Thus spoke he himself: I am the good Shepherd.1 The work of a good shepherd is nothing but this, to guide his flock to good pastures, and to guard them from wolves; but what shepherd, O sweet Redeemer! ever had the mercy, like Thee, to give his life to save his flocks, which flocks are we, to deliver them from the punishment they had deserved?
He Himself hath borne our sins in His own body on the tree, that, being dead to sin, we should live to justice; by whose stripes we were healed.2 To heal us of our sicknesses this good Shepherd took upon himself all our debts, and paid them with his own body, dying with agony upon a cross. It was this excess of love towards us, his sheep, which made St. Ignatius the martyr burn with desire to give his life for Jesus Christ, saying, “My Love is crucified;”3 as he wrote in his letter, saying, “What! has my God been willing to die on a cross for me, and cannot I desire to die for him?” And, in truth, was it a great thing the martyrs did in giving their lives for Jesus Christ, when he died for love of them? Oh, how the death endured for them by Jesus Christ made sweet to them all their torments, stripes, piercing nails, fiery plates of iron, and most tormenting deaths!
But the love of this good Shepherd was not satisfied in giving his life for his sheep; he desires, also, after his death, to leave them his body itself, first sacrificed upon the cross, that it might be the food and pasture of their souls. “The burning love which he bore to us,” says John Chrysostom, “induced him to unite himself and make himself one thing with us.”4
When this good Shepherd sees a sheep lost, what does he not do, what means does he not take, to recover it? and he does not cease to seek it till he finds it. If he lose one of them, he goeth after that which was lost until he finds it.5 And when he has found it, rejoicingly he places it upon his shoulders, that it may be lost no more; and, calling to him his friends and neighbors, i.e., the angels and saints, he invites them to rejoice with him for having found the sheep that was lost. Who, then, will not love with all his affections this good Lord, who shows himself thus loving to sinners who have turned their backs upon him, and destroyed themselves of their own accord?
O my Saviour, worthy of all love, behold at Thy feet a sheep that was lost! I had left Thee, but Thou hast not abandoned me; Thou hast left no means untried to recover me. What would have become of me, if Thou hadst not thought of seeking me? Woe is me! how long a time have I lived far from Thee! Now, through Thy mercy, I trust that I am in Thy grace; and as I first fled from Thee, now I desire nothing but to love Thee, and to live and die embracing Thy feet. But while I live, I am in danger of leaving Thee; oh, bind me, chain me with the bond of Thy holy love, and cease not to seek for me so long as I live on this earth. I have gone astray like a sheep that was lost; oh, seek Thy servant.6 O thou advocate of sinners, obtain for me a holy perseverance.
1“Ego sum Pastor bonus.” -- John, x. 11.
2“Peccata nostra ipse pertulit in corpora suo super lignum, ut, peccatis mortui, justitiæ vivamus; cujus livore sanati estis,” -- 1 Peter ii. 24.
3Amor meus crucifixus est.
4“Semetipsum nobis immiscuit, ut unum quid simus . . . ardenter enim amantium hoc est.” -- Ad pop. Ant. hom. 61.
5“Et si perdiderit unam ex illis . . . vadit ad illam quse perierat, donec inveniat eam.” -- Luke, xv. 4.
6“Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit, quære servum tuum.” -- Ps. cxviii. 176.