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in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Pastors Who Fail As Shepherds

From a sermon On Pastors by Saint Augustine, bishop

Prepare your soul for temptation

Let us now consider what shepherds neglect. You have failed to strengthen what was weak, to heal what was sick, and to bind up what was injured, that is, what was broken. You did not call back the straying sheep, nor seek out the lost. What was strong you have destroyed. Yes, you have cut it down and killed it. The sheep is weak, that is to say, its heart is weak, and so, incautious and unprepared, it may give in to temptations.

The negligent shepherd fails to say to the believer: My child, come to the service of God, stand fast in fear and in righteousness, and prepare your soul for temptation. A shepherd who does say this strengthens those who are weak and makes them strong. Such believers will then not hope for the prosperity of this world. For if they have been taught to hope for worldly gain, they will be corrupted by prosperity. When adversity comes, they will be wounded or perhaps destroyed.

The builder who builds in a negligent manner is not building the believer on a rock but upon sand. But the rock was Christ. Christians must imitate Christ’s sufferings, not set their hearts on pleasures. Those who are weak will be strengthened when told: “Yes, expect the temptations of this world, but the Lord will deliver you from them all if your heart has not abandoned Him. For it was to strengthen your heart that He came to suffer and die, came to be spit upon and crowned with thorns, came to be accused of shameful things, yes, came to be fastened to the wood of the Cross. All these things He did for you, and you did nothing. He did them not for Himself, but for you.”

But what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offense not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? God Himself made no such promise to this world. On the contrary, God foretold hardship upon hardship in this world until the end of time. And you want Christians to be exempt from these troubles? Precisely because they are Christian, they are destined to suffer more in this world.

For the Apostle says, All who desire to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. But shepherd, you seek what is yours and not what is Christ’s; you disregard what the Apostle says: All who want to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. You say instead: “If you live a holy life in Christ, all good things will be yours in abundance. If you do not have children, you will embrace and nourish all men, and none of them shall die.” Is this the way you build up believers? Take note of what you are doing and where you are placing them. You have built them on sand. The rains will come, the river will overflow and rush in, the winds will blow, and the elements will dash against that house of yours. It will fall, and its ruin will be great.

Lift them up from the sand and put them on the rock. Let them be in Christ, if you wish them to be Christians. Let them turn their thoughts to sufferings, however unworthy they may be in comparison to Christ’s. Let them center their attention on Christ, who was without sin, and yet made restitution for what He had not done. Let them consider Scripture, which says to them: He chastises every child whom He acknowledges. Let them prepare to be chastised, or else not seek to be acknowledged as His children.

—Saint Augustine, bishop
Office of Readings, Friday of the
Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time


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