The shepherdess trembled with a mixture of elation and fear as she recognized the familiar figure approaching over the rise.
The shepherd noted with grave concern the listless sheep with a myriad of maladies. He was equally saddened by how thin the flock and thus how quickly he made his way to his bride in their midst.
“Beloved!” he called. “How fare you?” He rushed to embrace her.
“I fare poorly, my Love and Savior.”
“You are weak! What has happened?”
“The flock, my Lord. It dwindles and I do not know why.”
“You feed it my body and blood?”
“Yes, Lord. But fewer come every day. Fewer know it is you.”
“Why is that?”
“I know not, Lord. But they grow sick and wither and wander away.”
“Do you no longer care for them?”
“Of course I care for them! They come to me, I see they are sick, and I send them to the best care anywhere.”
“Beloved! You give the best care anywhere! Why do you send them elsewhere?”
“I fear I do not know how to help them, Lord.”
“Who gives better care than you, my Beloved?”
“The hired shepherd who comes with medicine, Lord. Look! See him there with our sheep!”
“The man leading our sheep away from our flock? Oh! How foolish you are!
“I established you, my bride, as my shepherd, sharing with you my Authority on heaven and earth, to bind and loose on earth and in heaven matters of the soul, yet now you send our sheep away from us, to a strange shepherd who cares not for our flock and who has no authority over them, who feeds off our flock instead of giving his life for theirs, and you wonder why our flock sickens, wanders off, ever dwindling?
“Oh! How foolish you are! Beloved! You are anemic because you neglect the authority I gave you as shepherd of the soul.
“Our flock weakens, wanders off, dies off, and diminishes because you abdicate their care to a hired shepherd who wields not my authority. To you, and you alone, have I given my Authority in this way.
“You have forgotten the health of the flock requires loving labor: plucking poisoned weeds from the pastures, fending off wolves, cleansing their water, and most of all revealing my love for them through giving yourself to them daily, walking with them always. You are weakening because feckless cowardice and sloth have made you afraid instead of boldly, humbly obeying me, your husband.
“Return to me! Recover and discover what you’ve known. Know what you know! Become who you are! Assume and wield the authority I have given you with renewed vigor and again become the shepherd of our flock! Oh, my Beloved!”
The shepherd’s wife melted into her Beloved’s arms.
“Lord Jesus my sweet Christ, grant me the grace of humble obedience to you, that I may love and serve you, my Groom, as Holy Mary loves and serves as your handmaid. Open my heart that I may run to you with open arms and receive the gifts you’ve already given. Amen.”