We hear this beautiful Psalm today (Psalm 23). It’s one I am sure many, if not all of you, are familiar with. It depicts our Lord and God as our Good Shepherd; one who provides for our needs so that “[we] shall not want” for anything. He is one who “comforts [us]” and “leads [us] in right paths.”
I find it interesting that, in the Gospel today, we are compared with sheep! I have heard that they are not very smart, hence why they need a shepherd. Truth be told (and I speak firstly of myself) we are not the brightest when it comes especially to spiritual matters. We continually go back to our same habits of sin as much as we try to turn from them, we get distracted by worries, and we stray awful close to cliffs of self-sufficiency and doubt among many other things. We are in need of being led by a shepherd who can bring us comfort and security, who knows our weaknesses and can lead us to green pastures and beside still waters.
Two lines in our Gospel today really spoke to me:
- “He calls his sheep by name… He goes ahead of them and the sheep follow because they know his voice…” John 10:4-5
- “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
The first, “He calls his sheep by name… He goes ahead of them and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but run from him because they don’t know the voice of strangers.”
It is important then for us to be able to hear the voice of the shepherd so that we can follow it, otherwise it will be the voice of the stranger that will entice us in. In today’s world however there is so much noise. The biggest one I can think of is our televisions, but we also have our iPads, Tablets, iPods, telephones, e-mail, the news, the media; all these things that fill our heads with noise. How are we to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd? In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “We are no longer able to hear God; there are to many frequencies filling our ears.” Now I am not saying to get rid of these things, although that would certainly make it a lot easier for us to hear God’s voice, but I know for myself this noise distracts and pulls our minds and hearts away from silence. As a family, we challenge ourselves on Sunday to pull away from the screens and the noise, to be in the silence of eachothers, and God’s, presence because this is where His voice is. So my challenge for you is this; think about the nose in your life, from the time you get up in the morning. This week(maybe even today) be conscious of even just one thing that creates noise in your life and take it out for a day. Spend that time in silence and allow the Shepherd to speak to you.
This leads us to the closing line of the Gospel, Jesus’ life’s vocation: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
“Sometimes in the media world we live in, I would say a post-Christian and anti-Catholic world for the most part, we get this message that the Church is oppressive, that God is a mean ogre in the sky who wants to squash our fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. What God gives us is this incredible plan of his that is all about helping us live the abundant life.” -Teresa Tomeo (from Opening the Word on FORMED.com).
Yes, these green pastures and still waters can be likened to heavenly paradise into which we can enter by Jesus, “the gate;” the way in. However Jesus not only leads us to life in heaven, but ‘abundant life’ here on earth if we follow in the paths he has made for us. Let’s go back to the words of St.Peter in the 2nd reading(1 Peter 2:21,23) for a moment: “Christ also suffered for you leaving an example, so that you should follow in his steps… When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” So we have this Good Shepherd who leads us, by first walking the path that we too must walk, in order to have HIS abundant life in us.
I want to share a little story with you to go back to the behaviour of sheep. I have heard it said: “That when a lamb is particularly rambunctious or adventurous, repeatedly putting itself in danger, a shepherd will sometimes purposely break one of it’s legs. He then puts the lamb around his neck until it’s leg is healed. By that time, the little lamb has become attached to the shepherd, and it never again strays far from it’s masters protection and guidance.” Fr.John Bartunek (The Better Part, pg 895)
In my own life I can really relate to this lamb. I didn’t realize how self-sufficient I had become. Yes, I said I needed God but I feel that there wasn’t a deep realization of that need. So when I was hit with what started as a common cold and ended with me losing much of my balance and proper leg function I was for the first time in my life actually, physically in need of others to help me. I couldn’t do everything any more. Before all this had happened I had booked myself for a 2-day silent retreat. God had placed the need for this on my heart, even having to sacrifice time with my family who we were down to visit with. At the beginning of the retreat I remember the priest explaining the purpose of the silence, ”To create a space to hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us.” It hit me, and made so much sense. And it was such a time of grace for me. I realized, in my physical weakness how weak I was spiritually and how much I needed God. This time of intimacy in the silence gave me a new perspective and a new angle from which to see life. But I first needed to have my ‘leg broken’, so to speak, so that I could learn to remain close to Him, to rely on Him for my every need.
In closing, the Lord guides us, as a shepherd guides his sheep, if we are open and disposed to hearing his voice in the silence. He has an incredible plan for each one of us, to help us live the abundant life here and now and (God willing) eternal life with him in heaven. So let us not be timid or fearful but live whatever presents itself to us, because everything is a gift from our Good Shepherd for our own good and for our abundance!