Summary: Christ is our shepherd, because we are prone as sheep to wander about in pursuit of pleasure, and be devoured by our passions.
Tuesday of 4th Week of Easter
May 5, 2009
“If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” So Jesus talks about sheep. As the Jews of His day–and ours, for that matter–saw it, Jesus never talked plainly. But that wasn’t Jesus’ problem with the Jews, or us, for that matter. Our problem is that Jesus is not telling us what we want to hear–that we are wonderful and that He will do anything that we want so that we can do anything our passions drive us to desire. Sheep who live that way are going to get devoured by wolves, just as we who live like that will be consumed, first by our very desires and then by Evil.
No, Jesus knew sheep, and he knew humans. Both species are kind of stupid, the first by nature and the second by self-will. Chesterton said that God is a hedonist. He built all kinds of desires into us, which are ultimately desires for Ultimate Good. He lets us take pleasure in food and drink and sexual union and honor and achievement. And, properly ordered to follow God’s Law, all of those pleasures are good. But if we don’t keep them in order, we will begin to think that pleasure is the ultimate good, and pain the ultimate evil.
Chesterton also taught “that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure: the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.
In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead.” Pain is not of itself good; it is the nervous system warning us that we are at risk. But if we ignore the objective and reflexively shrink from the pain, we will miss all opportunity for growth, whether in sports or learning or spiritual life. The fact that we are doing it in Christ, and nourished by Christ in this Eucharist makes possible what humanly would be impossible. That’s the process that can make us, as Fr. Chaminade put it, a scandal of saints.