Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday following the great feast of Easter, is celebrated today by the Church. Today is a day in we all focus on the tenderness of the Lord and smoothing quality of his voice gently calling us to deeper and fuller communio with him. The Fourth Sunday of Easter is the day in which the Holy Father draws our attention to vocations in the Church (priest, brother, sister, nun, deacon, perhaps consecrated lay person) for one’s salvation but also for the glory of God in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the iconic life of a Catholic in the sacraments. As Blessed John Paul said in Pastor Bonus, “the task of its [the Church’s] shepherd of pastors was indeed to be that service ‘which is called very expressly in Sacred Scripture a diaconia or ministry'” (1). Benedict’s message for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations can be read here.
The pivotal point of the Good Shepherd narrative we read in the Gospel is that the Lord –the true and only Shepherd– knows us personally, knows for who are and not what we pretend to be. The icon proposed here by the Lord himself is the image of a Shepherd who knows his sheep, who goes after his sheep, and lays down his life for his sheep. No strings are attached, no mixed motives acknowledged. The shepherd knows our voice, and we recognize his. Jesus of Nazareth, the Shepherd, wants to give us life abundantly. But in our to accept this gift of the abundant life we need to realize that absolutely nothing can drown out the voice of the Good Shepherd. Our job is keep the ears of our heart clean, that is, we need to remain pure of heart.
Too often in our society we confuse the Lord’s voice for the voice of man; for a false voice that doesn’t lead to Christ himself. It may be confused for the voices that subtly deceive and distract; the voice of the Devil always proposes evil by making something look like a good thing when in fact it is not; the voice of the Devil will not lead to a deeper communio with Christ, it is not because the Shepherd’s voice because it is false. When we listen to voices other than the Lord’s it is because we can’t judge the true, the good and the beautiful with certainty. As Pope Benedict says in his message for vocations, “when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by “other voices” and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church needs consciously to feel responsibility for” making sure the Lord’s own voice is heard with clarity; for his call, especially to a life of radical self-giving of a priest or religious brother or sister, needs to be heard. In this self-giving of the priest and religious the flock is tended to by the exercise of of teaching, sanctify and leading the people to Christ. This ministry entails the clear communication of doctrine, prayer and Divine Worship, and solid guidance. This is how our Church lives effectively in Christ –in the ordained ministry– though, we have to acknolwedge this threefold ministry is also given to all people through the sacrament of Baptism and therefore all people share in some manner in teaching the faith, prayer and guiding others. This notion might be best exemplified in “normal circumstances” in the family (cf. the domestic church in the Catechism).
But we ought never to forget that the call to holiness is given to all regardless ministerial duty and responsibility. We all have to be concerned for the eternal destiny of others.
The Congregation for the Clergy said this for today’s Gospel:
“At this point the close connection between today’s Gospel and the Pascal period that we are living becomes even clearer. The Risen One, is the true and unique model of the ‘Good Shepherd’ who knows us all intimately by name and is the only One who’s voice we can hear, who’s familiar sound makes our heart beat. Jesus, having nailed our sins to the wood of the cross (cfr 1 Pet 2:24) has only one desire: to ‘lead [us] besides still waters’ to ‘refresh [our] soul[s]’ in order to ‘dwell in the house of the Lord for ever’. (Ps 23:2:6) Above all else, the Lord desires that all those who are ‘outside the flock’ will be added to those that, although not yet living in the garden of paradise, they have already entered into His Body which is the Church.”