Rorate Caeli

Good Shepherd Sunday Sermon: "When you want to go to a given place, the difficulty of the road cannot divert from this desire." (St. Gregory the Great)

Sermon of Gregory, Bishop of Rome
Saint Peter's Basilica
February 7, 591*

John 10: 11-16

You have heard, dear brothers, the instruction which is addressed to you by the reading of the Gospel; you have also heard the danger that we run. Here indeed is he who is good, not by accidental grace, but by essence, declares, "I am the Good Shepherd." And giving us the pattern of goodness that we must imitate, he adds: "The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep. "He did what he taught us; he showed what he commanded us. The Good Shepherd gave his life for his sheep to the point of changing his body and blood into a sacrament for us, and to satiate with the food of his flesh the sheep he had redeemed.

He has traced us the path of contempt for death, so that we may follow it; he has set before us the model to which we must conform: first to spend our external goods in all charity for the sheep of the Lord, and if necessary, to give even in the end our life for them. The first form of generosity, which is less, leads to the latter, which is higher. But since the soul, by which we live, is incomparably superior to the earthly goods we possess abroad, how can one who does not give his goods to his sheep be willing to give his life for them?

For there are some who have more love for earthly goods than for sheep, and who thus lose the name of pastor. It is from them that the text immediately adds: "The mercenary, who is not the shepherd, to whom the sheep do not belong, does he see the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and flees? . "

He is not called a shepherd, but a mercenary, the one who feeds the sheep of the Lord, not because he loves them from the bottom of his heart, but for temporal rewards. He is mercenary, who occupies the place of the pastor, but does not seek the profit of souls. He avidly covets the earthly advantages, enjoys the honor of his office, repents temporal profits, and delights in the respect accorded to him by men. Such are the rewards of the mercenary: he finds here below the wages he desires for the trouble he gives himself in his office as pastor, and thus deprives himself of the inheritance of the flock.

As long as there is no misfortune, it is difficult to discern whether he is a pastor or a mercenary. Indeed, at the time of peace, the mercenary usually keeps the flock like a true pastor. But the arrival of the wolf shows with what dispositions each one kept the flock. A wolf throws himself on the sheep each time an unjust man or kidnapper oppresses the faithful and the humble. The one who seemed to be the pastor but was not, then abandons the sheep and flees, for fearing for himself the danger that comes from the wolf, he does not dare to resist his unfair enterprise. He flees, not by changing his place, but by refusing his assistance. He flees, because he sees the injustice and he is silent. He flees because he hides in silence. It is fitting that the prophet said to such men, "You did not go up against the enemy, and you did not build a wall around the house of Israel to hold fast in the fight at day of the Lord. "(Ez 13,5). To mount against the enemy is to oppose by the free voice of reason to every powerful man who behaves badly. We hold fast in the day of the Lord in the fight for the house of Israel, and we build a wall, when by the authority of justice, we defend the faithful innocent victims of the injustice of the wicked. And because the mercenary does not act like that, he runs away when he sees the wolf coming.

But there is another wolf, who does not stop every day tearing, not the bodies, but the souls: it is the evil spirit. He prowls by setting traps around the fold of the faithful, and he seeks the death of souls. It is this wolf that is immediately discussed: "And the wolf carries away the sheep and scatters them." The wolf comes and the mercenary flees, when the evil spirit tears the souls of the faithful by temptation and that he who occupies the place of the pastor does not care. Souls perish, and he thinks only of enjoying his earthly advantages. The wolf carries away the sheep and disperses them: he leads one man to lust, inflames another with avarice, exalts another by pride, throws another into division by anger; he excites this one by envy, reverses that one by deceiving him. As the wolf disperses the flock, the devil makes the faithful die by temptations.

But the mercenary is not inflamed with any zeal or animated by any fervor of love to oppose it: seeking in all only its external advantages, he has only negligence for the internal damage of the herd. So the text immediately adds: "The mercenary flees because he is a mercenary and does not care about the sheep." Indeed, the only reason the mercenary flees is that he is mercenary. It is as if one were saying clearly: "To dwell in the midst of the sheep in danger is impossible for the one who guides the sheep, not out of love for the sheep, but for the sake of profit from the land." Attached to honors and delights in terrestrial advantages, the mercenary hesitates to oppose the danger, so as not to lose what he loves.

After having shown us the faults of the false pastor, our Redeemer returns to the model to which we must conform, when he says, "I am the Good Shepherd." And he adds, "I know my sheep - that is, to say: I love them - and my sheep know me," as if to say clearly: "They serve me by loving me." For he does not yet know the Truth, the one who does not love him.

Now that you have heard, dear brothers, what is our peril, consider also in the words of the Lord what is yours. See if you are of his sheep, see if you know him, see if you perceive the light of Truth. Let us specify: if you perceive it, not by faith alone, but by love. Yes, let us specify: if you perceive it, not by merely believing, but by acting. Indeed, the same evangelist John who speaks in the gospel of this day declares elsewhere: "He who says he knows God, but does not keep his commandments, is a liar" (1 Jn 2: 4). This is why the Lord immediately adds: "As the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I give my life for my sheep. "It is as if he were saying clearly:" What proves that I know the Father and that I am known to the Father is that I give my life for my sheep; I show how much I love the Father with this charity that makes me die for my sheep. "

But because he had come to redeem, not only the Jews, but also the pagans, he adds: "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; these too, I must lead them; and they will listen to my voice, and there shall be one sheepfold and one Shepherd." It is our redemption to us from the pagan peoples that the Lord had in mind when He spoke to lead also other sheep. And that, brothers, you can see every day the realization. This is what you see today accomplished in the reconciliation of the Gentiles. He was, so to say, a single sheepfold with two flocks, uniting the Jewish and pagan peoples in the same faith in his person, as Paul testifies with these words: "He is our peace, he who of the two peoples only one." (Eph 2:14) He leads the sheep to his own sheepfold when he chooses for eternal life the simple souls of one and the other people.

It is from these sheep that the Lord says elsewhere: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life" (John 10: 27-28). It is from them that he declares a little higher: "If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and he will come in and he will go out and find pasture" (Jn 10: 9). He will come in coming to faith; he will come out from faith to face-to-face vision, from belief to contemplation; and he will find there to graze eternity pastures. The sheep of the Lord find pasture, since all those who follow him with a simple heart are satisfied by grazing in eternally green meadows. And what are the pastures of these sheep, if not the inner joys of a never-green paradise? For the pastures of the elect are the presence of the face of God, whose uninterrupted contemplation indefinitely satiates the soul of a food of life. Those who have escaped the snares of fugitive pleasure taste, in these pastures, the joy of an eternal satiation.

There the choirs of the angels sing hymns; there are gathered the citizens of Heaven. Here is celebrated a solemn and sweet feast for those who come back from this sad and painful earthly exile. There are the choirs of the prophets who have foreseen the future; there seat to judge the group of apostles; there is crowned the victorious army of the innumerable martyrs, all the more joyful up there, that it has been more cruelly tested here below; there confessors are consoled for their constancy by the reward they receive; there meet the faithful men whose voluptuousness of the world could soften the robust virility, there the holy women who, besides the world, have overcome the weakness of their sex, there the children who have preceded the number of years by the maturity of their manners, there, finally, the old men whom age has rendered so feeble, without, however, making them lose their hearts in the work.

Let us seek, dear brethren, these pastures where we will share the feast and the joy of such fellow citizens. The happiness of those who rejoice in it invites us to it. Is it not true that if the people organized a great fair somewhere, or went to announce the solemn dedication of a church, we would rush to meet together? Everyone would do anything to be present, and would have lost much if he had not had the spectacle of the common glee. But behold, in the heavenly city the elect are rejoicing and rejoicing in their meeting; and yet, we remain lukewarm when it comes to loving eternity, we burn with no desire, and we do not seek to take part in such a magnificent party. And deprived of these joys, we are happy! Let's wake up, then, our souls, my brothers! May our faith warm up for what it has believed, and may our desires be inflamed for the goods from above: to love them is to go there already.

Let no trial divert us from the joy of this inner festival: when you want to go to a given place, the difficulty of the road, whatever it is, cannot divert from this desire. Let us not be seduced by the caresses of success. How stupid, indeed, is the traveler who, noticing pleasant meadows on his way, forgets to go where he wanted. May our soul breathe more than the desire of the heavenly country, that it covets nothing more in this world, since it will certainly have to abandon it soon. Thus, being true sheep of the celestial Pastor, and not dwelling on the pleasures of the road, we may, once arrived, satiate ourselves in the eternal pastures.


*This sermon was delivered on the first anniversary of the death of St. Gregory's immediate predecessor, Pope Pelagius II.