To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (Lk 1:79)
Part and parcel of our experience are the gray afternoon and the dark night of discouragement and hopelessness, of fear and shame, of failure and humiliation, of hesitation and denial. But as a new day dawns, new life is again offered us, “because of the tender mercy of our God.”
We can begin anew, we who have returned to our former way of life. Jesus only asks that we renew our love. Then he invites us once more to follow him and to work with him.
And if we feel sorry for ourselves because we may be the most pitiable scattered sheep without a shepherd—due to our Shepherd having been struck or because those appointed to shepherd us have become incapacitated by wounds, some of them self-inflicted—then we are reminded that Jesus’ sheep shall never perish and that no one can take them out of his hand. We are assured, moreover, that shepherding us ultimately is the Lamb that was slain and whose blood washes and cleanses us for the unceasing worship before God’s throne, without us hungering or thirsting anymore in his temple, or being harmed in any way or saddened.
Hence, disciples have no reason to despair. They will be like St. Paul and St. Barnabas, Jesus’ missionary co-workers and pastors. They will be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. They will not be overcome by envy, insult, rejection or persecution. They will show themselves enlivened by God’s grace and will urge others to remain faithful to the same grace. They will turn to outsiders and give them reason to be delighted, without failing to collaborate with women of distinction and men of prominence, though flickle. They will contribute to the spreading of the Lord’s word.
The followers of Jesus are supposed, of course, to know how to take their seat at the assembly and to listen to the Scriptures first before they open their mouths. They feed on Jesus’ word and his Eucharistic bread, so that they may have intimacy with him and know very well his voice. They let themselves to be trained and tamed by Jesus. Those who are neither attuned to the good Shepherd nor recognize his voice cannot possibly belong to the Christian flock; they are the sheep in danger of being abandoned by the hireling and devoured by the wolf.
No, there is no lack today of hired hands who have no concern for the sheep, or of wolves bent on ruining everything—anymore than there is lack of exemplary pastors who are faithful imitators of the apostles and have the heart of the chief Shepherd of the flock. And it is not wholly unlikely, says St. Vincent de Paul, that ravenous wolves rise up from among brothers, those of them who refuse to leave their shells (Coste XII, 91-93)—safe perhaps, but lonely and dark—and are resistant to being penetrated by the light of the nations, the glory of Israel.