I know Mine, and Mine know Me

Silverstream Priory is privileged to possess this magnificent conical chasuble in the style made famous by the school of the Abbey of Beuron. The medallion on the chasuble, depicting Saint Benedict himself as the Good Shepherd, takes its inspiration from the Holy Rule wherein Saint Benedict writes concerning the abbot: “Let him imitate the loving example of the Good Shepherd, who, leaving the ninety and nine sheep on the mountains, went to seek one which had gone astray, on whose weakness He had such compassion that He vouchsafed to lay it on His own sacred shoulders and so bring it back to the flock” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter XXVII).

Sermon at Silverstream Priory
Good Shepherd Sunday 2018

Misericordia Domini plena est terra.
The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord. (Psalm 32:5)

Singing these words of the Introit — an extraordinary affirmation — we crossed the threshold into today’s Holy Mass. Hear too, in a kind mystic counterpoint, this word of Moses to the children of Israel:

It is not above thy reach, it is not beyond thy compass, this duty which I am now enjoining upon thee. It is not a secret laid up in heaven, that thou must needs find someone to scale heaven and bring it down to thee before thou canst hear what it is, and obey it. It is not an art, practised far overseas, that thou must wait for some one to go voyaging and bring it back to thee before thou canst learn to live by it. No, this message of mine is close to thy side; it rises to thy lips, it is printed on thy memory; thou hast only to fulfil it. (Deuteronomy 30:11–14)

All that Moses said to the children of Israel concerning the Law is fulfilled today in what we sang in the Introit: “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord” (Psalm 32:5), and this because now the whole earth falls beneath the shadow of the arms of the Cross.

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself. (John 12:32)

The Prince of the Apostles tells us in the Epistle that Christ Jesus, “when He was reviled, did not revile: when He suffered, He threatened not, but delivered Himself to him that judged Him unjustly” (1 Peter 2:23). Saint Peter preaches that Christ Jesus Himself, “bore our sins in His body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice” (1 Peter 2:24). To all who come to Christ Jesus — some running, others walking, others stumbling, others limping, others leaning on a loved one, and still others being carried like the paralytic of Capernaum let down on a stretcher through the roof (Matthew 9:1–18) — Saint Peter proclaims that there is healing in the stripes of Christ, that is, in the shining scars of His Passion and His five wounds holy and glorious.

There are some who, weighed down by guilt, or engulfed by a great sorrow, or weakened by sickness, or paralysed by fear, will say, “I am unworthy to go to God, or too crushed in spirit, or laid low by sickness, or held back by fear”. To all those who cannot make their way to God, the Gospel announces that God has made His way to them in Christ Jesus. “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd giveth his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11). Christ is the Good Shepherd whose coming God announced to Ezechiel:

I mean to go looking for this flock of mine, search it out for myself. . . . I go looking for these sheep of mine, rescue them from all the nooks into which they have strayed when the dark mist fell upon them. . . . Food and rest, says the Lord God, both these I will give to my flock. The lost sheep I will find, the strayed sheep I will bring home again; bind up the broken limb, nourish the wasted frame, keep the well-fed and the sturdy free from harm; they shall have a true shepherd at last. (Ez 34:10–16)

Christ is the Shepherd who, having an hundred sheep, and losing one of them, left the ninety-nine in the desert, and went after that which was lost, until he found it. And when He found it, He laid it upon his shoulders, rejoicing, carried it home, and calling together His friends, said, “Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost!” (cf Luke 15:4–6).

How fitting that our sacristan Brother Hildebrand should have set out this magnificent Beuronese chasuble with its medallion of the Good Shepherd for today’s Mass. The chasuble depicts Saint Benedict as the Good Shepherd, and rightly so, because Saint Benedict says in Chapter II of the Holy Rule that, “the abbot is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery”; and in Chapter XXVII, he says of the abbot: “Let him imitate the loving example of the Good Shepherd, who, leaving the ninety and nine sheep on the mountains, went to seek one which had gone astray, on whose weakness He had such compassion that He vouchsafed to lay it on His own sacred shoulders and so bring it back to the flock”.

There is no place on earth where the Good Shepherd will not go in search of even of one sheep, be that sheep lost in the mists of the moors, or lying injured into a ravine, or surrounded by wolves, or weakened by exhaustion and thirst. The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.

When a small child is lost in an airport, a market, or another busy place, he remembers what his father told him, “If you ever you are lost, stay in one place and there wait until you are found”. It is, in effect, easier to find the child who stands waiting to be found than the child who wanders frantically in every direction trying to find the one in search of him. So it is with all of us, and first of all, with us monks who, by virtue of the vow of stability, are bound to stay in one place. The monk is a man who comes to the monastery and stays there, confident that there the Lord for whom he waits will find him.

For all of us there is a simple and very humble kind of prayer that consists in this: staying in one place to wait for the Good Shepherd. The man who goes to prayer waiting to be found by the Lord is practicing the virtue of hope to a high degree. Waiting in faith and in hope is, of itself, a prayer very pleasing to the Heart of the Good Shepherd. It is a prayer full of confidence in His merciful goodness. Nothing is gained by attempted to calculate the length of the wait. One can wait for the Lord in any place and at any time: before the tabernacle, most surely; but also, as the prophet says, upon one’s bed in the night, or among the pots and pans of the scullery, or in the comings and goings of a busy day, or even on the motorway. One has only to remain  fixed and vigilant in the secret place of one’s own heart. Exspectans exspectavi Dominum, et intendit mihi. “Waiting”, says the psalmist, “I waited for the Lord, and he was attentive to me” (Ps 39:2).

One who practices this prayer of waiting will be tempted to move, to change locations, to scale mountains, to probe valleys, to penetrate dark forests, and and to cross deserts. None of this will avail him. One must consent to remain where one is. The mercy of the Lord fills the earth. And because the Church, in obedience to the command of Our Lord on the night before He suffered, shows forth His death until He come (1 Cor 11:26), “from the rising the sun even to the going down . . . and in every place” (Mal 1:11) there is no place on earth from which the Lord is distant. There is no place so remote as to remain untouched by the sacramental irradiation of the immolated Christ, the Christus Passus, from the altar of the Holy Sacrifice and from the hiddenness of the tabernacle.

The Offertory Antiphon will give us the very substance of this prayer of waiting, and by it, prepare our hearts for its fulfillment in the Holy Sacrifice: “O God, my God, to Thee do I watch at break of day: and in Thy Name I will lift up my hands, alleluia” (Ps 62:2, 5). Pray thus even as you wait, and you will not be disappointed in your hope, for “the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord”. In this place and at this hour the Shepherd comes to say again, “I know Mine, and Mine know Me” (John 10:14).

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