Tuesday, July 31, 2012


The liturgy lately has focused on one of my favorite themes: the shepherd and his sheep.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep."
[John 21:15-17]

Fr. Kaspal at Holy Trinity gave a homily a couple of weeks ago on Christ’s  three” Do you love me’s?” and Peter’s three yeses. He said The first “Feed my sheep” refers to the people in the Church. The second refers to the folks who have left the Church or left the side of Christ. The third “Feed my sheep” refers to the people who have never known Christ at all.

I am just a sucker for all shepherd/sheep mentions. My heart opens. The tears flow. And the above is one passage that truly “speaks” to me because feeding Christ's lambs is one thing, probably the only thing, I feel may be somewhat within my power and capacity, and definitely within my desire, to do on this earth.

And it is something I struggle with. How not to get too over-agonized—don’t worry, Christ will see to it that the Gospel is spread with or without me for heaven’s sake—but  at the same time, we are given our little mission and we are called to fulfill it as best we can to the point of death. So here I am, an ardent (if ever-stumbling) Catholic surrounded by friends who are (mostly) not Catholic, in a culture that is virulently anti-Catholic, and in a Church by whose more vitriolic, nitpicking members I am mortified. They were like sheep without a shepherd. That is all of us, but I have talked to so many people lately, whether it’s porn addiction or a wayward child or ongoing mental torment, who are like sheep without a shepherd and how do you lead them to the Shepherd? You have to be really really lost, and to have really really run out of ideas, to hear the voice of the Shepherd and maybe the most I am ever going to be able to do is to keep people company while they’re stumbling around in the pasture.

I've heard folks say that if you have to mention Christ, you’ve missed the point (i.e. that we should be able to speak of reality, existence, eternity, time, space, our bodies, souls, spirits, and the mystical truth without mentioning Christ himself), and that in the current religious/political/social climate to even mention the word God, and especially to mention the name Christ, means to lose half your audience. Maybe the question here is: Who is “our audience?” There is more rejoicing in heaven over the one lost sheep than in all those who were never lost, and maybe part of that is to remind us that we may work our whole lives for one lost sheep or for none. Our goal is not numbers, our goal is to tell the whole truth, to live as authentically in love as we can.

So my audience is the lost sheep, but my goal isn’t to proselytize. My goal is to say that in some small way I have found my way home. To say these are my friends who I love, these are my struggles, my flaming conflicts, my stabbing moments of joy. And to me, that is Christ! I don’t have to mention him but how could I not? Why would I not want to?

The mark of the follower of Christ is not cogent arguments or airtight apologetics--I'm thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas's "All straw"--but a heart that bleeds.

I am not talking about sentimentality. I am talking about what Flannery O’Connor meant when she observed:“The Catholic writer, in so far as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.”


  1. Great post! Comforting to know that the liturgy and the Spirit inspires the same sentiments in the face of our modern desperation

  2. I am in the first group that needs feeding. Your writing always feeds me, Heather.

  3. "The mark of the follower of Christ is not cogent arguments or airtight apologetics--I'm thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas's "All straw"--but a heart that bleeds."

    ... It has taken me a long time to even begin to learn and understand this...

  4. It seems to me that if my purpose is to make sure to the best of my ability, those who come in contact with me become closer to a sense of being healed,to serenity, to joy--even by tiny millimeters--then I am completely in line with the Christ's request to feed his sheep. Whether one articulates one's motivation as such seems beside the point-the practice of kindness is equally powerful from which ever spiritual practice or belief it emanates--or whether it emanates from none at all.

  5. I have always found it curious that this (shepherd/sheep) metaphor is so popular in our image of Jesus. In life he had nothing to do with sheep or herding!! He was a teacher/healer/ counselor/political activist/savior but never a sheep herd! Even more curious, the shepherds were the very first to become aware of his birth. They were basically social outcasts, smelly and lived with the sheep. So why is the idea of "shepherd" so appealing. Maybe it's because the shepherd will protect the sheep no matter what, even to the price of his own life. There's a comfort in that, even the smelliest outcasts have a nobleness we can't explain. Then there's that metaphor of lambs to the slaughter...... they really are "dead silent" in the face of death. They don't make a sound. John's three "love statements" are the most generous of exoneration....he denied Jesus three times and here in front of every one, he once again loves John and gives him the chance to repudiate what he did. Curious that John got aggravated isn't it?

  6. Heather,Thank you for this sensitive post. It brings to mind Daniel Bonnell's painting of The Good Shepherd (http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-the-good-shepherd-daniel-bonnell.html) Bonnell represents the shepherd with arms outstretched as though simultaneously on the cross and embracing his flock. The way he shows the shepherd dwelling among his sheep and at the same time hidden or absent from them in the void of the blue silhouette beautifully captures the paradox of God's intimacy and unknowability.


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