On the Hireling and the Good Shepherd.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Hireling and the Good Shepherd.
Set before you the image of the good shepherd, who watches over his flock with vigilance and love. He leads them to the best pastures, goes after the wandering sheep until he finds it, takes the tired lamb upon his shoulders and carries it to the fold. Such a shepherd is Jesus Christ, loving, careful, anxious for the welfare of His sheep. He says so Himself. Listen and meditate upon His words as recorded by St. John.
1st. “I am the Good Shepherd.” (St. John x. 11.) According to St. Jerome the signs of a good shepherd are these: He clothes himself with a sheepskin, that the sheep may follow him. Besides this, he has a shepherd’s pouch, a staff and a horn. Now as Jesus is a shepherd, the Good Shepherd of men, He clothed Himself with the apparel of His sheep, He took on Himself our human nature, in order that we, His sheep, might follow Him more willingly. He also has a shepherd’s pouch, wherein are provisions for the sustenance of His flock, the holy sacraments He instituted; He also has a staff, wherewith to drive away the wolf, the evil enemy of His sheep, the devil, and that staff is His holy cross. Finally He has also a shepherd’s horn, that by its sound He may call together the lost and straying sheep and bring them back to Him, a pipe whose dulcet notes attract the flock and induce them to follow Him, and that is His sacred doctrine. Our Lord Himself points out another characteristic of the Good Shepherd: “The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” (v. 11.) Not only did He give His life for us by the death He suffered for our sakes, He did more; He gave us His life under the form of food, and by means of this He gives life to His sheep, gives His life “that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly”; that is, a life not for time only but one which passes over into a life of bliss that lasts to all eternity. Meditate, my soul, on these distinctive qualities of the Good Shepherd, behold their excellence, pray fervently, imploringly that all His sheep may follow Him, that the wandering sheep may return to Him; and ask yourself seriously whether you belong to the number of those sheep of whom our Lord says: “I know Mine and Mine know Me.” (v. 14.)
2d. Consider the contrast which the hireling presents to the Good Shepherd, in the description here given of him: “But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming and leaveth the sheep, and flieth; and the wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep.” (v. 12.) What a dreary, forbidding picture is here presented, in comparison with that of the Good Shepherd. St. Gregory says that the hireling is not concerned for the welfare of his flock, but for his own profit. Unfaithful hirelings, St. Augustine bids us observe, see the injury that is being done to a soul, but for the sake of their own temporal interests, they do not interfere to correct it. They see a man going headlong to eternal perdition, they see the wolf of hell laying in wait for him, they see all this, yet they do not cry out, they do not rebuke or punish, they flee. If only they can have the milk, the wool, the flesh of their sheep they do not trouble themselves further about them. What miserable, contemptible creatures! It is to them that St. Boniface referred when he spoke so severely, saying: “If one who is commissioned to feed the sheep of Christ’s flock, leads a godly life as far as his own person is concerned, but from diffidence or timidity shrinks from rebuking sinners, he will suffer the same damnation as those who have lost their souls through his culpable silence. What will it then profit thee to have corrected thine own faults, if thou art punished for the sins of others?” Wherefore do not be dissatisfied, but give thanks to God, if you are not placed over others as their pastor, but only have to follow as a simple sheep whither you are led. Instead of envying your pastors their position, pity them, pray for them, that they may not be lost on account of the misdeeds of their flock.
3d. Consider that it is the bounden duty of every one, without exception, to be a good shepherd. The Superior has this duty towards his underlings, the parish Priest towards his flock, the Confessor towards his penitents, the teacher towards his pupils, the master of a house towards his family, and finally every man towards his fellow men and towards his own soul.
- How do you fulfil this pastoral duty?
- Are you a good shepherd or a hireling?
- Do you leave your own soul or the souls entrusted to your charge to suffer hunger?
- To what pastures do you lead them?
- To those where the herbage is good or where poisonous plants abound?
- What do you do when the wolf approaches?
- when temptation comes?
- when occasion for sin presents itself?
- when danger threatens?
- when disorder prevails?
Ask yourself these questions to-day, for perhaps these are the very points concerning which you seldom examine your conscience. Since it is your duty to follow Christ, follow Him pre-eminently in His office of Good Shepherd, imitate Him in the love you cherish for your own immortal soul and the souls of your fellow men. Of this that eminent servant of Christ, St. Francis, offered a beautiful instance. “Nothing,” he was wont to say, “is to be preferred to the salvation of souls, because for them the Son of God vouchsafed to be nailed to the cross.” For this object he labored, he struggled, he prayed day and night; for the salvation of souls he chastised and tortured his frail body; and when begged to moderate his excessive zeal, he would reply: “I am sent to give you an example, and had I not sufficient charity to perform this duty, I should do little good to others and gain nothing myself, even if I spoke with the tongue of men and of angels.” That is what a saint says. Ask yourself, my soul, what your conduct is when your duty as a shepherd calls you to labor for the sanctification of your own soul or the souls of others.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
Copyright © 2013. Holy Cross Publications. All rights reserved.