The prophet Ezekiel is led by the angel to behold how the water from the side of the temple brings forth life in abundances. The living creatures multiply, there will be an abundance of fish, every fruit tree of every kind shall grow, their leaves shall not fade, nor fruit fail (Ezekiel 47.1-9,12). The psalmist also declares, “There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High” (Psalm 46).
Ultimately, this is a foreshadowing of the God of hosts, our stronghold, Jesus Christ, the living temple, the crucified one who from his side gushed forth blood and water. From the side of Christ, from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Church came forth receiving the new and eternal program to live and abide in Jesus.
In today’s Gospel (John 5.1-16), John presents the Lord before the Sheep Gate with the ill, blind, lame, and crippled. This is John’s way of reminding the reader that our Lord remains the Good Shepherd who will never abandon his sheep. Two thousand years later, our Lord remains with his Church, constantly renewing the Church, constantly creating a clean heart for her many members and giving us back the joy of salvation.
The Good Shepherd does not do this in an arbitrary or insignificant way. As a matter of fact, he does it in a very real and visible manner. Today, every major news station, every credible blog, and every eye is focused on one chimney in the Eternal City awaiting white smoke. It is the ancient symbol that the Cardinals, princes of the Church, have been sequestered in Conclave to elect the successor of Peter. They have gathered to elect the man who will carry the great burden of caring for every soul on earth. They have been called by the Spirit of God to elect among their own, a shepherd who will gather the world’s flock to the heart of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Gospel ever new to every nation.
Picture this. They gathered earlier in Saint Peter’s Basilica to stand before Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s masterpiece, Cathedra Petri, which embodies the theology of the papacy. Now, they go to the Sistine Chapel to elect. In their contemplation of election, they stand before Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni’s great frescos of Creation and The Last Judgment. They stand before the great mystery of our very beginning and our ultimate end. One can only wonder how a man must feel to stand before a great mystery to know that they are carrying the responsibility of electing a man who will hold the keys of loosening and binding heaven and earth.
So now, we pray. We pray knowing that Christ always remains the head of the Church. Christ always guides his Church with his Holy Spirit. Christ never leaves the Church. He died for the Church and he conquered death for the Church. Furthermore, within the Church, he gave us saints whom we can model our lives in holiness.
Now, Jesus will give us a shepherd after his own heart, who will be his spokesman, the visible sign of unity among the billions of Catholics across the globe. We watch and pray for the white smoke. We watch and pray for the new leader who will move us through the third millennium. We offer that cardinal now to the Eternal Priest as we move to the altar of the Good Shepherd and as we partake on the food of abundance.