Recognizing voices are important. I remember quite clearly that as a little boy I would walk my little sister home from school, open the front gate and wait to hear the voice of my grandmother greeting us as we arrived safe and sound. Voices familiar to us are quite comforting.
As people of faith the voice of the Good Shepherd is comforting to us; it is the voice that leads us safely home
Today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, as we read the 10th chapter of the Gospel of St. John. The image of a shepherd would be one that almost everyone in that day could relate to. Being a shepherd was a pretty popular profession as sheep were plentiful throughout the area. The image of a shepherd would also be one that devout Jews knew from reading the Scriptures. Moses tended flocks as did King David who wrote the much loved 23rd psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd. Isaiah used the image of sheep in prophesying the coming of a Messiah.
Shepherds were thought of as tough but caring men. They would do everything they could to keep them safe. Often, when one would stray or face imminent danger, the shepherd would leave the flock to save the most vulnerable. The shepherd’s voice was important to caring for his sheep. Although not very smart creatures, sheep would come to recognize the voice of their shepherd and the good shepherds would come to recognize each of his sheep by their distinctive sound.
In our Gospel today Jesus talks also of the gate. We probably have an image of the shepherd herding his sheep into a corral and closing a gate behind him to keep the sheep together. This is not the case in early Palestine. The sheep were moving, in constant search for scare patches of grass and water. Shepherds, at the end of the day, literally would herd the sheep along the walls of a hill or a cliff and then close them in by becoming the gate. Yes, the shepherd would lay his body down across the open area and become the gate. The sheep would never leave the area once the shepherd laid his body down to keep them safe.
Do you know when we arrive at this Good Shepherd discourse in John’s Gospel? It occurs immediately after Jesus chastises the Pharisees for their ill treatment of the man born blind. Jesus knew that the Pharisees should have been for that man, that one lost sheep, a good shepherd. They were not. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, recognizes the voice of His lost one, finds him, cures him and leads him safely home.
A Good Shepherd feeds his flock. Jesus feeds us with His body and blood.
A Good Shepherd leads his flock on the right path. Jesus teaches us the fullness of truth, the right path that leads us safely home. A Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, Jesus, the Good Shepherd is the Gate, by laying down His life for us; He is the Gate through which we must pass to spend eternal life with Him inside the gates of Heaven. This act of the Good Shepherd is not an act of weakness, no! He willingly lays down His life for us in order to save us. A Good Shepherd prepares others to be shepherds of the flock too. And many shepherds have come in time to shepherd His flock, the church, the people of God. He calls Peter to be the first shepherd by challenging him to feed my lambs and tend my sheep. That command extends to all the Pope’s and Bishops. Our earthly shepherd today is Pope Francis and our local Bishop Gregory Aymond. Our pastor, Fr.Ken is charged with shepherding this local community of faith we call St. Jane de Chantal and our mission at St. Michael. Do we consistently pray for our leaders? Do we pray for Pope Francis? Do we pray for Archbishop Gregory and our Bishops? Do we pray for Priests, for Ken and Fr. Kevin? By the way, Pastor is Latin for shepherd!
Today we celebrate Vocations. It has been a long tradition to speak of vocations on Good Shepherd Sunday. And so we must.
We pray for vocations before every Mass. Do we continue our prayer all week? Do we pray specifically for vocations from our own parish? Among our own is someone called to the vocation of the priesthood? Do we foster the idea of a calling to the priesthood in our own domestic churches, our families? Priests do not just arrive; they are called from among us. In a few short weeks Archbishop Aymond will ordain 5 men to the Priesthood; this is a healthy number. The seminaries are at record levels of enrollment. Still Priests retire and then sometimes we lose our Priests. Just this past week, due to complications from surgery, the Archdiocese lost 49 year old Fr. John Arnone. In the generosity of your prayers, please pray for Father Arnone and all who will miss him, especially his family. We always need good shepherds, that is why we must pray and support our vocation efforts!
Just like that TV show, The Voice, it’s all about hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd, leading us safely through the Gate. When I entered that old gate of my childhood home and heard my grandma’s voice, I knew I was safely home. How much more joy, how much more glory will it be when we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and we let Him lead us, his sheep, safely home. When he calls us don’t forget to answer: Baaaaah!