Sunday, April 29, 2012

One Fold; One Shepherd

In our journey to the Catholic Church our family had been through five Christian denominational changes before entering the Catholic Church. And in this process, we hadn’t even begun to touch the tip of the iceberg that is the crisis of disunity in Christianity – particularly in Protestant Christianity. And that’s because there are more than 30,000 different Protestant denominations in existence [which is probably a conservative number given that splits and divisions continue to occur within Protestantism].

The antidote to this poison of division of that exists within Christianity today can be found in the Gospel reading for today (4th Sunday of Easter, Year B):

                Jesus said:
                "I am the good shepherd.
                A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
                A hired man, who is not a shepherd
                and whose sheep are not his own,
                sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
                and the wolf catches and scatters them.
                This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the

                sheep. I am the good shepherd,
                and I know mine and mine know me,
                just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
                and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
                I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
                These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
                and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
                This is why the Father loves me,
                because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
                No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
                I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
                This command I have received from my Father." (Jn 10:11-18)

In the middle of this passage Jesus tells His disciples that part of His mission as the Good Shepherd was to lead the “sheep that do not belong to this fold” into His flock. This is a reference to the Gentiles, who up until this point were not included as part of God’s covenant people – Israel. Elsewhere in the New Testament, St. Paul tells us that in Christ the wall of division that existed between Jew and Gentile was torn down; and so in Him, we are ALL part of the one true Israel of God – the Church (see Gal 6:16).
What is interesting to note here is that Jesus makes reference to only ONE flock; and to emphasise the point, He ties this aspect of unity with His very own Person – “there will be ONE flock, ONE shepherd”. In putting it this way, Jesus is telling us that His flock is inseparably connected with Himself – a theme that St. Paul picks up on when He refers to the Church as nothing less than the Body of Christ.
But what does this unity entail? Is it some kind of abstract thought that only exists ethereally in the vacuum of a pipe dream? Not at all! Echoing our Lord’s words that there is only ONE shepherd, St. Paul tells us that there is only ONE Lord. For St. Paul, the fact that there is only one Lord logically means that there is only ONE faith, and only ONE baptism (Eph 4:5). Based on this fact alone, it is evident that what the Protestant Reformation gave birth to is far from what the Lord Jesus Christ established when He established His Church.
Rather, in establishing His Church, Jesus ordained Twelve Apostles as the fulfilment of the heads of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (cf. Rev21:12, 14). As part of this process He gave St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 16:18-19) and in doing so bestowed upon him the authority to act as the Prime Minister of the King of kings (Isa 22:22) – aka the Vicar of Christ. Moreover, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus appointed St. Peter as His chief shepherd when He entrusted him with the threefold commission to feed His sheep (Jn 21:15-17).
So, just as Jesus linked the unity of His Church with His own Person; so too He linked St. Peter’s authority with His own authority. So, when Jesus said that His sheep would know Him and hear His voice, part of what this means is that Christ’s sheep would faithfully follow St. Peter, and with him the college of Apostles, as the ones to whom He imparted His authority on earth.  Our Lord emphasised this elsewhere when He said “Whoever listens to you, listens to me” (Lk 10:16). This Apostolic authority would be passed on to the successors of the Apostles (i.e. the Bishops) by virtue of the nature of the Apostolic office and the continuing mission of the Church on earth.
This unity of the sheepfold that Jesus talks about is evident only in the Catholic Church. And as Catholics, it is our duty (as St. Paul tells us in Eph 4:3) to maintain the unity that has already been established by Christ. We don’t do this in our own strength. Rather, we do it in the strength and grace that Christ gives us through the Sacraments.
This is something else that Jesus alludes to in the Gospel reading when He tells us that He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His Life for the sheep. If you read the passage again, you may note that it is through the laying down of His life that He will bring all the sheep into the one fold. This is an obvious reference to Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary. But Christ’s Sacrifice was not just an event that occurred 2,000 years ago. It is also an event that is made present to us every single time the Eucharist is celebrated. When we come together for Holy Mass, we are not only remembering what Jesus did for us 2,000 years ago – we are participating in something far greater than that. What we are taking part in is God making present for us today the once-for-all Sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And when we receive our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, we are brought more and more into union with Him and with each other.
So, what is the antidote for the divisions that constantly seek to threaten Christianity? It is nothing less than the Lord Jesus Christ, the One Shepherd, who gives Himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament celebrated through the ministry of His Holy Catholic Church. With this in mind, may we never cease to give thanks to our Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep and feeds us with His Precious Body and Blood so that we can be ONE with Him, and share in His Divine Life.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful Justin,
    Thank you!