The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life for His Sheep

Categories: Features

The fifth century mosaic of Christ the Good Shepherd at Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy.

There is no doubt that the Coronavirus pandemic is a global tragedy. It has been heartbreaking to hear news of many dying weekly. However, I realized that the Lord has providentially afforded me an opportunity to prepare for my upcoming presbyteral ordination in a unique way.

First of all, the pandemic gives me a realistic view of the world to which I am sent to serve. It is a world that is broken, fearful, filled with anxiety, and borders on despair, in which people are struggling to make sense of it all. As a preacher, I need to be a herald of Christ-centered hope and peace. Our Lord Jesus at the Last Supper reassured the Apostles, who were anxious about what was about to happen, saying “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (Jn 14:27). Indeed, “He is our peace” (Eph 2:14). Since Christ is our peace, I must stay connected to the fountainhead of this supernatural peace in order to give it to others. Likewise, if I am to preach the light of Christ to a darkened world, I need to follow Him closely and be filled with His light of life, so as to be true to His command: “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14, cf. Jn 8:12). As such, since I am about to be ordained to minister to the sick and the dying, I need to intensify my prayer life, thereby preparing myself spiritually. Jesus encouraged his followers to pray assiduously, as when he admonished Peter, James, and John in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper, “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41).

Thankfully, in this pandemic, I see many heroic examples of priests following the Good Shepherd and laying down their lives for the flock (cf. Jn 10:11). Many of the over one hundred Italian priests who lost their lives in this pandemic contracted the virus while ministering to COVID patients. In this year’s homily on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis calls them “the saints next door.” Closer to home, the New York Times recently featured four Dominican priests in New York City who are currently courageously ministering to COVID patients there. In the history of the Church, there is no shortage of saintly priests who have shown the greatest love by laying down their lives while ministering to patients with contagious diseases (cf. Jn 15:13). I can think of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Damien of Molokai, and Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos of New Orleans, just to name a few. Interestingly, Bl. Raymond of Capua, who later became the Master of the Dominican Order, was infected with a plague while ministering to patients, but he was cured miraculously due to the prayer of St. Catherine of Siena.

To close, I would like to share a quote by St. John Paul II from the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, which not only captures the essence of priesthood, but is also especially pertinent in today’s situation: “The service of love is the fundamental meaning of every vocation, and it finds a specific expression in the priestly vocation. Indeed, a priest is called to live out, as radically as possible, the pastoral charity of Jesus, the love of the good shepherd who ‘lays down his life for the sheep’” (Jn. 10:11). I hope that I will have the charity and fortitude to do just this. Therefore, I pray earnestly as I prepare to configure myself completely to Jesus in His priesthood of self-offering to God the Father, and I invite you to join me in prayer.

Br. Gregory Augustine Liu, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE