The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.
This past weekend Christ taught us about Himself as our Good Shepherd. Just as the shepherd walks into the center of the sheepfold, then talks with them as he leads them to new ground, Jesus was born into the center of our worldly ‘sheepfold’ then walked endlessly, preaching and leading the thousands who followed Him. It is easy for those sheep on the outskirts of the fold to wander, then be separated and lost from the very person, the shepherd, who provides for their existence. But those in the center of the fold remain close to the shepherd and have less risk of harm or being cut off from him. Am I willing to remain in the center of the fold with Him?
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
Meditating on this in mental prayer, the questions naturally arise: to whose voice do I listen? Who is the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” that I follow? The thieves of my soul? These thieves present themselves as good, sometimes even as Catholic, but they do not lead us to interior peace.
The daily examen can illuminate our reasons for following these other voices. These often are rooted in intellectual curiosity or emotional consolation which bring new ways of self-reliance. Which voices are stifling my Good Shepherd’s voice? Can I even recognize Jesus’ voice?
Jesus grows us in holiness by allowing opportunities for our faux-confidence and self-reliance to be stripped away. He graces us with knowledge and understanding of His ways so we can see the fallacies in our own thinking and schemes. It is when we surrender to His grace, acknowledging our own powerlessness, that we experience His true strength. His virtues perfect our good efforts and we develop a confidence that is true because it is a confidence in Him rather than ourselves. The paradox is that restraint (ours) brings freedom from imprisonment. Rather than bringing an emptiness like that which remains when giving up earthly things, it is a fullness of heart brought on by an abundance of His love.
Be sure of this children, there is not a single instant in which God does not pour into us some divine influence, which we would plainly feel if we were but more attentive; for God is borne on by His nature to communicate Himself unceasingly, and all the nature of our spirit is formed to receive Him. (Father John Tauler, O.P.)
The One who sustains our very breath in each moment also has placed into our heart the desire for Him, true love, and the ability to receive that in our soul. He wants our affections, attachments, plans and desires; to sacrifice our life to Him, not in servitude but in love so that our life glorifies His. His desire is to perfect this nature He has intentionally created in us. If we re-orient our lives to His, we will travel the homeward road toward Heaven carried upon His shoulders.
As we meditate on our limitations in following our Good Shepherd, let us pray for the strengthening and fortitude of those shepherds He has placed in our life: Pope Francis, all clergy, and religious, especially our own parish pastor.
May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will. May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
This post was originally published on The Face of Grace Project and is reprinted here with permission.
Image: Lamb by Bonnie Kittle from Unsplash.