“I know mine, and mine know me.” With these mysterious words, the Lord gives evidence of his credentials as Good Shepherd—the One fit to rule his sheep because he is willing to lay down his soul for them.
In these days when false Christs abound, we may well wonder how precisely the Shepherd and his flock are to know one another. As the parable makes clear, one instinct they share is an opposition to “the wolf,” whose endeavor is to catch and scatter the sheep.
Yet this lesson can be of no avail unless we discern what it means, non-metaphorically, for a herd to proceed unmolested into green pastures.
St. Peter, the first of our vicarious shepherds, explains the positive aim of the Good Shepherd as follows: “Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps, who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.”
As Christ himself taught, the Way of Life is the Way of Truth, and in order to keep this way and avoid becoming a lupine snack, we must follow him in rejecting all falsehood.
This is in fact the first lesson of Easter, when the Church sings with her original pope, “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile.”
If we are to live by truth, we must reject sin and the deceits by which it is promoted. Insofar as its advocates are wolves, seeking to scatter and consume those who dare to resist their wiles, living without guile takes courage.
But the fear that scatters the flock is not always of a physical nature. For the world attempts to convince us that trickery is an element of wisdom, and under this delusion it can be painful to our pride to speak plain truth, unadorned with sophistic bells and whistles.
This is one way in which salvation requires us to discard our (pseudo) maturity, becoming as “newborn babes” or “little children,” blissfully oblivious to the need to impress our misled fellows.
Allow me to illustrate, as I am wont to do, with an example taken from a sphere analogous to faith, namely that of music.
Alma Deutscher (b. 2005) is a “child prodigy” whose musical compositions seem to have produced genuine excitement in the classical world. For a sampling of her style, see here:
The viewer will quickly note that, while original in the most important sense, Deutscher’s work pays no heed to the dictates of contemporary criticism, which regards the non-ironic adoption of traditional forms as the gravest of all sins.
Thus far, Miss Deutscher has won accolades despite flouting such conventions. When pressed to explain the contempt implicit in her ignoring of popular pseudo-pieties, however, she does so in a delightfully innocent manner.
Asked to write an essay on the topic of “how modern audiences can be reconciled to modern operas,” she replies with an ingenuousness nothing short of ingenious.
Placed in a similar corner, most of us would hesitate to expose the false pretenses behind such a question, for fear of causing offense, and being cast away from polite society.
Even the more daring among us might be tempted to dress our rebuttal in fancy phrases and erudite maxims, fearing that our honesty might be mistaken for ignorance.
This remarkable young lady, on the other hand, responds by telling a fairy tale, whose simple imagery makes as clear as day the stupidity of attempting to reconcile the audiences of any age to the consumption of bread consisting in “hard unrisen lumps.”
Having thus prepared us to see the obvious, she proceeds with guileless good humor to name one very necessary ingredient painfully lacking from most “modern operas”: to wit, melody!
As we witness this childlike confession of a modest but liberating truth, let us ponder how we might apply a similar technique to the recapturing of sanity in the many other spheres of life where cultural predators have succeeded in scattering would-be followers of truth.