Years ago, walking along a crowded beach, I came upon a group of people gathered around a crying, screaming child. He was lost and nothing anyone said or did could calm him down. But in a while, something did arrive on the scene which settled him. It was the sound of a voice, his mother’s, she who had been frantically running up and down the shoreline searching and worrying. The point: out of all those many voices, the child was able to recognize the tone and timbre of this particular one – the one who loved him.
In John’s tenth chapter, we encounter a voice many would listen for, the voice of the “Good Shepherd.” The sheep lock onto it, are able to pick it out amidst competing sounds. They recognize the voice of someone who cares for them, who would sacrifice for them, protect them — and lead them home.
The Good Shepherd’s voice is the perhaps earliest image used by the infant Church to convey the presence of the Risen Jesus. Faith as pictured here is a listening, an attuning of ears and hearts to the voice of Jesus in everyday life. It’s the conviction that God is present, that God calls from the events of history, that God’s Spirit weaves itself through the ins and outs of daily living. The challenge is to sharpen one’s hearing for that divine guidance, to listen more intently for this caring and benevolent sound.
Coming into a Church puts us more onto God’s wavelength — all the stained glass and the quiet and the presence of fellow worshippers who are also trying to listen. Especially effective is the way we take in the riches of the scriptures, opening ourselves to their deeper meanings and making connections between them and the rest of life. The lives of the saints also have their own resonance.
Then, of course, there is the surrounding world which is forever issuing cries for help and sustenance. Those pictures of Ukranian children huddled on those trains, those refugees fleeing from Myanmar, these and so many other scenes issue their sorrowful calls.
The image of the Good Shepherd has sharpened believers’ recognition of who, when, and where our God is: when feeling lost, knowing we are being searched for; when sensing danger, knowing there is protection; when feeling unloved, knowing there is the Shepherd’s love coming right at us.
We often hear St. Vincent leaning back on this assurance. In a letter written in the very last year of his life, he attests “We have Our Lord’s promise that He’ll take care of all our needs, without our worrying about them.” (Vol 11, p 112; February 21, 1659). Thirty one years earlier, he observed, “…Our Lord Jesus Christ, who seems to have made His principal aim in coming into this world to assist poor people and take care of them. (Vol 11, p. 98, October 29, 1638)
Through regular worship, and through generous, other-centered lives, we sharpen our hearing for this Shepherding voice, not only getting better at recognizing its sound but indeed stepping out to follow right behind it.