Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Good Shepherd

In my parish, I am fortunate that our pastor hosts an annual retreat for us, so it is easy to attend for someone who cannot otherwise travel very far anymore.  At the outset of my second year of illness, I was in attendance for the talk of a Franciscan priest who spoke following the morning mass.  He said something that deeply impacted me with regard to my condition, about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

I should say before going on, that I had been at peace during that first year of illness with Lyme disease.  It was in fact devastating to my body and my life in many ways, but I had great peace with it, largely because I accepted it as the will of God. 

At the beginning of that second year, however, I was becoming unsettled about it because it had displaced me from a hermitage in which I was discerning a vocation to the religious life.  For women discerning marriage who have the disease, or who are already married and contract the disease, a similar issue of unrest might ensue in learning that a fetus may become infected through the mother. 

For me, I had the sense that suffering the illness was a part of my preparation to enter into a life fully committed to God.  The idea of illness becoming a partial fulfillment of my vocation was very clear in me, realizing that being sick with Lyme disease was in some key ways reminiscent of the design of monastic life, given a defined schedule to which one must adhere, the discipline of maintaining regular exercise, and ascetic diet, for instance… though, the disease has been far stricter than the monastery, and I have always taken this to be meant for the good of my soul.

Yet, there was at the time of my parish retreat, a creeping doubt emerging in me that challenged my hope of ever being able to take vows.  Then there were the words of the Franciscan, which for some hearts may seem disturbing, but to mine were quite soothing.    

He brought to our minds the image of Christ with the lamb laid over His shoulders, the lamb’s legs held by His hands, and the ear of the lamb set in that position very near to the lips of our Lord.  The Franciscan said, sometimes the Lord may Himself be the one to break the legs of the lamb so that the lamb may be brought back into the fold.  I add my own understanding, that He will break the legs and carry her Himself rather than have her be lost to mortal harm. 

This resonated with me, knowing myself and to the degree our Lord has permitted me awareness, the state of my soul.  I could see the need for my “legs to be broken.”  I could see in my case, it being an act of mercy on His part that my legs be held in His hands, and my trust in His plan was restored.  Furthermore, I have experienced that closeness of His lips to my ear throughout.  As you might imagine given the state of life I was discerning, we had been close before, but in truth I must tell you that we have only grown closer and our closeness has penetrated much deeper in and through my experience of this illness. 

For those reading who do not share my perspective, I will add that sometimes a lamb is lost because she is broken.  She does not have the heart or the will to follow Him, and if she does not wish to follow, if she does not want to be with Him, He will not force her, but He remains with her at the distance she maintains.  If and when she is ready, when she calls out for Him, He is waiting to gather her to His heart…

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