By Fr. Nicholas Rokitka, OFM Conv.
The image of Jesus as a shepherd can have a lot of different meanings. There is the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to search out the one who is lost. There is the image of a shepherd guiding his flock to water and food, and away from potential danger. Or maybe you think of the shepherd that weathers out the storm with his flock. It’s a beautiful image that is worth a lifetime of reflection.
In John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice……and they follow me.” One of the vows that Franciscans and other religious take is the vow of obedience. The word obedience comes from a Latin word meaning “to listen.” Sheep would become familiar with their shepherd to the point that even if many flocks of sheep were mixed together and eating, a shepherd could call his flock and only those sheep would leave. The sheep have become so familiar to the shepherd that they know his voice. Listening to the shepherd’s call is important.
Although we cannot listen to the voice of Jesus in the same way as the Apostles or disciples did, it is important that we tune in to His voice. We may all have different ideas of what that sounds like, but before we can follow the voice of the shepherd we must know his voice.
Try to think of someone’s voice who is unforgettable. Maybe it’s a famous singer like Frank Sinatra singing “Fly Me to the Moon,” or the voice of an actor saying some iconic line, like Darth Vader saying, “Luke, I am your father.” Or maybe something more contemporary like Adele, and after a few chords on the piano, you hear her sing, “Hello….it’s me.” There’s something about who they are and what they are saying that cannot be taken away from us. No matter how hard some may try to take that memory away from you, you will not be able to forget about Frank Sinatra or Darth Vader or Adele. This is an unlikely group of people, but it can give you an idea of what it means to know a voice.
Again, although we cannot hear Jesus’ voice like the disciples did and we only have His words, Jesus speaks to us every time we hear the Gospel. And unlike Frank Sinatra or Darth Vader or Adele, who entertain us and can bring us great joy, the voice of Jesus is the only one that can bring us to eternal life.
I worry that listening to the voice of Jesus is getting increasingly more difficult. I sometimes hear stories from family who remember when there were only three channels on the television. Now there are hundreds. While the introduction of Facebook, Twitter, and other types of media can be great ways to connect people, they can also be a platform for voices which are not of Jesus Christ. For better or worse, there are just a lot more voices out there today, and that can make listening to Jesus more difficult.
With the dramatic increase of voices in the world, it’s even more important that we are thinking about how we tune in to the voice of Jesus. Thankfully, we have many reliable ways to hear His voice.
“My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me.”
The best way to listen to the voice of Jesus is the Holy Scriptures. No other voice can speak to us as clearly. The presence of Jesus Christ in the Gospels must never be overlooked.
In the Seven Sacraments of the Church, we experience the love of God in symbols and rituals.
The Church itself, with the Pope as its leader, bishops as successors to the Apostles, and the many priests and religious, continues to be a consistent and powerful voice in the world.
Saints are people either in our own lifetime or throughout history who have listened to the voice of Jesus and have given us an example to follow. St. Francis is an example who is universally recognized for his radical following of the Gospel. A modern saint like St. Teresa of Calcutta and her love of the poor certainly stands out. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a woman who lived and died on American soil, listened to the voice of Jesus leading to her conversion. Her story is also a powerful example of how Jesus speaks to everyone, no matter the point in history or culture.
Or maybe it’s someone in your family or a teacher or a friend. I believe there are saints living and working in our communities today.
Listening to the voice, and then acting on the voice, is our way to eternal life. And the voice of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd is still calling us. Whether we’ve been following Christ our entire lives, or we are still in the beginning stages of responding to Him, whether we’re married, or single, or consecrated religious, the voice of Jesus Christ calls all of us, leading us to eternal life. †
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