Oh, the better part of 500 years ago, Edmund Campion was born in England. The Church of England had begun a few years before and a severe persecution of Catholics had broken out. Edmund was brilliant and having friends in the court of Queen Elizabeth, Edmund who was a notable speaker was offered to be made deacon in the Church of England. Instead, as a young man he fled to France and joined the Jesuits. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest after several years and after sneaking back into London, Campion is famous for having escaped capture several times by donning various disguises. He gathered many converts and strengthened the faith of the Catholics who had to hide their faith. Finally, a spy tracked him down and he was paraded through the streets bound hand and foot. Queen Elizabeth herself offered to pardon him if he would only forsake his service to the pope. Campion was tortured severely on the rack for the crime of being a priest and sentenced to being hung, drawn and quartered. On the way to the scaffold, he saluted a statue of Our Lady as best as he could and when mocked before the crowd, he offered a prayer for Elizabeth whom he called “your queen and my queen.” The blood of Edmund Campion and so many English martyrs continues to reap a harvest of conversions.
Campion could have had freedom in another country or he could have given up his faith and had worldly success in England, but he chose to humble himself and serve. I was thinking of that because I came across a quote from a one of the world’s shortest sermons. Apparently there was some preacher who believes he can sum up the whole Bible in four words: “I’m God, You’re Not.”
There is a lot of truth in those four words. This is actually very close to the message that St. Michael brings to Satan and all of the fallen angels, when he proclaims the message of his name: Who is like God? Satan cannot contend with God…he can’t even contend with Michael and the good angels. So, the devil loses – and so does anybody who tries to make themselves equal to God. But, this is not the only thing Christ came to reveal to us, for we celebrate today that He is the True Shepherd – the Good Shepherd. You could say, ahh, but see — we’re just sheep. He’s the shepherd. Again, we seem to be highlighting that He’s not one of us….yes, but His message is not to tell the sheep “I’m great, and you’re puny.” He is instead willing to give His life for these sheep rather than run away.
Still we have this problem. He’s God and we have this longing to be in communion with Him, but He’s God and we’re not. We could say sadly in reply: we’re mortal and you’re not. God in very many ways is like an engineer. There is a problem with the system and He chooses to try and find a solution within the system itself. He knows that we can’t just ascend to Him, so He descends to us. But that’s just the Annunciation and Christmas. He sees this ability to descend as a great power. Jesus even describes this today as a power to give up His life. Jesus not only descends and humbles Himself to live among us. He even descends and humbles Himself before death. It’s as if He says to death, “This time, take a load off. I’ll come to you.” And He dies the most ignominious of deaths. He goes from being the Shepherd to the sacrificial lamb.
Have you ever noticed that we use this imagery of the Good Shepherd at almost every funeral? That is no accident. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil.” Strange as it sounds, Christ has made this power to willingly die ours as well. We can’t just choose our own time to physically die. But what does the world say? Live for yourself. Your body is a temple for you. We can die to that – we can die to sin – to living for ourselves. In the waters of baptism. Our souls are joined to His soul, our bodies are joined to Body and His death. Through Baptism we enter into His sheepfold (His Church on earth) and in the other sacraments we can return there and be nourished. But there’s one more place to go.
We are all still going through the valley of death, but Christ says He has another power: the power to take His life up again. This is the glory that He has lowered Himself to share with us. God has made Himself a shepherd and then even a lamb and even a slain lamb that we might know that He is God, but that we can be like Him in His death that we might be like Him in Eternal life.