Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Wounded Shepherd

Today, a priest that I know reminded me that I wrote this post a few years ago. I didn't remember it, so I went back and read it again.  After reading it, I thought, "Hey, this is pretty good."  Since I haven't been posting much recently, I thought I'd re-post this:

A couple of years ago, I saw on a website called www.newliturgicalmovement.org three beautifully designed crosiers.  One of the crosiers is entitled, "Crosier of the Wounded Shepherd."  The website describes the crosier as follows:

"Crosier of the Wounded ShepherdThe good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep.

The shepherd snatches his sheep from the mouth of the wolf, which tears at the shepherd's side. It is a beautiful allegory of the Bishop who defends his flock at the cost of his own life.

Around the volute, fantastic animals symbolize the sins and vices against which the faithful must struggle. Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves. "

Every priest--by virtue of his ordination--is configured to Christ as Shepherd.  Every priest, therefore, is called to lay down his life for the sake of his sheep.  Sometimes we think of this laying down of ones life in terms of our time, our energies, or even some sort of notion that we would--if called upon--defend the sheep against the powers and authorities of the world.  I think, for instance, of Maximilian Kolbe or other priest martyrs who were willing to die for the faith.  

But the crosier above fascinates me for another reason.  It is not entitled, "The Crosier of the Dead Shepherd."  It is not a memorial to a one time martyrdom.  It is called "The Crosier of the Wounded Shepherd."  For those who act as Shepherds in the person of Christ can attest, the wolf is not just a theoretical notion.  We who spend our lives as shepherds are entrusted with real members of Christ's flock.  Just as the sheep are very real to us, so too is the wolf who seeks to destroy the sheep.  One does not live very long as a shepherd without having encountered the wolf.

If we go out in search of the lost sheep, quite often we find him in the clenches of the jaws of the wolf.  Sometimes, they are there because they were weak.  Sometimes they are there through sheer stupidity.  Sometimes they are there because they were confused.  Sometimes, they were simply taken by surprise.  It makes no difference how they got into the jaws of the wolf.  The shepherd is called to approach and do everything in his power to save the sheep.  I think it is without fail that in every confrontation the shepherd has for the sake of the sheep, he is wounded in the battle.  The shepherd lives his life constantly being wounded in the work of protecting the sheep.

We experience the wound of rejection, of misunderstanding, and of seeming failure.  Having pulled the sheep from the fangs of the wolf, we sometimes experience the wound of seeing the sheep put himself at risk all over again.  We experience the wound that is caused by the senselessness of sin.  Try as we might to throw ourselves between the wolf and the sheep, some sheep are determined to make themselves prey.  

In some ways, the shedding of blood--once and for all--for the sake of a sheep would be easier than the day to day wounds inflicted by constant contact with the wolf.  It is sometimes said that we have soldiers or weapons in the hope that they never have to be used.  Such is not the case when it comes to shepherds.  Christ gives the Church shepherds not to hold them in reserve in case they are ever needed.  He gives them so that they can be expended for the sake of the sheep.  The laying down of one's life for the sake of the flock is not a theoretical possibility.  It is a day to day reality.  Even in the prayer life of the shepherds of the Church, we experience the wounds of interceding for the flock entrusted to us.  In some mysterious way, when we pray for the sheep who is lost, who has gone astray, who is wounded, or who is locked in the jaws of the Enemy, we experience--even in the silence of prayer--a penetrating wound.  We experience, in union with Christ the Good Shepherd, the wound of pastoral charity.  

To be united by virtue of priestly ordination with Christ the Good Shepherd means that we are united to His Sacred Heart.  This heart is pierced and wounded for the sake of the flock.  There is no other way to be a priest than to love the sheep.  And loving the sheep means that we are daily wounded--in pastoral activity and in prayer--for their sake.  Like soldiers who carry the scars of their battles as badges of honor, the shepherds of the Church who carry within their souls the wounds of pastoral charity do so with gratitude, joy, and honor because these wounds belong by right to Christ, the Good Shepherd.

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