Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Good Shepherd Preserves His Church

The Scripture readings for today (16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) all focus around the Lord as our Shepherd – Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23; Eph 2:13-18; and Mk 6:30-34.

However, a closer look at these passages reveals that we are invited to more than simply seeing the Lord as our Shepherd. What Holy Mother Church is inviting us to do is meditate upon the Lord as our GOOD Shepherd, and specifically in the aspect of true doctrine.

For example, we see in Eph 2:13-18 that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who not only “preached peace” (v17); but who also shows Himself as the Good Shepherd who IS our peace (v14). How is He our peace? St. Paul tells us that Jesus is our peace because He broke down the walls of hostility by His death on the Cross (v16) – in other words, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His Life for the sheep (Jn 10:11).

In the Gospel reading, we see that Jesus the Good Shepherd concerned about the welfare of His Apostles – He desires that they take some time to “rest a while” following the preaching mission that they had just returned from (see Mk 6:7-13). But when Jesus saw the crowds who continued to seek Him, He confirmed that He truly was the Good Shepherd by ministering to the people despite His exhaustion. This was no doubt in order to exemplify to His Apostles what was expected of them as the future shepherds of His Church. What is particularly interesting about the Gospel reading is that the Lord’s ministry to the people is in the form of doctrine i.e. “He began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34).

With these things in mind, I believe that the first Scripture reading (Jer 23:1-6) contains a particularly significant truth which highlights just how good our Good Shepherd is.

Jeremiah prophesies that in contrast to the many shepherds who had led Israel astray into idolatry, God would raise up a wise and righteous Shepherd (the Lord Jesus Christ) who would lead His people into all truth (v5). In verse 4, we are told that the perpetual protection of God’s people would be assured by the fact that He would appoint other good shepherds to lead them. Jesus taught that this prophecy would be fulfilled in His Church when He taught that He would keep His Church from straying into doctrinal error (e.g. Jn 16:13-14; Matt 16:18).

Going back briefly to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – in the context of the unity of the Church (Eph 4:3-5), which includes doctrinal unity (ONE FAITH), St. Paul talks about the Church’s responsibility to maintain that unity (v3). This responsibility, however, is not without hope and insurmountable because it is accompanied by a great and precious promise – the Lord Jesus Christ would Himself give gifts to His Church (vv7-11) which St. Paul lists as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Note that the gifts referred to are gifts relating to orthodoxy (right doctrine). In keeping with the preceding context, the purpose of these gifts is to maintain the unity of the faith of the Church. For how long? St. Paul tells us in Eph 4:13 that it the gifts will remain in force until the Church is fully conformed to the image of Christ.

This means St. Paul believed and taught that true doctrine would be preserved in the Church that Jesus Christ founded until the consummation of all things at the end of time when the Lord returns in glory. St. Paul believed that with regards to doctrine, the Catholic Church would always remain infallible.

Sadly, there are many non-Catholic Christians who disagree with St. Paul on this point by believing that the Catholic Church has fallen into heresy (some would even say apostasy). However, they are willing to believe that God preserved the Scriptures as infallible (including the New Testament). What is odd about this view is that the Church preceded any of the writings of the New Testament. In their view the fallible Church produced the infallible New Testament. And more than this, it was the fallible Church which declared which writings should even be considered as Canonical Scripture in the first place. It is a logical fallacy to believe that a fallible Church infallibly created and declared the infallible Scriptures. If they are willing to believe that God, by the Holy Spirit, has preserved the Scriptures from teaching error, surely it isn’t such a leap of faith to also believe that God, by the same Spirit, has also preserved the Church from teaching error in interpreting the Scriptures. After all, who better to interpret the Scriptures than Holy Mother Church who gave us the Scriptures in the first place?

This makes even more sense when we further consider that Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church; and if this be the case, then we can safely assume that He will also lead His Body into all truth (just as He promised).

As we meditate on the Liturgy of the Word today, may we be ever thankful to our Good Shepherd that He has given us the assurance of infallibility in the Holy Catholic Church so that we “need no longer fear and tremble” (Jer 23:4), being “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14). Rather, let us always listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd as He speaks through His Holy Catholic Church, so that we may become conformed to Him.

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