun's warmth in a perfect mixture makes us eagerly seek the out-of-doors.
Regardless of what the weather may be, special days, in the ultimate meaning of our present use of the word special, awaken us in an unique way regarding the beauty of life. We feel an inner glow. Life has a mysterious freshness on these days, making us especially aware of its grandeur, its tenderness, its expansiveness, its capacity to call us forth to greatness. On such days the splendid drama of life deeply attracts us, takes hold of us in those inner depths where we are most alive, where we are most ourselves.
We need these days on which we feel deeply alive. If such days do not periodically refresh us with their pleasant arrival, then boredom and the monotonous aspect of daily living, the drudgery of life, would be too much for us. As the little child needs to be especially refreshed on occasion by a surprise gift of candy or a toy, so all of us need periodic excursions into the realm of these special kind of days. They, too, are often pleasant surprises, for usually we cannot forecast their advent with any degree of precision.
We should make the most of these special days. They are precious gifts which God lovingly offers us. Through them God enlivens the awareness of our lives, and gives us the desire to refurbish what may have become a rather lethargic type of existence. We can fall into a rut of wasting many of the opportunities which each day presents. Our lethargic condition can cause us to squander much of life's precious moments. We must allow the beauty of the special kind of day we have been describing to once again enliven our appreciation of the value of life. We must determine not to squander existence, but to drink in its preciousness from the depths of our being in Christ Jesus Our Lord, Who leads us to the Father, in the Holy Spirit,with Mary our Mother at our side.
Pope John Paul II instructs us: "In order to overcome today's widespread individualistic mentality, what is required is a concrete commitment to solidarity and charity, beginning in the family with the mutual support of husband and wife and the care which the different generations give to one another. In this sense the family too can be called a community of work and solidarity. It can happen, however, that when a family does decide to live up fully to its vocation, it finds itself without the necessary support from the State and without sufficient resources. It is urgent therefore to promote not only family policies, but also those social policies which have the family as their principal object, policies which assist the family by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up children and for looking after the elderly, so as to avoid distancing the latter from the family unit and in order to strengthen relations between generations.
"Apart from the family, other intermediate communities exercise primary functions and give life to specific networks of solidarity. These develop as real communities of persons and strengthen the social fabric, preventing society from becoming an anonymous and impersonal mass, as unfortunately often happens today. It is in inter-relationships on many levels that a person lives, and that society becomes more 'personalized.' The individual today is often suffocated between two poles represented by the State and the marketplace. At times it seems as though he exists only as a producer and consumer of goods, or as an object of state administration. People lose sight of the fact that life in society has neither the market nor the State as its final purpose, since life itself has a unique value which the State and the market must serve. Man remains above all a being who seeks the truth and strives to live in that truth, deepening his understanding of it through a dialogue which involves past and future generations." 25
Many of the laity pray for us priests, and consistently so. Is it not also fitting that we priests pray for all our brothers in the priesthood, and consistently so? There follows a prayer that can aid us in this endeavor.
"Lord Jesus, Chief Shepherd of the Flock, we pray that in the great love and mercy of Your Heart that You attend to all the needs of your priest-shepherds throughout the world. We ask that you draw back to your Heart all those priests who have seriously strayed from your path, that you rekindle the desire for holiness in the hearts of those priests who have become lukewarm, and that you continue to give your fervent priests the desire for the highest holiness. United with Your Heart and Mary's Heart, we ask that you take this petition to your heavenly Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen".
The above prayer is taken from the prayer manual of Shepherds of Christ Associates, a facet of Shepherds of Christ Ministries. The associates are members of prayer groups which meet regularly to pray for all the needs of the entire human family, but most especially for priests. If you would like a copy, or copies, of this prayer manual, and, further, if you would like information on how to begin a Shepherds of Christ prayer chapter, contact us at:
Shepherds of Christ
P.O. Box 193
Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193
Phone (toll free): 1-888-211-3041
Lord, Jesus, Chief Shepherd of the Flock, I consecrate my priestly life to your Heart, pierced on Calvary for love of us. From your pierced Heart the Church was born, the Church you have called me, as a priest, to serve in a most special way. You reveal Your Heart as a symbol of Your love in all its aspects, including Your most special love for me, whom you have chosen as Your priest-companion. Help me always to pour out my life in love of God and neighbor. Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You!
Dear Blessed Virgin Mary, I consecrate myself to your maternal and Immaculate Heart, this Heart which is symbol of your life of love. You are the Mother of my Savior. You are also My Mother. You love me with a most special love as this unique priest-son. In a return of love I give myself entirely to your motherly love and protection. You followed Jesus perfectly. You are His first and perfect disciple. Teach me to imitate you in the putting on of Christ. Be my motherly intercessor so that, through your Immaculate Heart, I may be guided to an ever closer union with the pierced Heart of Jesus, Chief Shepherd of the Flock, Who leads me to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Thank you for Shepherds of Christ which I treasure and read as spiritual reading. It contains a volume of practical recommendations.
Let's pray for each other...
Rev. Msgr. James J. Rugel
Oak Ridge, New Jersey
Dear Fr. Edward,
The peace of the Lord be always with you. Recently I received your newsletter, Shepherds of Christ from my Bishop. It is very interesting for me and the priests who are working with me in this parish.
I would like to ask you for the cassettes (Newsletters on cassettes).
Could you please supply me with these cassettes, which will be of great help to priests and the thirty catechists working in the same parish.
Thank you very much for your cooperation.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Hilary Abela
1999, ISSUE ONE
Shepherds of Christ
Shepherds of Christ Ministries
P.O. Box 193
Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193
Shepherds of Christ, a spirituality newsletter for priests, is published bi-monthly by Shepherds of Christ Ministries, P.O. Box 193, Morrow, Ohio 45152-0193. While distribution is free of charge to all priests in the U.S., and growing internationally, donations are still very much appreciated. Inquiries and comments are welcome, as are address changes and addresses of the newly ordained. Permission to reproduce intact is granted for non-commercial use. Editor Father Edward Carter S.J. is Professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. John Weickert is President. Good Shepherd illustration is by Brother Jerome Pryor, S.J. Layout and design are by Cathy Ring. Also dedicated to the spiritual advancement of priests is a worldwide network of lay/religious prayer chapters, Shepherds of Christ Associates, headquartered at 2919 Shawhan Road, Morrow, Ohio 45152, telephone toll free 1-888-211-3041, fax 513-932-6791.