His outward being was but a shell of what he appeared to be; his inner man was quite another, living the inward life of Jesus Christ and hidden in Him, so that it was rather Jesus Christ living in Fr de Condren, than Fr de Condren living himself. He was a host on our altars; externally there are the accidents and the semblance of bread, but internally is Jesus Christ.
My Dear Sisters and Brothers! Today it is Good Shepherd Sunday and we turn in our prayers to the Lord for those He has called to minister in his Church but we also pray for new vocations to the ministry in the Church. I think that we all agree that we would like to have Church ministers like the one described at the beginning, people who are like the host on the altar, still looking like a host but being the Body of Jesus. I appreciate the thought of compering our ministers to a host because as some people can struggle to believe that it is Jesus Christ present in the host as others can struggle to believe that it is Jesus Christ present in our deacons, priests and bishops. As the earthliness of the host can leave us in difficulty believing in the Lord’s presence, as the earthliness of our ministers presents a similar challenge. However the Blessed Lord chose something as ordinary and common as food to be actively present among as. The same Lord chose not the angels to minister to us but the people whom we raise in our midst: in our families, parishes, neighbourhoods, schools, social and sport clubs, our Facebook and Snapchat friends. The people whom we equip for their future life of service with the beauty and goodness of the human nature God blessed us with but also with setbacks and sinfulness which are ‘preserved’ by us, in us and in our various communities. We may dream that the seminary should turn them into cherubim and seraphim but then they would be taken to heaven as heaven is the proper home for those pure spirits. It would leave us even with a bigger shortage of priests then we have now.
As I was praying the readings for this Sunday I was struck, not by a seraph though, but by the Gospel which spoke about one Shepherd. The Shepherd, who as St Peter explained in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, is the same Jesus who was crucified, the same Jesus who did lay his life for his sheep as he promised. Jesus, who also in his Resurrection, was made both Lord and Christ. Jesus, who “has come so that his sheep may have life, and have it to the full.” Maybe that’s why Jesus chose earthly ministers, who bear both the beauty and the sinfulness we all share, so that we may also remember that the source of our life, our hope, our faith and our love is in him; not in the perfect deacons, priests, bishops, popes, nuns, brothers etc.
As Christians we are people of faith but at the same time we are realistic people. We don’t expect from our Church leaders to replace God. On the contrary we can see that our secular society, where God has been denied his place, has got unrealistic expectations to have leaders who conduct themselves like God. It always leads to bitter disappointment of those who have such expectations and to a breakdown of those of whom it is expected to fill God’s shoes.
I believe that as followers of Christ we can say that as Jesus “was bearing our faults in his own body on the cross” as our ministers bear our faults, the faults of humanity, in their own bodies where the Spirit of the Risen Lords dwells as well. However as a priest I can confess that what lends me wings, not to fly away from this valley of darkness called the earth though, but to strive to be like Fr de Condren I mentioned at the beginning, is the faith of you my fellow believers. That in spite of my unworthiness and earthliness you keep coming to me to encounter the Lord. I treasure the memory of the day when an Archbishop laid his hands upon my head and consecrated me to serve God and his holy people but I also treasure and I am encouraged and challenged by the memories of the people who searching for God approached me. If I haven’t had a breakdown yet it is because of our common Christian faith and realism.