The Good Shepherd has risen, who laid down His life for His sheep and willingly died for his flock (Communion Antiphon).
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the sacred liturgy invites us to contemplate Christ the Good Shepherd who leads us and guides us to the fullness of life. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10). The Easter Season is a great, extended celebration of this gift of new life that has come to us through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord; and the Eucharist is the Easter Sacrament that nourishes our life in Christ. In endeavouring to live a life centred and inspired by the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Our Lord we endeavour to reflect Our Lord’s own goodness and glory through our own sacrificial lives. Without the aid of His grace we cannot do this. For this reason, the deprivation of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacrament in these difficult times is not without consequence; and I am afraid that the longer the faithful are deprived of their spiritual sustenance the worse it will be for the world as a whole. We are after all, called to be the light of the world. The brightness of this light and its consoling warmth depends on sacramental grace.
Nevertheless, even as we endeavour to follow Our Lord the Good Shepherd along the path of devout humility amidst so much uncertainty, we must make every effort to learn to recognise the voice of this Shepherd who only speaks words of truth. False shepherds speak falsely and we must not follow them. We undertake our discipleship in the company of others and we are guided also by the example, prayers and protection of Our Lady, our model in faithful discipleship. Her prophetic voice which we have heard through many apparitions has prepared us for this time of trial and it is to our benefit to heed her warnings and call to repentance and fidelity to the Law of God.
We have begun Our Lady’s month and we look forward to celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima on May 13th. She appeared over one hundred years ago now, to little children tending sheep, little shepherds who were taught at a tender young age to embrace a spirit of loving sacrifice which is the hallmark of the Good Shepherd and of all faithful priests and bishops who imitate Him in sacrifice. St Jacinta and St Francisco, the youngest of the three seers who died at the tender age of nine and eleven were heroic in the exercise of loving sacrifice. At the first apparition Our Lady had asked them: ‘Do you wish to offer yourselves to God to bear all the sufferings that He may wish to send you, in reparation for the sins with which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners?… Pray the rosary ever day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.’ After the apparitions these little children had one desire: to make reparation and to pray for the conversion of poor sinners. When one learns of their voluntary penances and sacrifices, it can be said that like the Good Shepherd they laid down their lives for love of others through prayer and penance. Their short but faith-filled lives show us that children can become great saints, provided they are taught the spirit of sacrifice. And we too can become saints, indeed we must become saints; but this cannot and will not happen unless we too learn to love God and our neighbour with this same sacrificial love. Dark clouds have gathered over the world and the Church and it appears more and more that those who desire to remain faithful to Our Lord and His word of truth will have to sacrifice and perhaps even suffer much in witness to the integrity of our Catholic Faith.
In the one hundred years since these apparitions much has happened in the world and the prophecies of Our Lady have sadly been fulfilled. The shuttering of our churches and the inability of the faithful to receive the Sacraments except by exceptional means should cause us to ponder the message of Our Lady of Fatima and heed her admonitions, even at this late hour. Our culture has altered itself in unimaginable ways, and not in the least for the better. Evidently, Our Lady’s call to conversion and penance has not been universally heeded and it is even mocked and dismissed by the false shepherds who have infiltrated the Church. So we must all the more respond Our Lady’s call to penance, reparation and sacrifice. To Sister Lucia, the oldest of the seers who died in 2005, Our Lady said, My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God. The time has come to enter this refuge. In 1976, at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, while still Archbishop of Krakow, Pope St. John Paul spoke these words: We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously.
The confrontation has begun; and the great tribulation seems to be upon us. The great deceiver, the antichrist tempts us most subtly with an easy Christianity; an effortless endeavour without work, without laws and without sacrifice, without reverence for God, for ourselves, and for life itself. The world’s iniquity has ripened and false and evil shepherds are proposing this easy Christianity to the faithful who are malnourished, disoriented and unable to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd. For this reason our own prayer for the conversion of sinners must be all the more fervent; and we must likewise pray also for the faithful shepherds; for their courage, steadfastness and perseverance.
With Our Lady, with the Rosary that she exhorts us to pray every day, we learn to adore the living God especially in His hidden presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. We learn to repair; with loving hearts and sacrifices and penance to make reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended; and we learn to imitate God’s tender love for poor sinners. It is because we perceive His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament that we are able to recognize Him in the most vulnerable: the unborn, the sick, the elderly. A Church deprived of the Eucharist is a contradiction in terms. Pray for the restoration of public worship in our country and throughout the world. Pray for the restoration of the holy priesthood and of the Mass.
In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. Our Lady spoke these words at the third of the six apparitions. May they be our consolation and our strength in this time of trial. In His mercy may God Our Father hasten the triumph of the Immaculate Heart.