Picture to yourself, my soul, the moment when our Lord, after His resurrection, standing in the room where the apostles were assembled, confides to them the glorious mission to the whole world, to preach the Gospel to all nations, solemnly transmitting to them the task of carrying on His work upon earth in these words: “As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you.” (St. John xx. 21.) Investing you, that is to say, with the fulness of My authority, the plenitude of My power as My representatives. A grand and glorious office indeed, but one of no slight difficulty and responsibility, as We shall proceed to see.
1st. According to His own words which He employed on an earlier occasion our Lord sends the apostles forth “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (St. Matt. xx. 16.) He sends them as the Father sent Him to the cross and suffering. The world around them still bears the stamp of sin, the wolf’s nature that loves darkness, crafty, hypocritical and insatiable in its craving for pleasure and for revenge. Yet our Lord does not send forth His peaceful, gentle messengers defenceless to become the certain prey of the fierce wolves. No; on the contrary their mission is to transform the ravening wolf into a gentle lamb by the power of the Word and the might of divine grace. Now, my soul, meditate upon and strive to realize this momentous change; behold how magnificently our Lord’s words have been fulfilled, Rome, who bore a wolf on her escutcheon. Rome, the mistress of the world, who in war and polities, in greed of conquest and love of luxury resembled nothing more strikingly than a devouring wolf, has now seen her vast earthly empire chaired by means of the apostles and their successors into a spiritual empire, a heavenly kingdom over which Peter, the pastor of the new flock, and those who succeed him in the Papal See, hold undisputed sway. Marvel at this wondrous fact, and consider the instruments by whom it was effected.
2d. This stupendous change was accomplished by sheep, for thus our Lord calls the apostles, and the name befits them well. Sheep are exceptionally patient creatures; when led to slaughter they utter not a sound; when they are attacked they do not resist; they never do any one an injury, and they take no revenge when they are persecuted and tormented.
Consider how all these characteristics may be discerned in the apostles; their whole life may be epitomized in three words: to bear, to suffer, to be silent. And these are the weapons with which they overcame the world. Take example from the apostles, learn of them, and lay to heart these golden words of St. Chrysostom:
“As long as we act like patient sheep we conquer our foes without difficulty, but as soon as we assume the nature of wolves, they conquer us, for our divine shepherd, the Lord Jesus, protects the gentle lamb but not the ferocious wolf. If thou art desirous to revenge thyself on Thy enemy with greed of vengeance and calumnious speech, thou wilt resist and impede the action of divine grace within thee.”
3d. Consider that it was not solely by lamb-like patience that the apostles overcame the world, but also by the wisdom of the serpent and the simplicity of the dove. For our Lord enjoined this upon them when He sent them forth on their mission: “Be you therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.” (St. Matt. x. 16.) The prudent serpent knows well how to escape from her enemies, and when assailed by them her chief solicitude is to protect her head; she would rather lose her tail and have her body cut in twain than expose her head to receive an injury. Thus the apostles and all who believe their teaching, and you amongst the number, ought prudently to elude the enemies of their salvation and those who seek after their life; and if it is impossible to avoid a contest, they ought rather to surrender everything, their property and possessions, even life itself, in order to preserve and hold fast the one thing of real moment, the faith and the grace of God. But in doing so they should be like doves, without treachery or deceit, without bitterness or rancor, in order that by cultivating these characteristics of the dove they may only imitate what is good in the serpent and avoid what is evil in its nature. Ask yourself, my soul, to what extent you have hitherto followed this exhortation our Lord addressed to His apostles. To-day, and on certain fixed days, offer your prayers and penances for this intention, that it may please Almighty God to give to all whom He may now send out into the world as He sent the apostles, as sheep in the midst of wolves, grace to be wise as the serpent and simple as the dove.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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