The Shepherd Of My Soul
By Rev. Charles J. Callan
Of the Order of Preachers
John Murphy Company, Publishers
100 W. Lombard St.
Printers to the Holy See
Psalm of the Good Shepherd Introduction. I. Christ the Good Shepherd. II. Shepherd Life in the Orient. III. The Lord Is My Shepherd, I Shall Not Want. IV. He Maketh Me to Lie Down in Pastures of Tender Grass; He Leadeth Me Beside the Waters of Quietness. V. He Restoreth My Soul. VI. He Leadeth Me in the Paths of Justice for His Name's Sake. VII. Yea, Though I Walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I Will Fear no Evil, for Thou Art With Me. VIII. Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me. IX. Thou Spreadest Before Me a Table in the Presence of Mine Enemies. X. Thou Anointest My Head With Oil; My Cup Runneth Over. XI. Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me All the Days of My Life; and I Shall Dwell in the House of the Lord Unto Length of Days. Footnotes
M. A. WALDRON, O. P. S. T. M.
J. A. McHUGH, O. P. S. T. Lr.
J. R. MEAGHER, O. P. S. T. Lr.
+ J. CARD. GIBBONS.
PSALM OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in pastures of tender grass.
He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of justice for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou spreadest before me a table in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.
No types more beautiful could have been chosen under which to picture the character of our Lord and the souls He came to redeem than those of a shepherd and his flock. As nothing on earth could more fitly illustrate the infinite love and sacrifice of the Saviour than the enduring labors and tenderness of a shepherd, so nothing here below could better portray the multiple wants of our spirits than the needful dependent nature of sheep. After the knowledge we possess of our Redeemer, only a slight acquaintance with the characteristics of pastoral life, as it exists in oriental countries, is needed to discern the charming fitness of these comparisons. The similarity is at once striking and most easily understood. Hence it is that our Lord, as well as those who described Him before He came, so often appealed to shepherd life when speaking of the Messiah's mission; hence, also, it is that He was so fond of calling Himself the Good Shepherd, and of alluding to the souls He loved as His sheep.
It is the purpose of the pages that follow to trace some of these beautiful and touching resemblances of the shepherd and his flock, on the one side, roaming over the hills and plains of Palestine, and the Saviour of the World with the souls of men, on the other, pursuing together the journey of life. We have taken as our guide, in noting these charming likenesses, the Twenty-second Psalm, or the Psalm of the Good Shepherd, every verse of which recalls some feature or features of pastoral life, and sings of the offices, tender and varied, which the shepherd discharges towards his flock.
As this shepherd song was composed and written in the Hebrew tongue, the language of ancient Palestine, we have employed here a literal translation from the original language, simply because it expresses much more beautifully and more exactly than does any rendering from the Latin or Greek the various marks and characteristics of the shepherd's life and duties. The oriental languages, like the people who speak them, are exceedingly figurative and poetic in their modes of expression; and hence, for our present purpose, it is only by getting back as closely as we can to the original that we are able adequately to appreciate the beauty and poetry of that simple but charming life about which the Psalmist is singing.
Although the Shepherd Psalm refers, in its literal sense, to the human shepherd attending and providing for his sheep, it has also another higher meaning, which its author gave it, and this has reference to Christ in His relations with the souls He has made and redeemed. It is by reflecting on this sense of the psalm, and on all His gracious dealings with us, that we are enabled to realize how rightly and justly our Saviour is called the Shepherd of Our Souls, and how beautifully the Psalmist, in the shepherd song, has depicted His relations with us. And how important this is! how much it means for our spiritual welfare and spiritual advancement to reflect on the many mercies of Christ and on the love He bears each one of us! If the considerations that follow assist their readers to appreciate more fully and love more ardently the Divine Shepherd of Souls, who daily and constantly throughout our lives is ministering to our spiritual needs and trying to further our eternal interests, the desire and aim which prompted their writing will be fully and perfectly realized.
I. CHRIST THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
It was announced by the prophets of old that the Messiah, who was to come, should bear the character of a good shepherd. He was to be a shepherd, and His followers, the faithful souls that should believe in Him and accept His teaching, were to be His sheep. It was foretold that He would select and purchase His flock; that He would choose them from out the vast multitudes of their kind and gather them into His fold, that He would provide for them and guard them against every evil; that He would lead them out to green pastures and refresh them with the waters of rest. "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd," sang the Prophet Isaias; "he shall gather together the lambs with his arms, and shall take them up in his bosom, and he himself shall carry them that are with young."(1) In like manner did Jeremias, referring to the comforting advent of Christ, liken the offices which the Saviour would perform towards His people to those of shepherds towards their flocks. "I will set up pastors over them," said the Prophet, speaking in the name of Jehovah, "and they shall feed them; they shall fear no more, and they shall not be dismayed; and none shall be wanting of their number.... Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch; and a king shall reign, and shall be wise, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth."(2) The Prophet Ezechiel also prophetically portrayed the Saviour's character when he pictured Him in the capacity of a shepherd visiting and feeding his sheep: "For thus saith the Lord God: Behold I myself will seek my sheep, and I will visit them. As the shepherd visiteth his flock in the day when he shall be in the midst of his sheep that were scattered, so will I visit my sheep, and I will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd."(3)
And when at length the Saviour did appear in the world, He declared, not only by His life and example, but in explicit terms, that He was the fulfilment of these prophecies—that He was, in truth, the Good Shepherd, and that His followers were the sheep of His fold. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John we have His own words to this effect. There He tells us plainly that He has not come as a thief and a robber, to steal, to kill, and to destroy; that He is not a stranger, at the sound of whose voice the sheep are terrified and flee away; that He is not a hireling, who cares not for the sheep, and who, beholding the approach of the wolf and the enemy, fleeth and leaveth the sheep to be snatched and scattered and torn. The Saviour is not any of these, nor like unto them. He is the Good Shepherd who enters the sheepfold by the door, and not as the thief and robber who climb up some other way. To Him the porter openeth, and He calleth His sheep, and they know His voice and follow Him, and He leadeth them out to pasture, to rest, and to abundant life. Nor is this all, for He protects and guards His sheep. By day and by night He is ever near them: when circling the green plains, or beside the still waters, or when asleep beneath the silent stars, the sheep are protected by their Shepherd. Faithfully He watches His dependent flock; and at the end, as a proof of His love and fidelity, He generously lays down His life for His sheep.
II. SHEPHERD LIFE IN THE ORIENT.
We cannot appreciate the beauty of this picture of our Saviour under the symbol of a shepherd, nor can we later understand the detailed description which is given of Him through the spiritual meaning of the Good Shepherd Psalm without first taking into account some of the features of pastoral life as it prevails in eastern countries. For us of the western world it is difficult, and at times next to impossible, to represent to ourselves the life and customs of the Orient; and in particular do we find it hard to picture to our minds and to understand the simple poetry of that shepherd life for which Palestine has always been known. Time has little changed the scene of the Saviour's earthly labors. The people, their manners and customs, their life and occupations, remain much the same now as when the land was graced by His sacred presence. Thus today, as in those olden times, all the level country east of the river Jordan, as well as the mountains of Palestine and Syria, serves as vast pasture lands for innumerable flocks and herds. The country throughout is essentially pastoral in its character, and the care and raising of sheep constitute the chief industry of the people. From sheep the people are furnished with nearly all the necessaries of life—with meat, clothing, milk, butter, and cheese.
The care of sheep is a delicate and, in many ways, a difficult task. Not that they are froward or hard to manage, for of all animals they are the most tender and gentle; nor again, that they need abundant nourishment in the way of food and drink, since they require water but once a day, and can maintain life and strength on a plain which, to the naked eye, seems little more than a barren waste of sand. But because, in other respects, they are exceedingly timid and helpless creatures, especially in times and places of danger, the burdens which their welfare and safety impose upon the shepherd, while paternal and winning, are, nevertheless, arduous and manifold. There are the changes and hardships of the climate—the cold and frost in winter, and the heat and drought of summer; there are the long rough walks, the steep and dangerous passes which they must climb and descend; there are perils from robbers, from wolves and wild beasts, which not infrequently demand the shepherd's utmost watchfulness and care. The oriental climate is such that they can graze nearly the whole year through; and whether they be grazing on the wide open plains, or huddled snugly within the sheepfold, it pertains to the shepherd to provide for their varied needs. His vigilance can never cease. He must lead them out to pasture and to water, he must guide and protect them, he must gather them into the fold at night or into caves and enclosures, at times, during the day, to shield them from great danger, whether from enemies or violent weather; and upon all occasions he must be prepared to defend them, even at the risk of his own life.
The folds or sheep pens, it must be observed, into which the sheep are gathered for rest or protection are not roofed over or walled in like a house. They are enclosures left open to the sky, and consisting simply of a high wall of rough stone, to protect the sheep from the attacks of wild beasts, and from prowling marauders who threaten their safety by night. It often happens that several flocks, belonging to different shepherds, will graze on the same pastures during the day, and will be penned in the same sheepfold at night. While the sheep are sleeping, and the shepherds near by are taking their needed rest, the door of the fold is carefully locked, and another shepherd or porter is left on guard, lest perchance a hungry bear or wolf might scale the wall and destroy some member or members of the sleeping herds. Early in the morning the shepherds come in turn and rap at the door, and to each the porter opens. Then each shepherd calls his flock by name; and they, knowing his voice, follow him, and he leads them out to their pastures. There is never any confusion, for each flock knows its own shepherd and obeys him alone. Other shepherds they will not heed; and from the voice of strangers they flee.
It is a beautiful scene to see a shepherd with his flock. First, we must remember that he never drives them, but leads them; and they follow him with instinctive love and trust whithersoever he goes. He usually carries a rod and a staff: the latter he uses, when need be, to assist the sheep along dangerous paths and narrow passages; the former, to protect and defend them, if assailed by enemies or beasts of prey. Another evidence of their implicit love of their shepherd and trust in his goodness, as also of their obedience to his voice and commands, is beautifully manifest when several flocks are led to drink at the same stream or well. Although the sheep need to drink but once a day, the shepherds never forget, throughout the day's roaming, that they must lead their flock to water. And as the drinking places in Palestine are comparatively few, it often happens that several herds, whether from the same or neighboring pastures, will arrive simultaneously at the same spring. But here again, there is neither trouble nor confusion. When they have drawn near to the place of water each shepherd gives a sign to his flock, and obedient to his voice, the respective flocks lie down and patiently wait their turn to drink. The troughs are then filled with the refreshing water, and when all is ready a shepherd calls and his flock at once rises and comes forward to drink. The sheep being satisfied, the shepherd gives another sign, and they promptly return to their previous place of rest, or move quietly away to their pasture, as the shepherd may direct. Another flock is then called up, watered and led away, and so on, in like manner, till all have been duly satisfied.
With this passing glance at shepherd life, we can better understand and better appreciate the likeness between the character of the Saviour and that of the good shepherd. We can see how apt it was that our Redeemer should choose a shepherd, with his multiple and tender cares and duties, to illustrate His own watchfulness and loving kindness towards the many wants and needs of our souls. For we are, indeed, His sheep. He has called us, we have heard and understood His voice, and He has gathered us into His flock and fold. He has literally vindicated for Himself in our regard all the attributes and qualities of the good shepherd, so far as described, and as still further depicted in every verse of the Twenty-second Psalm. This is called the Psalm of the Good Shepherd, because in it the Psalmist, under the symbol of a shepherd, prophetically foretold the character of the Messiah, our Saviour. The psalm has, therefore, a twofold meaning: in its literal sense it deals with the faithful shepherd, ranging with his flock over mountains and plains, and providing for their every want; and in its spiritual and prophetic meaning it relates to our Creator and Saviour, caring for our spiritual necessities. Let us see how this is; and that we may better perceive the application in detail, let us take this shepherd song, part by part, and see how beautifully it describes the whole person of Christ as God, and in His capacity as Redeemer—in all His tender relations with us, and towards the various needs of our souls.
III. THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT WANT.
How full of meaning and how comprehensive are these simple yet beautiful words which introduce the Good Shepherd Psalm! They at once sum up the whole round of the shepherd's life—his duties, his solicitude, his ceaseless care of his sheep. But here, be it noted, in this opening verse, the reference, so direct and unmistakable, is not to an earthly shepherd; it is to the benign and constant Providence of Jehovah towards His children, to the untiring love of God, our Father and Saviour, for the souls He has created and redeemed. The Psalmist is looking back, in grateful remembrance, upon the history of his race, and upon his own life in particular, and he traces there at every step the goodness and watchfulness of his Creator. He sees there has never been any want. Dark days at times have come upon his nation, sufferings and trials there have been; and in these, as in other respects, his own individual experience has mirrored the history of his people; but throughout it all there has never been any lasting want. As the shepherd is ever near his sheep, whether at peace or in trouble, to provide for their needs, so, sings the Psalmist in gratitude, has God been near him and his people. And his confidence is unshaken; that which has been in the past will be in the future; as sheep put their trust in their shepherd, so will he put his trust in his Lord and God. Nor is this gratitude for past favors and this unshaken trust for the future to be restricted to the Psalmist alone; his words had meaning not only for himself; he knows the same Providence provides for us all, and therefore he would have his words find an echo in the hearts and sentiments of all.
The Lord is my shepherd; He ruleth me with the rod of gentleness. I am His creation, He has bought me with a great price, He has set me a divine example and taught me the way to life. There may be times of distress for me, brief periods of temporal need; but surely, since I am the possession of my God, and He is providing for me, nothing can long be wanting to me—permanent want there can never be.
The Lord ruleth me, and all my kind, as a shepherd ruleth his flock. What a consoling thought to each one of us, if only we be faithful souls! How unspeakable the thought, how surpassing the privilege to know and to be assured that we belong to God! that out of countless millions of creatures, far nobler than we, to whom He might have given the joy of life, He has chosen to select us; to think that He has allotted to us a short period of existence here below, during which it is our privilege to be able to merit and draw near to Him for eternity; and that after this, our little time of trial, we are to reign with Him in everlasting glory! Of a certainty we are a favored people and a royal race, for we belong to God. He has purchased our souls by creating us, He has come down from Heaven to redeem and buy us back from the enemy to whom our race in folly had surrendered itself, He has borne our sorrows and our sufferings to make amends for us and to teach us the way to life, and finally He has given His own life for our salvation.
Since, then, God has created us, it follows that He must have had us in His mind from everlasting, because nothing that is, or can be, is unforeseen by Him. From the remotest dawn of eternity, therefore; from the very beginning of the eternal years, He saw us as He sees us now, clearly, distinctly, lovingly. We did not exist from eternity as we do now, but we were present to God before we were to ourselves, He saw us mirrored in Himself. And when, in time, He called our race into being and endowed it with life, we know what happened. This human nature of ours which He had loved from eternity, and favored in time with existence, turned its back upon its God and strayed away to sin and death. This was the disobedience of our first parents, and in their sin we all have shared, for the very reason that they were our parents and responsible for us as well as for themselves. We became a ruined race, deserving punishment, fit for perdition; and yet God did not give us up. He followed after us, as it were; He pursued us, as a shepherd pursues his chosen flock, until finally He led us back to His fold, and to pastures of rest and plenty.
It was not enough for God's goodness to give us the gift of life, and to endow us with understanding, will, and freedom; it did not satisfy His bountifulness to make our life fair here on earth, and to enable us to reap much of the joys and pleasures with which even this world abounds—no, far more than all this has He wished and prepared for His elect, for the souls who belong to His flock. It was nothing less than Himself, Heaven and its rewards, that the eternal Father had in store for us when He called us into being. In order, therefore, that we should not lose our destined crowns through the guilt and wounds of original sin, He provided for us a remedy, He sent us a Saviour, who was His only son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now since it is to Christ, the Saviour, that the spiritual meaning of the Shepherd Psalm refers in a particular manner, it is in Him especially, and in His earthly life, that we discern and find fulfilled the chiefest qualities of the good shepherd. As God, we see, He has, indeed, been our shepherd from the beginning, creating and endowing our nature, and providing for us unnumbered benefits, temporal and eternal. But it is in His human nature, in His character as God and man, that He draws nearest to us and proves unto us in ways most gracious that He is, in truth, our loving Master and the Shepherd of our souls. Marvelous, assuredly, has been the goodness of God to create us at all; and still more marvelous that He should have destined us for a participation in His own eternal blessedness; but in no way has the heavenly Father so stooped to us, in no way has He so manifested His utter condescension towards us, as in the abasement of His Only-begotten Son, "who, being in the form of God, emptied himself, taking the form of a servant."(4) For let us reflect that to raise our race from its fallen state and restore it to the divine good-pleasure, it was not necessary that the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity should have come down to earth. Such extraordinary means were not of necessity to bring us back to Heaven's smile and favor. As by a simple act of His omnipotent will God had called the world and us and all that is out of nothingness in the beginning, so again by a single wish of the same divine will He could have restored us, from a condition of bondage and sin, to the realms of grace and peace. And even when the Son of God did condescend, in accordance with the will of His Father, to clothe Himself with our nature and visit our blighted sphere, how simple, really, He could have made our redemption! How easily could He have blotted out the handwriting that was against us, and presented our tearful world, all smiling and glad, to the arms of His eternal Father! Yes, Christ could have made our redemption easy. He could have paid our debt to God in a thousand different, simple ways, had He wished it so. One drop of His precious blood, one tear of His eye, one sigh of the Sacred Heart would have sufficed to redeem innumerable worlds like ours.
But the Saviour wished it otherwise. He was our Shepherd and He loved us, His deceived and wounded sheep. He was with the Father when we were planned and made. He it was, in truth, who made us, for He and the Father are one.(5) He, therefore, knew our nature, since He designed and gave it to us. He foresaw our yearnings and aspirations; He knew the sublime, transcendent possibilities of which, with His help and divine example, we are capable; He understood the heights of love and worship to which the human heart can ascend, when assisted from on high, and hence to awaken and kindle on earth these all-consuming fires;(6) to stir the very depths of our souls, and elevate and perfect our gifted nature; to afford us the utmost inspiration to climb with Him the heights of Heaven. He stooped to our own estate, in all things made like unto us, except, indeed, our proneness and ability to sin. Since He loved us, He longed to be like us, in as far as that was possible, and not even our sin-stained, wounded nature could stay the force of His love.
There is another reason for the mysterious manner of our redemption, a further explanation of the extreme condescension on the part of our Lord towards the frail creatures whom He came to save. Had he come to us in a foreign attire, with a nature unlike our own, would it not have been difficult for us to approach Him, and to put our confidence and trust in Him? If He had appeared like an angel, all bright and dazzling with glory, if He had come as an earthly king and ruler, crowned and clad in regal splendor, would it not have been hard for the poor ones of earth? would it not have been a trial for those who were in need of a shepherd's love and care? Already sorely oppressed and trodden down by worldly pomp and power, they could only have tried to shun His notice and draw back from Him with feelings of fear and awe. But our Redeemer came not only to save, but also to teach and to lead the way to life. As a shepherd He was not to drive, but to lead His sheep; He does not point the direction, but goes before His flock, and they follow Him, and He leads them out to living pastures and to bright, sparkling, far-off waters.
Because He was God, as well as man, Christ knew that, as a result of our sinful state, we should have to pass our earthly sojourn forever beneath the shadow of the cross. When sin entered into the world by the disobedience of the first man, the handiwork of the Creator was despoiled. That which before had been a paradise of pleasure, replete with all delights, was wrecked and ruined, and became a place of sorrow, suffering and death. Thenceforth, pursuant to the divine decree, the lot of man was to labor, to suffer, and to die.(7) Knowing, therefore, that this was to be our portion, the Shepherd-Saviour of our souls must also teach us the secret of pain and toil, and help us to bear our cross.
According, then, to our present state, suffering and sorrow are inseparable from us, because we are born into the world with sin upon our souls, and in the wake of sin follow all the evils to which the world is heir. And, moreover, under existing conditions, it is necessary for our future happiness that our earthly life be largely spent amidst toil and pain and tears. It is only through these that we shall be able to atone for the injuries sin has done, and hold in check the disorders of our nature. The cross is before us and we cannot escape it. It is ready for us when we enter the world, it follows us throughout the length of our days, and finally bears us down in death to our graves. This does not mean that life on earth is entirely made up of pain and sorrow, for the divine mercy has mitigated even the stroke of sin, and has caused the world, in spite of all its wounds, to bloom with many delights. Nevertheless, our sojourn here below shall always be fraught with diverse ills, and we at last must yield to death. In spite of all the world can afford us, in spite of its pleasures and joys, its sunshine and pleasing pastimes, real, though fitful and fast-flying as they are; in spite of health and wealth and fame and honor; in spite of all the goods that life contains, it still is ever true that we live in a region of tears, and that death and sorrow are sure to follow upon the footsteps of joy and mirth. It must be so, for the stains of sin are indelibly upon the world; and not until the final renovation comes can life on earth be made entirely happy.
All this our Saviour knew when He chose our human nature and embraced a life of labor and sorrow. His divine foreknowledge took in our lives, and the lives of all our kind, until the end of all shall be. Our infant tears, our trials and pains of body, the ceaseless pangs of mind and heart that pursue us throughout life, were all before Him as in a mirror, and He must needs instruct and assist us to fight this battle and walk this way of earth, lest all should perish before the journey's end. Since we were to suffer, then He would suffer also; since our lives were to be amidst labors and trials, then He would labor and travail also; since we were to feel the sting of pain, be subject to heat and cold, be in want, in poverty, and in distress, be misunderstood, be thwarted, be cast down from our highest hopes, and broken, at times, in every cheerful prospect—since these and other countless ills were to be woven in our web of earthly life, He, the divine Master, who came to save, to teach a lesson, to suffer and die, would assume a body so sacred, so delicate, so pure and sensitive that, when exposed to the rough and ruthless ways of life, He could truly cry out from the depths of His anguish: "O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow!"(8)
How comforting, then, it is for us to feel that we are not alone in suffering, and to know that, while all we suffer is but just and due to our sinful state, we can nevertheless make use of all our ills to attain to joys unending in Heaven! If we must toil and struggle while on earth, it is because these things are a result of our state; if we must be subject to sickness, to weakness and fatigue, to cold and hunger, to weariness and pain, it is not because God is pleased at the misery of His creatures; neither does He rejoice on account of our misfortune. We are simply reaping the harvest of sin and transgression, and sin is the work of our own free choice and that of our ancestors. And even though it be objected that we are born into this inevitable condition, and are made the unconsulted heirs of a heritage we loathe but cannot escape, the solution of our difficulty is not far to seek. We need but hearken to the promptings of reason, and lift our sorrowing eyes to the realms of faith to be convinced that God's mercy and goodness are above all His works,(9) and that for reasons not less benevolent than holy He has called us into life and permitted all our woes. God could not have created us for suffering and punishment, because He is infinite goodness; He cannot be pleased at our misfortunes, since He Himself has borne our sorrows and carried all our pains.(10) If He Himself had not come into the world in visible human form; if He had not explained our purpose and destiny, and led the way to Heaven; if He had not, by His words and divine example, provided us with the solution for all life's difficulties, then, in truth, we might object, and sit and grieve and wonder. But in the light of the life of Christ all this is altered; the picture takes on a different coloring. Who now can rail at the crosses of life and think of the sufferings of Christ? Who can murmur at the injustice of pain, and remember the passion of Jesus? Who can say that God is deaf to our pleading and unmoved at our tears, and look upon the Saviour dying? Who can believe that our lives are of little worth, or of no account with the Almighty, and recall the price that was paid for our souls and ponder the death of our God?
Thus it is with a bountiful goodness that the Saviour has purchased His sheep. By His own free choice, by a life of suffering entirely voluntary, endured for our salvation and instruction, through a bitter, but willing agony and death, He has provided the means to free us from sin, and has bequeathed to us every blessing. Now we can truly say: the Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not want. If only we can look into that divine life which has been given as our model, if only we can ponder it, and read in it the lessons, the hopes, the inspirations it contains for us, we shall not be weary of our burdens and cares, we shall not falter in any of life's battles. Rather, rejoicing at our opportunities, eternal as they are, and with feelings of exultant gratitude over our condition, as heirs with Christ to the kingdom of Heaven,(11) we shall bravely welcome all the conflicts of life, being assured with St. Paul that "that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory."(12)
IV. HE MAKETH ME TO LIE DOWN IN PASTURES OF TENDER GRASS; HE LEADETH ME BESIDE THE WATERS OF QUIETNESS.
Our attention is now directed to a particular phase of the shepherd's life, and here we see some of the ways in which he actually provides for his sheep day by day. For it is not enough that the shepherd has purchased his flock, by means however difficult and labors however loving; it is not sufficient that he have procured for them, in a general manner, all that they need for their life and safety, he must also arrange for their daily care and provide for their separate wants. Sheep, as we know, are delicate creatures, and they must be directed in their roamings, and sustained by sufficient nourishment. Accordingly, we have said that it belongs to the duties of a good shepherd to lead them out to pasture, and to provide for them every day adequate food and drink.
Here again we behold the infinite kindness of the Shepherd of our souls. Not alone has He deigned to stoop to our fallen state and restore us from death to life, not only did He take upon Himself our infirmities and bear our woes, but tenderly also has He provided for our constant direction, and for the daily needs of our lives.
The level to which the Saviour raised our lives and the dignity to which He invites us are far, indeed, above our natural powers. Left to ourselves, we could never attain the heavenly heights to which, in His goodness, He has called us. Through the infinite merits of His life and sacrifice we have been redeemed and reclaimed from the enemy of our souls; the gates of Heaven, closed against us before, have been opened wide; and our wayward race is again restored to the road that leads to our immortal home. But just because our celestial destiny is of so high and sublime a character, it is impossible, if left to our own abilities, that we should be able long to pursue it, and vastly beyond our sublimest hopes that we should ever finally attain it. We have, it is true, ever before us, the life and example of Him who has saved us; we know that His cross and death have delivered us from the wrath that frowned upon us. But we are weak and fragile mortals. With respect to things of the higher life—of the supernatural world—we, of ourselves, shall always remain as helpless and frail as infants. Not less unable is the babe of yesterday to traverse unaided and explore the material world, than the wisest of men would be to know and grasp by his natural powers the unrevealed good of the immortal human spirit. And as, in our natural state, we could not know the true end of our existence, without a divine revelation, so likewise, we could not pursue and attain our spiritual destiny without special assistance from on high.
How well all this was known to our kind and kingly Shepherd! How keenly did He appreciate our frailty and inability to walk alone the paths which He had trodden! Not unmindful, therefore, was He constantly to teach and direct the way which leads to unending life. When going before his flock and teaching them by force of example, He did not omit to give them that saving doctrine which, when He had disappeared, would be their guide, and the guide to their future shepherds in the direction of safety and truth. Hence He propounded a teaching which should be to its obedient followers a realization at once of all He had promised them, and of all their heart's desires. Not that it would make them rich or great in the eyes of the world and according to human standards, but that it would confer a truer and a higher greatness by lifting them above their weak and natural level and preparing them for eternal blessedness.
Men had the Law before the coming of Christ; they knew the ten commandments. But the state to which the God-man called them, and the eminence to which they were raised, were quite beyond anything the world till then had ever been able to conceive. Human nature, under the New Covenant, was invited to attain to perfection. Things which before were thought impossible, were now to be the objects of our daily strivings. It was no longer an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; now not only was good to be done to those who were good to us, but to those also who did us evil; not only were we to love our friends, but to love and assist our enemies also; not only should evil deeds be avoided, but evil thoughts were likewise forbidden—yea, we were asked to be, in all our thoughts and deeds, imitators of the Shepherd who leads us.(13)
Poor human nature, when raised so high above its natural powers, stood in perilous need of a shepherd's tender care. The new demands of every day made indispensible new and special daily helps. While our spirits can see and know the way, under the light of heavenly teaching, yet how weak and faltering is our flesh! We have the will to do; but to accomplish, we alone are not able. Therefore our Saviour said, "Of yourselves, you can do nothing, but in me all things are possible to you. The branches are nothing unless they abide in the vine; I am the vine, you the branches."(14) Thus He is our Leader, our divine Teacher and our source of strength. Without Him we can do nothing, but in Him we are strong. And daily and constantly He is near us, though we see Him not. It is He who sustains our very life and moves us to all that is good. Like an ever-present friend, He offers us constant assistance: He instructs and guides and helps us, and this is the strength and food of our souls. God's grace it is, always ready for our use, which makes possible all the high demands put upon our nature. Without it we should faint and starve on our journey, and hence He who has planned our high perfection, has provided the help to attain it. What are those seven wonderful sacraments which He has left us, but perennial channels of grace, constant fountains from which stream the life-giving waters that nourish our weary souls and make them strong for life eternal! Through these sacred means we are brought into contact with the life and merits of our Shepherd-Redeemer. They prolong His life and labors among us, they continue in our midst the strength of His sacred presence.
In a manner altogether special is this true of the Holy Sacrament of the altar. By the Holy Eucharist, Christ still is with us, and will so remain till the end of time, as really and as truly as He dwelt on earth in the days of His mortal life. Bound down as we are by the things of sense, we may, at times, be tempted to complain that Christ in this sacrament is all invisible to us. We can not see Him directly and immediately. His voice is silent and we do not hear Him; we do not feel the caress of His hand. But nevertheless we know He is present, for He has said it, and His word must remain, though heaven and earth should pass away. Even were we privileged to see the sacred humanity as it was seen of old in Palestine, we should not then, more than now in this sacrament, directly see the divinity concealed by the human frame. Faith then was required as well as now—faith in His sacred words, made evident by His sacred deeds. This is not strange; it is not too much to ask. The same demand of faith is daily made upon us in much of our intercourse with our fellow mortals. Much that we do not clearly see we must perforce believe, else life would be impossible. The same, in a measure, is also true in all our human friendships. That which is most precious in our friends, that which is the source of life and beauty, of holy words and loving actions, of all we love and cherish in them, is the soul, the spirit that quickens and moves; and this we do not see.
Thus Christ in the Eucharist is truly present, though faith alone can apprehend Him. He requires of us this faith—this humble subjection of our sensible faculties to the power and truth of His words. It is all for our good that now He is hidden from our sight. He is not the less truly present, not less truly kind, not less loving, not less merciful and forbearing; but He wishes to exercise our faith, to prove our fidelity and trust in His teaching and promises, and hence He is hidden from the powers of our senses.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist the gracious Shepherd of our souls performs in particular three offices for us: He is our sacrifice, our silent patient friend, and in communion He becomes the actual spiritual food of our souls. As a victim He is daily and constantly, from the rising to the setting of the sun, lifted up for us in the holy sacrifice of the mass. The mass is the perpetuation of the sacrifice He offered long ago for our redemption. All the altars throughout the world, on which He is ever born and dies again in mystic repetition, are but an extension of the one great altar of Calvary, where first He gave His life for our salvation. And in this real and awful sacrifice, forever repeated in our midst, He pleads again our cause with God, the eternal Father. Again in a mystic manner He suffers for us, again He bleeds, again He is nailed to the cross and raised on high, and in that same abandoned, pitiable state, to which His love for His flock has reduced Him, ever and anon in our behalf He pleads: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!(15) Holy Father, Powerful God, stay Thy avenging hand! and save the souls which Thou hast created for Thyself, and for which till the end of time I die!" He lifts, as it were, before the great white throne, His bruised and blood-stained hands, He shows those wounded feet, the scar of the spear in His sacred side; He points again to the agony in the garden, to the scourging at the pillar, to the cruel crown of thorns, to the weary way of the cross, and exclaims to Him who sits upon the throne, "Behold, my Father, and see the price of my sheep, the tears and sorrow and blood they have cost me! and spare them and save them for the sake of Thy Son!"
Through the holy sacrifice of the mass, identical as it is with the sacrifice of Calvary, all the merits of Christ's life and death are applied to our souls. By His physical and bloody immolation on Calvary, Christ purchased for us infinite treasures of grace, and it is His will that these graces shall be dispensed to us, even till the end of the world, through the august sacrament of the altar. Moreover, except for the mass, we should not be blessed with the abiding actual presence of our divine Shepherd among us—that is, we should not possess Him in that special, intimate manner in which we now have Him in the Eucharist. For it is only in the mass that the sacred species are consecrated; and consequently it is through the mass alone that He takes up His sacramental presence in our midst and becomes our food in holy communion. He could, indeed, have ordained it otherwise, but such has been His blessed will, and such the condition in which we are placed by the direction of His holy Church.
Besides being our daily sacrifice, then, under the appearance of bread and wine, besides ever prolonging in our midst that wondrous act of Calvary by which at once He liberated our race and reopened to us the gates of Heaven, the bounteous Shepherd of our souls enters into the tabernacles of our churches, and there in silent patient waiting He craves the love of our hearts and longs for our intimate friendship. He is not content alone to plead for us with God, His Father; He is not content continually to renew in our presence the tragic mystery by which at the end of His earthly labors, He procured us every blessing—no, over and above these sovereign acts of kindest benediction, He wishes to remain among us, and to converse with us, each and all, as a friend would converse with his friend. This is what He meant when He said by the mouth of His inspired writer, "my delights are to be with the children of men."(16) As a Shepherd, His chiefest pleasure, as well as His supremest care, is to be with the flock He has purchased and loves. Yet it is a lonely life for our Shepherd-King, this abode in the silent tabernacle; but it is all for love of us. He wishes to be there where we can find Him, where we can come to Him at any hour and speak to Him, to praise and thank Him for all His dear and endless gifts, to tell Him our needs and our sorrows, to open our breaking hearts to Him and reveal the secrets of our souls. This it is that He desires from us—the outpouring of our hearts and souls in His presence. This it is which renders unto Him that homage of faith and love and devotion that He came into the world to inspire. It will not do to say that, being God, He is acquainted with all our thoughts and aware of all our wants, for it is intimacy and confidence that He desires, the intimacy and confidence which alone can create a true and noble friendship. "I will call you no longer servants," He said to His disciples, "but I have called you friends; the servant knoweth not what his Master doth, but a friend is admitted to confidence."(17) Christ in the tabernacle is our friend; He has loved us unto the end, and He yearns for our love in return. Why is this? Why are we so precious in His eyes? What are we that the great Creator should at all be mindful of us?(18) We must remember and ever bear in mind the lofty purpose which the Creator had in view when first He called us into being—the same purpose it was which prompted our redemption and all the gracious dispensations that have followed thereupon—namely, that God, while achieving His own eternal honor and glory, might communicate to us a portion of His own ineffable blessedness. We were made for God, and not for the world, or for creatures, or for ourselves. And precisely because we are the possession and property of God, He wants us, soul and body, for Himself; and in this blessed sacrament He calls to us individually, "Son, give Me thy heart;"(19) "come to Me, all you who are burdened, and I will refresh you."(20) "come to Me and find rest for your souls, I will lead you beside the waters of quietness."
But the excesses of our Shepherd's love and care do not stop with the altar and with the tabernacle. He is not satisfied with being our daily sacrifice and our abiding friend, not satisfied until He enters into our very bosom and unites us to Himself. Union with the beloved object and delight in its presence are characteristic of all true friendship, whether human or divine. That which we really love we desire to have, to possess, to be united with; and hence it is that Christ, the lover of our souls, has not only given His life to purchase us for Himself and Heaven, but has so extended His loving-kindness as to become Himself our actual food.
It is incomprehensible, in a human way, that the love of a shepherd for his flock, the love of God for His creatures, should be so extraordinary as to provide the wondrous benefits which Christ in the Eucharist has wrought for us. We simply cannot grasp with our feeble minds the prodigality of such enduring love. But the Saviour knew His purpose with us, and He knew the needs of our souls. As guests destined for an eternal banquet, and as heirs to celestial thrones, it is needful for us, amid the rough ways and perils of life, to be constantly reminded of our royal destiny and strengthened against our daily foes. This world of ours is an arena in which each one must contend for his eternal prize; and it is not possible, considering our natural frailty and the enemies that oppose our forward march, that we alone, without an added strength, should ever be able to win the battle of life.
Hence, as the body, to maintain its vigor and perform its work, needs its material and earthly food, so the soul, to live and be strong, must be nourished with the bread of Heaven. "The bread that I will give," said our Lord, "is my flesh for the life of the world ... unless you eat of this bread you cannot have life in you ... and he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath life everlasting, and I will raise him up on the last day."(21)
In order, then, to sustain our spiritual life on earth and to make us strong for our daily conflicts, our heavenly Shepherd has left us a food which is none other than His own body and blood. What a prodigy of love! What could He do for us that He has not done? But, besides giving us strength, He had another purpose in becoming our food. Since He has chosen us for Himself, and has provided, in another world, eternal mansions for our souls,(22) He wishes to make certain, not only the happy issue of our lives, but our ever-increasing resemblance to Himself. He is therefore preparing us, He is fitting us, through communion in the Holy Eucharist, for our celestial home, and for visible companionship with Himself. Intercourse, communion, intimate relationship produce likeness, even here on earth, and it is a singular effect of Holy Communion that, unlike earthly food, it changes into itself all those who partake of it. Material, natural food becomes the substance of our flesh and blood, but frequent participation in the heavenly nourishment of Christ in the Eucharist transmutes our whole being—our lives and thoughts and actions—into its own supernatural character.
Thus by living much with Christ on earth, by intimate converse with Him, by allowing Him to enter into our lives and thoughts, and shape our conduct and actions; and above all, by frequent and fervent communion with Him in the sacrament of His love, we become like unto Him, even here in our state of exile. And this likeness to Christ, which His faithful servants assume here below, is a forestate of future blessedness; it is a preparation for the great reunion and the eternal banquet which await us in Heaven. Already we are led beside the waters of rest; we are directed to pastures of sweetest nourishment; and through the calm and vigor that reign in the soul we experience even now a taste of joys unseen.
V. HE RESTORETH MY SOUL.
Throughout the pastoral country of the Orient there are numerous places of great peril for sheep. There are also, here and there, private fields and vineyards and gardens into which, if a member of a flock should stray and be caught, it is forfeited to the owner of the land. Strange as it may seem, the sheep never learn to avoid these dangerous spots and forbidden places, and it behooves the shepherd to be ever on his guard for them, and to rescue them when wandering.
Here we cannot fail to observe the striking resemblance between this wayward tendency of the shepherd's flock and our own inclination and propensity to wander from God and things eternal. The world is full of occasions to evil; at every turn of the road on our journey through life there are fierce and crouching enemies who are waiting the chance to capture and bear us away. We know this; we have often been warned of the danger; too many sad experiences and breathless escapes have convinced us of the sundry perils to soul and body that lie along the way of life. But we, like senseless, erring sheep, if bereft of the Shepherd's guiding care, do not learn, in life's sad school, the way to keep free from harm. Though wounded repeatedly, and scarred and worn, and left, perhaps, without human aid, to waste and bleed our life away, we do not see the lurking evils; we do not discern beneath the mask the enemy whose purpose is ruin and death.
The creatures of the world, the things of sense take vicious hold of us, and often drag us to the very verge of perdition before we are aware. They come to us unprepared, and seek entrance into our lives and thoughts, and allure us by deception. They tell us that the world is fair and beautiful and full of promise; that God, for the moment, is not concerned; that the soul is secure and safe, and the body and its needs the only object of present solicitude. The process is gradual. The turning away and the loss are not at once and from the beginning of seductive influences, but slowly and unobtrusively in the guise of hope and high expectation. There is Ambition, with its glittering prospects, with its proffered rewards and castles of air. To the young man and young woman, just entering the arena of life, Ambition says, "Come and follow me, and I will crown you with glory and honor. I will lift you above the common, beaten paths of men and seat you on a gilded throne. I will introduce you to my sister Pride, and we two will make you happy. Pride will teach you your true dignity, your place and position in the universe; she will remind you of your gifts and faculties, and enable you to battle with the weak and the strong; she will give you the secret of knowledge and train you to soar above your fellow-creatures and probe the mysteries of God and Heaven." Then Pleasure, with dimpled cheeks and laughing eyes, and words that sound like music to the ears, hurries out to greet the passers-by, and charms them by her shining gifts. "Make me your object and your end," she says, "and I will make you blessed. Forget your troubles and your cares, your fears of present and future ills; rejoice and be glad, eat, drink and be merry; indulge and drain to dregs the cups of sense, for this is all there is." Philosophy comes with another hope. "Drink deeply," she counsels, "at the spring of wisdom, and fear not God nor man; believe and trust in me, and I will steal away the sting of sorrow and pain; I will restore you to man's primeval state and land you safe on the shores of rest."
And when these deceivers—Ambition, Pride, Pleasure, and the like—have plundered and sacked their victim's goods, when these painted idols of a passing world have led away their worshippers as slaves, and stripped them of all they possessed, they give them over to evil habits and to masters that scourge and tear them. Like other prodigals, these pursuers of earthly phantoms take leave of their Father's house of comfort and plenty, they give up virtue, innocence, honesty, purity; they go into a far country to waste their substance living riotously, only to awake, soon at latest, to a land of famine, and to find themselves alone and in want. Instead of the honor and fame and high estate they sought to gain, instead of the escape from evil and pain and labor they hoped to find, they are sent into fields to minister to swine—the swine of their own degradation.
So, to a degree, it is with us, each and all, who listen to other voices and heed other calls than the voice and the call of God. If we prefer to stray to other fields and desert the pasture of our Shepherd, if we prefer a far country to our Father's home, if the world and its fleeting pleasures are more to us than God and His paternal rewards, then we must of necessity find ourselves at length in utter want and penury. It is this possibility of deserting God, of seeking happiness outside of Him, of overturning the plans which He has made for our salvation, that gives us a vision of the awful failure of human life. The gifts of this world are by nature fleeting and fast-flying, and if we allow them to take the place of Him who made them, no matter how great our present boons, in spite of wealth and friends and all success, we have missed our chance and our purpose in the world, and can only have at last a desolate and a ruined life.
But how is it, then, one may ask, that man can be so deceived? How is it that we do not learn from others' disasters to avoid, every one of us, those deceiving, ruinous masters, those false gods that can lead us away from the one true Shepherd of our souls? It is, indeed, a curious fact that our deception is so easy. Surely a rational, intelligent being, who stops to consider, ought easily to distinguish between the great God of Heaven and the creatures of His hands. It ought not to be difficult for us to see the transient vanity of human things when compared with the eternal mansions. But the truth of the matter is, that we are deceived, we do not at all times see the objects of our choice as they really are objectively. Our vision is defective and blurred. If God stood out in our lives as He really ought to stand, if He occupied that place in our thoughts and plans which belongs to Him by right, it would not be possible that we should ever be led astray. And that God does not always hold in our lives the place which is His due is partly the result of our fallen nature; partly, therefore, in a way, excusable; but more frequently and chiefly from our own perversity—from wilful neglect of our highest duties.
The blindness and perversity of our nature, which have come from the wounds of original sin, make it easy for us, if we are neglectful and careless of our higher spiritual obligations, to mistake the false for the true, evil for good, the creature for the Creator. In the midst of the world and its allurements, it behooves us to be ever watching, if we are never to stumble and to fall. Had our nature never been corrupted by original unfaithfulness, had our first parents never turned away from God and transgressed His sacred precept, all our present ills would never have existed. But now it is different. We are born into the world a weakened people; each one of us has had an implicit part in the first transgression; we all, like erring sheep, have gone astray. And while this tendency to evil is part of our natural condition, and therefore less imputable to us, it nevertheless is true that our actual sins and evil-doing are the work of our deliberate choice. If, at any time, we really turn away from God and break His law, it is because we have freely chosen so to act. The native perversity of nature in a normal man can never explain and excuse the grievous sins which he deliberately commits. It is only true that a weak and wounded nature leaves one less able to choose what is right, and more disposed to wrong. And since we know the state of things, since we know that the fault is really ours when we dare to stray to forbidden deeds and places, how constant and unrelenting, if we are truly wise, should be our efforts to keep our vision unobscured and our ears attuned to the voice and call of our heavenly Shepherd! We know that by following Him our way will be certain and clear. Howsoever enormous the evils of life, and notwithstanding all our weakness, we know that in Him we are safe and strong. But we must hear Him to follow Him, we must be guided and directed by His gracious commands.
This failure to hear and obey the voice of God it is which more explains the falls and sins of men than all their inherited frailty. So long as His words are heard and directions heeded, mistake and error are impossible. We see, therefore, why it is that so many actually do desert Him and are led by evil voices. The cause chiefly lies in the wilfulness of human nature and in the abuse of human liberty. We cannot stand unless God support us, and we shall surely fall if He withdraws His supporting hand. But the choice of evil, the beginning of unfaithfulness comes from ourselves; for Almighty God will never forsake us unless we first forsake Him.
If, ever, then, we find our lives to be at variance with God, whether in lesser or in greater matters, if it should ever be our unhappy fortune to wander from Him, like another prodigal, and waste our lives with the enemies of our souls, we can be assured that the desertion is all our own. We forget God, we deliberately wander from His sight and care, and then we fall. Engrossed in worldly affairs, taken up with present vanities, with ourselves, our ease, our temporal advancement, we begin to neglect prayer and communion with God, we begin to rely on ourselves and to forge ahead of our own accord, only to encounter complete defeat and be shorn of all our strength. The secret of our power and success is to keep close to Him, to speak to Him lovingly and often, to seek guidance and protection from Him, and habitually to live in His comforting presence.
But such is the boundless kindness of our heavenly Shepherd that, no matter how often we may have wandered from Him, or how seriously we may have grieved Him, He is ever ready to pursue our wanderings, and to seek until He finds us. He does not stop to consider the enormity of our guilt, or our unreasonableness, or our ingratitude, but He seeks us. He does not pause to take an account of all He has done for us, of the many graces He has given us, of the tears and blood He has shed in our behalf; but He goes after our straying souls, and He will not be appeased until He restore us. God does not will the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live.(23) He knows all our frailties and our diverse temptations; He knows how alluring are the things of sense to a nature perverted like ours; He knows how easy it is for us, blind and ignorant as we are, to forget Him and our dearest interests, and to obey the call of other voices; all this He understands, and He has pity on us. "He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust."(24)
To bring us back, therefore, when wandering, and to restore us to the circle of His chosen flock, our Saviour has made ample provision. Through those divine mediums of grace—the sacraments of His Church—He has arranged to succor all our wants and to cure our various infirmities. The sacraments of Baptism and Penance, in particular, were instituted to raise our souls from death to life, and to heal our spiritual wounds. Baptism may be aptly compared to the door of the sheepfold. It is the gate through which men must enter into the fold of Christ, it is the entrance to His Church. It clears away the guilt and stain of original sin, and restores the soul from a state of enmity to the friendship and grace of God. None can really belong to Christ, none can be of His true fold who have not entered by way of the door, who have not been baptized. Many there are who pretend to belong to Him and think themselves of the number of His flock; they speak of Him as their Master and Shepherd; they pretend to be doing His work; they call Him Lord and preach in His name; but they have not entered by the door of the sheepfold, and He knows them not. Like thieves and robbers, they have climbed up some other way, and they neither know Him, nor does He know them, neither can they understand His voice. Baptism is the entrance, it is the door, to the fold of Christ.
And as it is through Baptism that our bountiful Lord first recalls us from the ways of sin and makes us members of his flock, so in the sacrament of Penance He has provided a means by which we may at all times be recalled from our wanderings and restored to His friendship. Penance is an inexhaustible means of reconciliation between the erring soul and God. It lasts throughout our lives, it stretches even to the end of time. If only we are men of goodwill and have at heart our eternal interests, we need not be disturbed at our frailty, or at repeated lapses into sin. There is no sin which cannot be forgiven by the sacrament of Penance. Not that anyone, knowing that he can be forgiven, should presume to abuse God's gracious sacrament, and yield freely and without restraint to the voice of sin; nor that we are not to be truly sorry to the end of our days for having even once offended our benign Maker and Redeemer; but we must be confident that, whatever may have been our faults and failings, however prolonged and extraordinary our transgressions, if we approach the sacrament of Penance with sincere sorrow and a firm purpose of amendment, God will always lovingly receive us back to Himself, and remember no more our unfaithfulness. God hates sin, because it is opposed to Himself and is the only evil in the world, but He loves the wounded sinner who is made in His own image and likeness. Precious in the sight of God is the penitent sinner. Does He not tell us Himself that, like a good shepherd, He leaves ninety-nine just to go in search of one lost sheep? Yea, He assures us that there is rejoicing among the angels of Heaven over one sinner who does penance.(25)
To make worthy use of the sacrament of Penance we must be truly sorry for having offended God, and be resolved, at the time of confession, to do what lies in our power never again to turn away from Him. To these dispositions must also be joined the intention of doing something to repair the injury which sin has done to God. Given such conditions, and we need only speak the word to God's duly appointed minister and our sins are no more. The dark veil which hung around the soul like a cloud is lifted, and we again rejoice in the smile of our heavenly Father. How simple, yet how potent are the means provided for our salvation! None but God could have thought of them, nothing but the love of God could have arranged them!
But even before the sinner is brought to penance, even while he is wandering and reveling afar off in the vile delights of sin, God is pursuing him, God is seeking after him, calling him by name, whispering to his heart, disposing him for repentance. We cannot return to God, once we have deserted Him, without His help. It is our awful power to be able to leave Him, but to return alone we are not able. Wherefore He comes after us when we have wandered into the wilds of sin; He pleads as it were, with our souls, and offers us the grace to repent. Oh privileged are our souls to be thus appraised by God, and happy those who hear and heed the appealing voice of His grace!
VI. HE LEADETH ME IN THE PATHS OF JUSTICE FOR HIS NAME'S SAKE.
The shepherd country of the East is full of walks and pathways, some leading this way, some that. Some lead to dangerous precipices over which the sheep might fall and be lost, others would expose them to the attack of wild beasts, while still others would lead them so far astray that they could not find their way back. It is, therefore, always needful that the shepherd go ahead of his flock and lead them in the right path. The Psalmist, in the title of the present chapter, is applying this carefulness of the shepherd for his sheep to our Lord, in His regard for our spiritual welfare. The Saviour goes before us with the blessings of His goodness to help and lead us aright, lest perchance we become lost and perish in our journey.
This solicitude of our Redeemer in providing for the various needs of our souls is characteristic of Him as Saviour. It is implied in the meaning of his name. Before He was born, before He was conceived in His Mother's womb, it was foretold of Him that He should be called Jesus, which means Saviour, for He would save His people from their sins.(26) He exercised, as we know, this mission of saviour throughout His earthly career. It was for this that He came into the world, for this that He was born in Bethlehem with a manger as His cradle, for this that, at the age of twelve, He was found teaching in the Temple, for this that He retired to Nazareth and was subject to Mary and Joseph, for this that He labored and suffered and bled and died. And with His passing from this visible scene to the bosom of His Father, He did not cease to be that for which He had been eternally anointed—the great High Priest, the Mediator between God and man, the Saviour of the world. His work is everlasting; and now that He has gone up on high, He pleads for us ever more with the Father. We belong to Him, He has purchased us with His blood, and He must needs care for our safety to the end.
Inasmuch as we are heirs, according to divine decree, to thrones beyond the skies, it was necessary, as we have seen, that He who is our Saviour and Shepherd should have left behind Him in this world of ours a doctrine, a code, or system of instructions and laws, which should safely direct and guide us to our royal destiny. Those who lived with Him on earth, those who heard His assuring, life-giving words, and felt the inspiration of His example and visible presence needed not to fear for the direction or safety of their course. The divine, living voice and sacred presence of their Lord and Master they enjoyed, and care and anxiety fled from their souls. But not for these alone had the Redeemer come, but for all mankind, for all who in future were to breathe the breath of human life. He came to save all, He died for all; and thus the teaching which He gave to the world, and which He committed to His chosen followers, was for every human being, even to the end of the world, that through it all might live and attain to life everlasting.
The doctrine which the Saviour left us, and the laws which He prescribed were vastly different from the teachings of men. Guiding, saving words of a Shepherd to his flock, they engendered safety, comfort, peace. Free from error or mistake, sealed with the seal of Heaven, holding out a promise of future glory, they exhaled the perfumes of the eternal city, they told of mansions not built with hands. And since this immaculate doctrine, given for the souls of men, was to last till the end of time, there was need that it should be shielded against the assaults of the world and protected from the influence of our changing human teachings. It could not be corrected, because it contained no mistakes; it could not be changed or altered, because it came from the changeless God; it could have no substitute from the part of men or creatures of any kind, because it was given by Him who alone was the way, the truth, and the life. Consequently the truths which the Saviour declared to the world as the only means by which we can be saved, were at once infallible in themselves, and so provided for that no human agency, no lapse of years or revolutions of time and place should ever be able to infringe on their eternal, changeless character. It was to preserve these truths in their integrity and freshness that He founded His unerring Church and committed to it the office of custodian and expounder, under the guidance of His Holy Spirit, of all He had revealed for the salvation of human kind. Hence to hear our Shepherd's voice, to understand what He says to us, to know what we must do to obey His laws and save our souls, we need but listen to the voice of His Church. Before it was established He declared that He should build His Church upon a rock, and that no enemy, or group of enemies, not even the gates of hell should ever prevail against it.(27) He established the Church as His mouthpiece, and He said to the little band that constituted it in the beginning, "he that heareth you, heareth me, and he that heareth me, heareth Him that sent me;"(28) and, as if to emphasize this declaration, He added that any one who would not hear and obey the Church should be considered as a heathen and a publican—types of all that was bad.(29) The Church, therefore, is the oracle of God, it is His mouthpiece; it possesses and guards the only revelation which God has made to His rational creatures; it alone has the words of eternal life.
Thus it is that our divine Shepherd goes before us, leading us in the paths of truth and justice, preserving us from danger and error with respect to our spiritual destiny. We cannot go astray if we listen to Him speaking to us through His church. In all our perplexities and uncertainties, when confronted by any doubt, or confused and distracted by the wrangling voices and conflicting opinions of men, we can be calm and at peace, assured in our inmost souls that the voice which guides us cannot err, that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one word of His to fail.(30)
He leadeth me in ways of justice, in the ways of holiness, in the ways which the saints have walked. How exceeding great, indeed, is our privilege, and how certain and individual our election! All that remains to us is to listen to His words and to follow Him, and present peace will attend our labors, while future glory waits upon our end.
But in the midst of abundant blessings and spiritual favors which have surrounded and sheltered us from infancy, we are apt to be unmindful of our state of plenty and forgetful of the duty of gratitude. We are apt to venture out like thoughtless children, trusting in our own strength to battle with the foe; or else, on the contrary, we sluggishly presume that a bountiful Providence will provide for us regardless of our own co-operation. We have never known what it is to want for spiritual food and spiritual direction, except when indolence, careless indifference, and our own folly have led us astray. These are evils which continually assail us, and we often make friends with them, not knowing what we are doing for the most part, until the blood of life has almost ebbed away. We are not, indeed, removed from a world where sin abounds and where deceiving voices may allure us this way and that. Like the pastoral country of the Orient, the walks of life are fraught with perils: false teachers, false doctrines, false prophets, pseudo-christs;(31) "perils from our own nation, and perils from abroad, perils in the city and perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea and perils from false brethren"(32)—all trying to attract and lead us away from the paths of justice and deliver us to the enemy of our souls.
It is necessary that we should know that wolves are abroad in sheep's clothing; "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ."(33) They come to us with winning words and easy teachings, with new creeds, new forms of belief, new ways to the promised land.
The doctrine and truths which Christ taught and which He entrusted to His Church are set aside or explained away by these modern teachers, and the novel and the strange are made to assume the role of the old, the familiar and the true. The harm done is incalculable. How many innocent and unwary sheep have been lost to the fold of Christ by following the call of these unworthy preachers and false shepherds! What multitudes of precious souls have been deceived by their polished words and led away into paths of error, into deadly ways of thinking, believing, and acting, never to return to the path that leads to life!
This poisoning of the soul and the heart by erroneous doctrines is effected in many and diverse ways; the victims of falsehood are variously captured. There are the wisdom and sagacity of men, there are the conquests of science and the learning of the philosophers, the discoveries of our day, the strides of history, the breakdown and overthrow of many things held sacred by our forefathers—and all these changes and ruptures in the order of a former generation are now used to beguile the flock of Christ and sway them from the paths of truth and righteousness. But amid all this din and uproar of conflicting voices, amid the wrangling tumult and confusion of converging opinions, those who will may hear and discern the loving voice of the true Shepherd speaking to the world through His Church with the same calm, assuring words which He uttered to living witnesses two thousand years ago. He has not changed, neither has His teaching; He has not deserted His chosen flock, but is with it all days, even to the end of the world.(34) His love for us, His watchfulness for our needs, His enduring care for our interests, in spite of our enemies, can never fail.
And while assured of this, it behooves us also, as appealing to our sense of gratitude, and as inducing to greater love of Him, to reflect that this abiding faithfulness of our Saviour in caring for our wants is not from any worthiness of ours, or because of our merits, but only for His Name's sake, because He is Saviour. It was His love for us that prompted our creation, His love that provoked His passion and redeemed us, His love that made Him suffer for us, His love that teaches and shall guide us to life everlasting, for His love endureth forever.
VII. YEA, THOUGH I WALK IN THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL, FOR THOU ART WITH ME.
Besides the paths and dangerous walks in the shepherd country that would lead the sheep to destruction and death, there are other paths all encompassed with evils through which, nevertheless, they are at times obliged to make their way. Safety from all harm there cannot be for the shepherd's flock. They must in their journeys encounter many perils, even while pursuing the proper paths. There are deep and darksome valleys, walled round on all sides by towering rocky hills, which at times the shepherd cannot easily escape. And within these shadowy valleys and somber ravines there dwell not infrequently wild and ferocious animals that will, if aroused, attack and kill the tender sheep. The utmost care and caution of the shepherd are called into service safely to conduct his dependent flock through these places of deepest peril. But in spite of all his watchfulness it sometimes happens that a wolf will get into the very midst of the sheep. The timid, terrified animals become wild with fright, and are scattered, running this way and that, until the shepherd calls and bids them collect together. No sooner do they hear his voice, than they all rush swiftly together in a solid mass, and either drive the enemy from their midst or cripple and crush him to death.
Thus in times of greatest peril the shepherd protects his sheep, and wrests them from the jaws of harm. The sheep know this, and they fear no evils; they know that their master is with them. Yea, though they walk in the shadow of perils and dwell in the midst of the valley of death, they faint not, neither do they fear, for they know that the shepherd is near.
The case of the sheep in the valley of perils is not unlike our own in the midst of the evils of the world; and the peace and safety which we enjoy should be similar also to theirs. We are assured, first of all, by an unflinching faith in God and our Redeemer that, if we trust our Master and obey Him, we shall be led aright throughout our lives, even to the kingdom of Heaven. We shall be led in the paths of justice and love, and crowned at length with the crown of glory, if we but follow the voice of our Shepherd-King, and avoid the walks of disaster and ruin. And to hear His voice and to know it we have but to listen to the teachings of His Church, which will hush to silence our troubled hearts, and direct our wayward feet into the paths of heavenly peace.
But, like the shepherd's flock, we have to avoid in our journey through life, as perils to our safety and spiritual welfare, not only the false shepherds and teachers and doctrines that surround us on all sides; but we must also, to pass to our reward, actually encounter inevitable evils and fight many necessary battles. Many of the paths of life through which we must of necessity pass are hard and difficult, and full of deadly perils. We must remember that sin has ruined the primeval beauty of our earthly habitation and made our life here below a labor and a toil to the end.
We not only come into the world with sin on our souls, and are thereby exiles from the city of God, but even when our sin is forgiven us the remains of the malady continue as wounds in our nature as long as we live on earth. The deadly guilt is wiped away, but the effects of the evil remain. And it is chiefly these wounds of our nature, in ourselves and in others, that render life's journey, even when pursued in accordance with the law of God, at times truly difficult and perilous. Fidelity to God and to His law is not always a safeguard against the wickedness of the world and of men; at times, in fact, it is just the contrary. Indeed, is it not a truth that many, perhaps the majority, of those who endeavor sincerely to please and to serve God must often suffer severely for their very goodness and faithfulness? Are they not misunderstood, and criticised, and censured? Are they not frequently accused of all manner of wrong, their work disparaged, and their motives impugned? Are not persecution, and even martyrdom, often their portion? Now all this is the result of sin. Those who call into question the deeds and motives of God's saints; those who upbraid, and criticise, and impute evil to the sincere, faithful servants of God, inflicting upon them dire evils, are but showing the effects of sin in themselves, are but giving exercise to the evil that rules within them. Their particular acts and words may be without present malice, they may be inwardly persuaded that in reviling and condemning their neighbor and doing him harm, they are rendering a service to God Himself; but in so doing they but manifest the effects of earlier sin, personal, perhaps, and original, which has darkened their understanding and made perverse their moral vision, so that, having eyes, they see not, having ears, they hear not, neither do they understand.(35) Following the corruption of their own nature, bleeding from the wounds of original sin, they are prone to blaspheme whatsoever they fail to comprehend;(36) and thus it is that they often make life and the world for the servant of God a truly perilous sojourn, a veritable valley of death.
This failure to be understood, this misjudgment of actions, motives, deeds, are doubtless common evils from which, in a measure, we all must suffer. But it is also true that the more elevated the life, the higher its aims, the loftier the spiritual level on which it proceeds, the greater the difficulty of its being understood and appreciated by the majority, who always tread the common paths of mediocrity. A saint is nearly always a disturbance to his immediate surroundings, he is frequently an annoyance and an irritation to the little circle in which his external life is cast, simply because he really lives and moves in a sphere which the ordinary life cannot grasp. Like a brilliant, dazzling light that obscures the lesser luminaries, and is therefore odious to them, the man of God is frequently a disturber to the worldly peace of common men, his life and works are a living reproach to their life and works; and hence, without willing it, he becomes a menace to their society and is not welcome in their company. Worldly, plotting minds cannot understand the spiritual and the holy; sinful souls are out of harmony with the virtuous; the children of darkness cannot find peace with the children of light. And not only is there a lack of sympathy in the worldly-minded for the men and women who are led of God, but there is often positive hatred for them—a hatred which spends itself in actual, persistent persecution. To be devout, to refrain from sinful words and sinful deeds, to shun the vain and dangerous amusements of worldlings, to attend much to prayer and recollection, to love the house and worship of God, to be seen often approaching the sacraments and partaking of the bread of life at the communion rail—even these holy acts are sufficient frequently to draw down on the servants of God the curse and persecution of a world which knows not what it does.