Do You Know the Shepherd?
I remember when Father Bob, our retired chaplain here at Dynamic Catholic, first told me about the banquet in an ancient English castle on the hills just outside London. Hundreds of guests from all over the world gathered for this lavish affair, movie stars, artists, politicians, princes, princesses, designers, models, industry giants, and entrepreneurs, and a handful of regular folk who had become friends with the host over the years. The evening was to be celebrated not with music or speeches or dancing, nope. A world-renowned Shakespearean actor would be the centerpiece of the evening, that night's entertainment. First, a sumptuous feast with exquisite meats served on platters by a regal staff, fine wines, all of Gallo's finest. The castle radiant, adorned with a springtime of flowers, majestically lit with a heavenly host of candles.
As the dinner wound down, but before dessert was served, the host stood and welcomed his guests. "This evening, rather than music or dancing or speeches, I have invited England's most celebrated and revered Shakespearean actor to perform for us." The people warmly applauded. The actor stood. He made his way to the center of the banquet hall and began to speak. He spoke eloquently. He spoke powerfully. He spoke for 35 minutes. He held the audience in the palm of his hand, brilliantly reciting and performing passages from all across Shakespeare's work. "Oh, I am but fortune's fool. To be or not to be? That is the question. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more beautiful and more temperate." And after each episode, the audience erupted in applause, the sound echoing through the castle and into the moonlit courtyards and out into the land beyond. "If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended: that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear." And with that, the closing scene of Midsummer Night's Dream, the actor took a bow, his performance complete. The guests roared their approval. They called for an encore. The actor rose to his feet, eager to oblige their request. "If anyone has a favorite Shakespearean passage, if I know it, I would be happy to recite it." Hands quickly popped up. One man asked for the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. A young woman asked for the 14th sonnet.
One by one, the actor brought these scenes to life. Then an elderly gentleman, a priest, toward the back of the hall, raised his hand. "I realize it's not Shakespeare, but it would be so wonderful if-- might you recite the 23rd Psalm for us tonight?" The actor paused. His eyes drifted for a moment as if he was remembering something far in his past, and then he smiled and said, "Father, I'd be happy to recite the Psalm on one condition. When I'm finished, that you, too, will recite the Psalm for us here tonight." The priest was taken aback. He hesitated. He was a little embarrassed. He looked down and he fidgeted with his napkin, but he really wanted to hear the actor recite the Psalm. So finally he agreed. "Very well, sir." The crowd hushed in anticipation. The actor began. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."
When he finished, the audience rose in a standing ovation, clapping, cheering, again echoing into the courtyard and surrounding hills on this very midsummer evening. After a few minutes of adulation, they returned to their seats. Then the actor looked at the priest and said, "Father, it's your turn now." Shifting in his place, the old priest looked down, placed a hand on the table to steady himself, and he took a deep breath. His face indicated he was stepping into some other place as he began. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
When the priest finished, not a sound could be heard in the hall. No one clapped. No one moved. No one spoke. Silence had settled on the castle and the hills. A woman wiped a tear from her eyes. The man next to her sat staring open-mouthed. The host gazed quietly at the night, the sky filled with stars. And as the priest sat down, every eye fixed on him, the faces of the crowd awestruck. Slowly, the actor stood and addressed the crowd. "Why was the old man's recital of the Psalm so much more powerful than mine?" He paused and he looked at the priest, and he said, "Father, I know the Psalm, but you, you know the Shepherd." Today, the Gospel reading invites you. Get to know the Shepherd.