St. Asterius of Amasea is the chosen preacher for today's Lenten Office of Readings. He lived in the late fourth and early fifth century and is one of the three Cappadocian Fathers of the Church. Several of his sermons are still available and have been translated into English. The latest publication, a reprint of an earlier book, came out in 2007 and is entitled "Ancient Sermons for Modern Times."
I was struck by his use of the image of the shepherd from St. Luke's Gospel in today's selection: . . . we see a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. When one of them was separated from the flock and lost its way, that shepherd did not remain with the sheep who kept together at pasture. No, he went off to look for the stray. He crossed many valleys and thickets, he climbed great and towering mountains, he spent much time and labor in wandering through solitary places until at last he found his sheep. When he found it, he did not chastise it; he did not use rough blows to drive it back, but gently placed it on his own shoulders and carried it back to the flock. He took greater joy in this one sheep, lost and found, than in all the others. Let us look more closely at the hidden meaning of this parable. The sheep is more than a sheep, the shepherd more than a shepherd. They are examples enshrining holy truths. They teach us that we should not look on men as lost or beyond hope; we should not abandon them when they are in danger or be slow to come to their help. When they turn away from the right path and wander, we must lead them back, and rejoice at their return, welcoming them back into the company of those who lead good and holy lives.
Given the present Holy Father's penchant for referencing the mercy of God and the number of times that he has urged the faithful to return to the Sacrament of Penance, I feel certain that he would heartily endorse the thought of St. Asterius. Given his advice to confessors, I also feel certain that he would also ask them to emulate the actions and care shown by the shepherd.
However, I believe our meditation goes further than this. Today's world is so polemicized that I believe we could all take this message to heart. Here in Illinois we are getting ready for another primary election. Consequently the airwaves are filled with negative political ads and our telephones are ringing off the hook with recorded messages. The only way to avoid the negativity is to turn off the television and radio and screen one's calls. This negativity tends to show up in our attitudes toward our neighbors who disagree with us or who are living in situations of which we don't approve. Winning them back to the "right path" will never happen if we continually engage in vitriolic speech and harangue them about their life style. According to St. Asterius, we need to place them on our shoulders and carry them back to the flock. The question facing me today is what would this look like in my life? What would it look like in yours?
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator