The Church keeps Good Shepherd Sunday as a kind of octave, meaning we continue to celebrate the texts and prayers of this feast throughout the week. The daily Gospel readings continue where we left off on Sunday, from the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. In Monday’s Gospel Jesus asserted that “everyone who came before me are thieves and robbers.” That sounds a bit harsh (!), but when it comes down to it, we are all pretty much miserable failures. I’m sure most priests and prophets, most husbands and wives, most mothers and fathers, try their best, but who can completely meet expectations of their particular sheep? I often say to those parishioners for whom I never have enough time or charity or wisdom for them: “I’m pedaling as fast as I can!” We are all merely “useless servants” in Christ’s own words, so we’d better give up any fantasy about managing our parishes or families or personal lives without constant recourse to God’s grace.
Jesus speaks of wolves and hirelings and true shepherds. If a wolf shows up, the “hired man” disappears. The wolf catches and … what does he do with them? Does he eat them? Does he kill them? Jesus says the wolf “scatters” them. Worse than being killed is being scattered. Jesus’ last words in Tuesday’s Gospel are “The Father and I are one.” Holy communion is the highest good. It doesn’t matter if we live or die, as long as we are in communion with the Body of Christ. That’s why the most important thing for a sick or dying Catholic used to be “get me a priest, so I can die in communion with the Church.”
What saddens my priestly heart the most is disunity in my parish, discord among spouses, and division among my brother priests. How hard it is to get people to talk to each other after Mass or even sit near each other! How rare it is to see priests pray together, work together for the salvation of souls. We find any excuse to avoid prayer with each other or simple fellowship. In my jaded heart, I am tempted to think prayer with other priests is the last priority for our clergy. And yet prayer together is our first and most essential work for the Church.
The wolf’s strategy is to scatter us, so that he might divide and conquer. I beg our bishops to invite their priests to their residences for prayer with them. I beg our priests to pray the breviary together, to concelebrate Mass occasionally, to kneel in silence together before the Blessed Sacrament. Alone and divided, scattered far from each other in lonely rectories, we have no defense against the wolves that encircle the flock, of which we too are helpless sheep.