Friday, February 20, 2015

Of Tending Sheep

Tend My sheep.

It's an important passage from the Gospel of St. John, and one which has been given a new meaning under the exegesis of Pope Francis and the 'Age of Mercy' which, with the assistance of the modern Mystics of Mercy such as Cardinal Walter Kasper, he appears intent to let dawn upon the Catholic Church. The sheep, we are told, are those 'on the peripheries,' who have been cast out of society - particularly Catholic society - and it is the duty of every good shepherd to go out to them, to care for them, and bring them back to the fold.

Why sheep? Well, sheep are herding animals. They generally feel safe in herds, and are easy enough to handle in large groups. But when one gets separated from the flock, the lamentable and sometimes positively shocking stupidity of sheephood comes to the fore, and they become very frightened and utterly incapable of helping themselves. I say this as one who spent a season herding sheep in southern Ireland. Though they are lovable, their reputation for stupidity is well-deserved.

Our Lord is, of course, drawing a parallel between sheep and people, and it is a comparison He makes in several places in the Gospel. Not particularly flattering, but nonetheless accurate as far as analogies go. One need only think, for example, of the many thickets of heresy in which our Protestant friends have caught themselves, with little chance of getting free without assistance from above, to see the point being made here.

But notice again the words of Our Lord:

Tend My Sheep.

Notice that He didn't say, "Tend Jehosaphat's sheep," or "Tend thy neighbor's sheep," or even simply "Tend the sheep," but rather: Tend My sheep.

The assumption here is that, like actual sheep, those who belong to the fold of Christ and find themselves, for whatever reason, separated from it want very much to return to it and the safety it provides. Generally speaking, real sheep, after calling out in distress, will allow their shepherd to calm them, to remove the thorny vines into which they have tangled themselves, and to guide them back to the flock. Somewhere in their tiny sheep brains, they understand that they need the help offered to them by the shepherd. They are, after all, his sheep.

I would love to say that this is also the case with humans, that all people, deep down, are calling out to the Good Shepherd to save them from the thicket of sin and self-deception. Alas, this is where the parable breaks down.

The fact is that, in the herd of humanity, there are rogue sheep.

Quite a few of them, actually.

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