25 May 2012

Love, feed, tend. . .in that order.

7th Week of Easter 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

With all these references to eating, we might suspect that Jesus is a secret Southerner, maybe even a true son of 'Yat Catholicism. Alas, we can end this speculation forthwith. John begins, “After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them. . .” No true Southerner—much less a native born 'Yat—would do any serious revealing of anything before breakfast! If there's anything at all serious to be discussed, it must be discussed after the second cup of coffee and the third beignet. Despite this appalling lack of good manners, Jesus manages to salvage a bit of his honor by redeeming Peter's betrayal in the Garden and working into his redemption several references to eating. Instinctively, Southerners and Catholic 'Yats understand the intimate relationship btw food and love. Apparently, so do Jewish carpenters. How best to show that you love someone? Feed them. And not only feed them, but tend to them as well. Jesus says to Peter (paraphrasing): if you love me, love my sheep; feed them and tend to them. As shepherds, how do we love and feed and tend to the Lord's sheep? 

Some might balk at being referred to as sheep. Sheep are stupid, dirty, and kinda loud. But what if we expanded the metaphor a bit and said that each of us—in relationship to one another—is called to be both shepherd and sheep? In other words, you are a sheep to the shepherding of your pastor but a shepherd in tending to your children. Your pastor is a sheep to the shepherding of his bishop and the bishop is a sheep to the shepherding of the Holy Father and so on. This means that all at once, each of us must cultivate the skills and attitudes that allow us to be the best possible shepherds and the best possible sheep. What are those skills and attitudes? More importantly, in what do we ground these skills and attitudes? What is it that—when properly employed—allows us to acquire and hone the skills and attitudes required to be simultaneously good shepherds and good sheep? Before Jesus tells Peter to tend his sheep, he tells him to feed his sheep. This implies that there is more to tending sheep and simply feeding them. Anyone can throw food at sheep; anyone can toss a burger at you or throw some cash your way for a po-boy. The difference that makes the difference btw feeding and tending is love. 

The order that Jesus asks his questions and gives his commands is no accident. First, love; next, feed; then, tend. (And then to make sure that we Southerners are paying attention, he adds a second feeding!) Jesus is speaking both literally and metaphorically here. He really does mean “love my people, give them food to eat, and take care of them.” He also means “love my people, give them spiritual food, and take care of their souls.” The two references to feeding the sheep mean “feed their bodies” and “feed their souls.” I assume that you all know to feed the body. How do you love, feed, and tend to the souls you shepherd? To love, you want the Good for others and you do the Good for others. To feed, you make yourself into a tasty example of holiness and do so abundantly, gladly, even extravagantly. To tend, you watch and listen for the wolves of this world and protect the souls in your care from the ravenous appetites of those who long to recruit comrades in their self-destruction. To be a good sheep? Receive the love you are freely given. Follow examples of holiness with the same zeal that they are made. And be ready to be taught right from wrong, good from evil. Whether you are the shepherd or the sheep at any given moment, love. All worthwhile food and all worthwhile care comes from the one source of Love: Love Himself. 

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  1. Since you are back to answering questions, do you have a question box or do we just post a comment in a thread?

  2. I don't have a question box. . .just post one anywhere. I'll get it.