Friday, June 11, 2010

A Meditation on the Good Shepherd

As you know, today, Friday, June 11, 2010, the Pope concelebrated Mass on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the conclusion of the Year for Priests.

There were over 15,000 priests in St Peters Square. It is thought that this is the largest number of priests who have ever concelebrated.

Reporting of the occasion has been overshadowed by the Pope tendering a further apology and declaration of sorrow in regard to the priests` "pedophilia scandal"

His homily is reported in full in Sandro Magister

It is well worth reading in its entirety

The homily is not all about the pedophilia scandal.

Those parts of his speech can be commented on by others.

Important that those sections of the speech may be, the Pope touched on many more topics in is homily. In all it is an important meditation on the role of the priesthood.

Included in the homily there is an extended meditation by the Pope on Psalm 23.

The psalm is popular and well-known. Perhaps through over-familiarity we do not really appreciate its significance. The Pope attempted to remedy this in a homily which appeared to be ex tempore at times.

He described the Psalm as "[t]he most important of those texts in today’s liturgy ... in which Israel at prayer received God’s self revelation as shepherd, and made this the guide of its own life."

Here are the relevant sections of the homily:

"The most important of those texts in today’s liturgy is Psalm 23 (22) – “The Lord is my shepherd” – in which Israel at prayer received God’s selfrevelation as shepherd, and made this the guide of its own life.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”: this first verse expresses joy and gratitude for the fact that God is present to and concerned for humanity.

The reading from the Book of Ezechiel begins with the same theme: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep” (Ez 34:11).

God personally looks after me, after us, after all mankind.

I am not abandoned, adrift in the universe and in a society which leaves me ever more lost and bewildered.

God looks after me. He is not a distant God, for whom my life is worthless.

The world’s religions, as far as we can see, have always known that in the end there is only one God. But this God was distant. Evidently he had abandoned the world to other powers and forces, to other divinities. It was with these that one had to deal.

The one God was good, yet aloof. He was not dangerous, nor was he very helpful. Consequently one didn’t need to worry about him. He did not lord it over us. Oddly, this kind of thinking re-emerged during the Enlightenment.

There was still a recognition that the world presupposes a Creator. Yet this God, after making the world, had evidently withdrawn from it. The world itself had a certain set of laws by which it ran, and God did not, could not, intervene in them. God was only a remote cause. Many perhaps did not even want God to look after them. They did not want God to get in the way.

But wherever God’s loving concern is perceived as getting in the way, human beings go awry.

It is fine and consoling to know that there is someone who loves me and looks after me. But it is far more important that there is a God who knows me, loves me and is concerned about me."

After digressing on “I know my own and my own know me” (Jn 10:14), he continued:

"Let us return to our Psalm.

There we read: “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me” (23 [22]:3ff.).

The shepherd points out the right path to those entrusted to him. He goes before them and leads them. Let us put it differently: the Lord shows us the right way to be human. He teaches us the art of being a person. What must I do in order not to fall, not to squander my life in meaninglessness?

This is precisely the question which every man and woman must ask and one which remains valid at every moment of one’s life. How much darkness surrounds this question in our own day!

We are constantly reminded of the words of Jesus, who felt compassion for the crowds because they were like a flock without a shepherd.

Lord, have mercy on us too! Show us the way! From the Gospel we know this much: he is himself the way. Living with Christ, following him – this means finding the right way, so that our lives can be meaningful and so that one day we might say: “Yes, it was good to have lived”.

The people of Israel continue to be grateful to God because in the Commandments he pointed out the way of life.

The great Psalm 119 (118) is a unique expression of joy for this fact: we are not fumbling in the dark. God has shown us the way and how to walk aright. The message of the Commandments was synthesized in the life of Jesus and became a living model.

Thus we understand that these rules from God are not chains, but the way which he is pointing out to us. We can be glad for them and rejoice that in Christ they stand before us as a lived reality. He himself has made us glad.

By walking with Christ, we experience the joy of Revelation, and as priests we need to communicate to others our own joy at the fact that we have been shown the right way."

He continued:

"Then there is the phrase about the “darkest valley” through which the Lord leads us. Our path as individuals will one day lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where no one can accompany us.

Yet he will be there.

Christ himself descended into the dark night of death. Even there he will not abandon us. Even there he will lead us. “If I sink to the nether world, you are present there”, says Psalm 139 (138).

Truly you are there, even in the throes of death, and hence our Responsorial Psalm can say: even there, in the darkest valley, I fear no evil.

When speaking of the darkest valley, we can also think of the dark valleys of temptation, discouragement and trial through which everyone has to pass.

Even in these dark valleys of life he is there. Lord, in the darkness of temptation, at the hour of dusk when all light seems to have died away, show me that you are there.

Help us priests, so that we can remain beside the persons entrusted to us in these dark nights. So that we can show them your own light."

He went on:

"“Your rod and your staff – they comfort me”: the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings.

Both of these are likewise part of the Church’s ministry, of the priest’s ministry.

The Church too must use the shepherd’s rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love.

Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented.

As if it were no longer God’s gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd’s staff – a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord."

He concluded his meditation on the Psalm thus:

"At the end of the Psalm we read of the table which is set, the oil which anoints the head, the cup which overflows, and dwelling in the house of the Lord.

In the Psalm this is an expression first and foremost of the prospect of the festal joy of being in God’s presence in the temple, of being his guest, whom he himself serves, of dwelling with him.

For us, who pray this Psalm with Christ and his Body which is the Church, this prospect of hope takes on even greater breadth and depth.

We see in these words a kind of prophetic foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist, in which God himself makes us his guests and offers himself to us as food –as that bread and fine wine which alone can definitively sate man’s hunger and thirst.

How can we not rejoice that one day we will be guests at the very table of God and live in his dwelling-place? How can we not rejoice at the fact that he has commanded us: “Do this in memory of me”?

How can we not rejoice that he has enabled us to set God’s table for men and women, to give them his Body and his Blood, to offer them the precious gift of his very presence.

Truly we can pray together, with all our heart, the words of the Psalm:
“Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Ps 23 [22]:6).""