Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Never underestimate the efforts of Christ's shepherds. The nuns, priests, and bishops labor 24/7 in body and in spirit to lead others to Christ. Ideally, their lives are the most selfless and zealous of all because Jesus Himself works through them. Sometimes we see so many shepherds that we begin to forget what God has done for them, and what He requires of them. They are bound by vow to strive for perfection in themselves, and for the perfection of their flock. Even more so than all other peoples, they have a horror from sin. For a shepherd who sets a bad example for His children must suffer great penalties.
If Christ lives in these shepherds, and they echo Paul's words: "I live, but it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me," then they have reached both the toughest and the sweetest form of life... the life of Christ. Their love for their people is strong and their hearts are full of a merciless zeal. Pope Leo the Great once said: "I am weak and lazy, for when I try to do God's work with zeal, my human condition holds me back." One who dwells so close to the Spirit as to spread Him to others cannot escape the relentless battle of the evils berating the material world and the Spirit battling through themselves.
A vocation is an interesting thing... and it is best described as a pull. Shepherds have a responsibility to hold Christ in their hearts and release Him to the world. They have a responsibility to spread and explain the faith to others. But, they would not have this responsibility if God Himself had not called them to do this thing. God's call is not an order, it is a persistent pull, a continuous knocking, and it never ceases. One who truly has a vocation and pursues it will come to feel this pull very strongly, for that is the nature of a vocation. Therefore, the purpose and actions of Christ's shepherds are driven by this unceasing awareness of the Spirit and His Desire to convert the nations.
When one has become a shepherd, he has become united to The Shepherd. He has become the Church. Through his vocation he is so integrated into the Missionary of Christ on Earth that he hovers in the midst of the work of the Spirit on the material world. His life becomes more a life of the spirit than a life of the body... for he learns to give his body and spirit to Christ, and Christ takes residence in his spirit. Because Christ is the life within us, His life becomes the life of this shepherd, and the shepherds life becomes nonexistent through Him, making him able to share in ALL of Christ's Life. Truly, if one has received Christ's life and allowed it to snuff out his own, he has become so united to Christ so as to receive his wisdom and yearnings from Christ's Own Heart.
One who is a shepherd of the Church can only do these things, only receive Christ into Himself so fully, if the Holy Spirit Himself calls him. One can only persevere and reach perfection in such a vocation if the Spirit has gifted him with a vocation, a vocation that empowers him to contain the Spirit in His Fullness. one does not come by these things through his own ambition or merit... they must be granted him by Christ and he must humbly accept.
One who answers such a call, who accepts Christ's request of his shepherdhood, must "be emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave." His motives must be made pure and clean through rejection of all his own selfishness. For this reason he must relinquish all he owns and pursue Christ alone. He must admit all his responsibilities and ownerships to Christ, and thus be ready to jump at the call of Christ's People. His own health and well-being must be maintained for the sole purpose of thus being more use to the children of God. Indeed, if his abandonment in Christ and His Church are not complete, he can never become a true shepherd of Christ and Christ cannot fully live in him.
Most importantly, a shepherd of Christ must recognize that it is his duty to represent the Church. He can never consider his own respectability, but that of the Church. He must never scandalize the Church through his actions, and he must be completely conformed to uphold the Holy Spirit within the Church with all his being. He himself must boldly proclaim Christ and show no fear. He must be an ideal of virtue. He must be an instrument of goodness and a sword against vice. Christ has vested him with His Trust, and the shepherd must hold this trust securely. His actions must always represent the actions of Christ in His Church, else they will come to naught and bring pain.
Therefore, a shepherd of Christ's flock must pray always for his own courage in upholding the great trust bestowed on him. He must pray that he come to see as Christ sees, love as Christ loves, think as Christ thinks, and live as Christ lives. He must pray that he never seeks to boast about his vocation, for it was given to him by Christ. Rather, he should pray that it is always his desire to boast the Gospel of Christ, to take pride in the work of the Holy Spirit. He must pray, like the apostles "that he be not put to the test." He must also pray with tears that God have mercy on his poor humanity which can only imperfectly hold perfection.
We, also, must pray for those to whom God has called as shepherds. We must pray that their hearts are opened so that they may be wholly filled with the Holy Spirit and thus spread Christ. We must pray that they are given strength to follow God's calling to give so completely of themselves. We must pray that they are lighted by the light of hope through it all, and realize what crowns of joy God has in store for those who care for His loved ones. We must pray that they have faith in God's goodness even when they cannot feel the Fire of the Spirit. Yes, we must pray for their enlightenment and perseverance.