Early Church Fathers
Sermon XCVI. [CXLVI. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, John. xxi. 16, "Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?" etc.
1. Ye have observed, beloved, that in to-day's lesson it was said by the Lord to Peter in a question, "Lovest thou Me?" To whom he answered, "Thou knowest, Lord, that I love thee." This was done a second, and a third time; and at each several reply, the Lord said, "Feed My lambs."1 To Peter did Christ commend His lambs to be fed, who fed even Peter himself. For what could Peter do for the Lord, especially now that He had an Immortal Body, and was about to ascend into heaven? As though He had said to him, "`Lovest thou Me?' Herein show that thou lovest Me, `Feed my sheep.'" So then, Brethren, do ye with obedience hear that ye are Christ's sheep; seeing that we on our part with fear hear, Feed My sheep"? If we feed with fear, and fear for the sheep;these sheep how ought they to fear for themselves? Let then carefulness be our portion, obedience yours; pastoral watchfulness our portion, the humility of the flock yours. Although we too who seem to speak to you from a higher place, are with fear beneath your feet; forasmuch as we know how perilous an account must be rendered of this as it were exalted seat. Wherefore, dearly beloved, Catholic plants, Members of Christ, think What a Head ye have! Children of God, think What a Father ye have found. Christians, think What an Inheritance is promised you. Not such as on earth cannot be possessed by children, save when their parents are dead. For no one on earth possesses a father's inheritance, save when be is dead. But we whilst our Father liveth shall possess what He shall give; for that our Father cannot die. I add more, I say more, and say the truth; our Father will Himself be our Inheritance.
2. Live consistently, especially ye candidates of Christ, recently baptized, just regenerated, as I have admonished you before, so say I now, and give expression to my solicitude; for the present lesson of the Gospel hath forced upon me a greater fear: take heed to yourselves, do not imitate evil Christians. Say not I will do this, for many of the faithful do it. This is not to procure a defence for the soul;but to look out for companions unto hell. Grow ye in this floor of the Lord; herein ye will find good men to please you, if ye yourselves are good. For are ye our private property? Heretics and schismatics have made their own private property out of what they have stolen from the Lord, and would feed, not Christ's flocks, but their own against Christ. It is true indeed, they place His title on these their spoils, that their robberies may be as it were maintained by the title of His Power. What doeth Christ when such as these are converted, who have received the title of His Baptism out of the Church? He casteth out the spoiler, He doth not efface the title, and taketh possession of the house; because He hath found His title there. What need is there that He should change His Own Name? Do they take heed to what the Lord said to Peter, "Feed My lambs, feed My sheep"? Did He say to him, "Feed thy lambs;" or, "Feed thy sheep"? But for them who are shut out, what said He in the Song of Songs, unto the Church? The Spouse speaking to the Bride, saith, "If thou know not thyself, O thou fair one among women, go forth."2 As though He said, "I do not cast thee out, `go forth, if thou know not thyself, O thou fair one among women,' if thou know not thyself in the mirror of divine Scripture, if thou give not heed, O thou fair woman, to the mirror which with no false lustre deceiveth thee; if thou know not that of thee it is said, `Thy glory shall be above all earth;'3 that of thee it is said, `I will give thee nations for thine inheritance, and the limits of the earth for thy possession;'4 and other innumerable testimonies which set forth the Catholic Church. If then thou know not these, thou hast no part in Me, thou canst not make thyself My heir. `Go forth then in the footsteps of the flocks' not in the fellowship of the flock; and feed thy goats, not as it was said to Peter, `My sheep.'" To Peter it was said, "My sheep;" to schismatics it is said," thy goats." In the oneplace "sheep," in the other "goats;" in the one place "Mine," in the other" thine." Recollect the right Hand and the left of our Judge; recollect where the goats shall stand, and where the sheep;5 and it will be plain to you where is the right hand, where the left, the white and the black, the lightsome, and the darksome, the fair and the deformed, that which is about to receive the kingdom, and that which is to find everlasting punishment.