When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So…. (Mark 6.34)
An extreme true story
Her name is Margaret. Better known as Blessed Margaret of Castello. She was born blind and lame, a hunchback and a dwarf. Grotesque by all human standards. Both here parents were devastated when they realized that their daughter was so deformed! Her father Parisio always wanted a boy. He was a nobleman who needed someone to continue his legacy. The year is 1287.
The parents took drastic measures. When she was six, they entrusted her to a nanny to keep her hidden in a house they built in the woods. The first day she moved in her ‘prison’ she wept. One biographer wrote ‘The only good thing known about Lady Emilia, the girl’s mother, was that she insisted that the child be baptized.’ Yet the parents refused to be present for the celebration. They even left the selection of the name to the nanny! She chose the name Margaret which means ‘pearl’. Quite ironic for a child so many found so ugly!
When she was fourteen, something even more tragic happened.
Her mother heard reports of miracles taking place at a shrine at Castello, quite a distance from their place. So she talked her husband into taking her and Margaret to this place in the hope that their daughter be miraculously cured. Parisio accepted having in mind a very devious plan.
The parents brought Margaret to the shrine and left her there, praying. When the time came to close the shrine, Margaret made a terrible discovery. She had been abandoned! She was filled with fear. Like many disabled persons, she did not have the basic skills to cope with life on her own. She retraced her steps back to the inn where she had stayed with her parents the night before, only to be told that the ‘nobleman and his wife’ had left in the morning!
She was alone. Abandoned and rejected by her own parents! She understood perfectly the injustice of it all – her physical disadvantages, the emotional stress of being discarded as if she were a dirty rag! A priest who knew her when she was a child remarked “Margaret has been give a keen mind with which she clearly apprehends the issues at stake”. She had a sharp mind… imprisoned in a deformed body.
Some homeless persons took charge of her. They taught her how to beg and where to wash and how to quench her thirst. They helped her acquaint herself with her new surroundings by taking her up and down the streets of the town until she knew them by heart. They taught her how to protect herself from the cold winter nights and how to avoid the night patrols.
She did not survive long. She died when she was only 32. And yet it was… amazing! She was always full of peace and joy in all these afflictions. Many families were eager to welcome her into her home because they felt warmed by the tranquility which she emanated. She was happy!
This same priest said “I grant that a heavy burden had been laid on her young shoulders. But she has received the graces necessary to carry her cross. If she does not falter a glorious victory will be hers; she will bless the day she was born blind and deformed.”
The question is obvious! How is it possible? How is it possible that a girl born with so many disadvantages in life could be happy? What was her secret? Did she find a talisman which we, notwithstanding our head start on her, have not found? I wonder!
The real issue
Jesus Christ in Mark 6 offers a very interesting diagnosis of our situation. He manages to identify and determine the real cause of our restlessness, fatigue, sadness and weariness. “He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
This is the problem! We lack a shepherd! Who is a shepherd? A shepherd is a leader, one who herds, guards and leads his flock. And normally a very deep relationship is established between the shepherd and his sheep. He is normally a caring leader.
Sheep without shepherd feel lost, disorientated, confused, easy prey to wolves and wild animals. They feel alone, not loved or cared for.
This is why a very interesting question comes to quicken us! Who is our shepherd? It is a question which has been haunting me a lot recently! Really! What is that motivates me in life? That keeps me going? That leads me on? Who owns me? Yes, who owns me?!
Is it money? Is it ambition? Is it work? Is it family? Is it college? Is it success? Is it popularity? Is it comfort?
All these things are fantastic but they are limited. Yes, they lead us on, but they will never take us to pastures of happiness and security! They not really care about us. They are not GOOD shepherds!
Money… so hard to get, so easy to evaporate. Friends .. tend to disappear when you need them most. Parents.. they die and leave you alone. College.. oh no! Popularity.. an empty balloon!
This is why Jesus Christ comes out with a proposal. Which we can take or leave. A real serious proposal. I can be your shepherd, He is saying! The advantages are outlined in Jeremiah 23 : “… and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.” He guarantees the absence of fear, the elimination of dismay, an assurance of remaining home.. if we let HIM shepherd us! What else can one want in life?!
The Pope in his historical visit to the prison in Rome within the Jubilee Year 2000, July 9, said these powerful words : “Jesus is a patient traveling companion who respects the seasons and rhythms of the human heart. He never tires of encouraging each person along the path.”
This is fantastic. We can have a patient traveling companion who is never tired of encouraging us!
Many times He does not calm the storms because storms are essential to keep us moving. But He calms the child inside us.
He gives us insights which only He can give.
In the paper this morning, there was a question stating, “Our precious little baby died several months ago and I can’t tell you how hard it has been. Is she an angel now?”
The answer was so perceptive! “Although I know it’s popular to think of loved ones becoming angels when they pass away, the Bible actually teaches that angels are a special class of spiritual beings. Strictly peaking, therefore we don’t become angels when we go to heaven.
However take comfort that your baby is now safely in God’s loving care and nothing can ever change that. She is now in a place where death and pain will never touch her, for in Heaven “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelations 21:4). …
Take comfort also in the knowledge that God loves you and He wants to bring peace and comfort to your hearts. No, I can’t explain why God allows tragedy to touch our lives and there can be no greater heartache than the loss of a child. But I do know this : God knows what it is to lose a Son, for Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins….”
It is so simple really! Walk hand in hand with Him and life would be different. This is what Margaret of Castello understood. This was her secret.
He is a good leader! A good traveling companion. A really good, good Shepherd!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.