Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Voice of the Good Shepherd

Scientists tell us that babies develop their sense of hearing very early on. Even in the womb, a few months after conception, babies can hear and make out sounds. It is even believed that a baby can recognize his mother's voice while still in the womb. That is why many doctors encourage expectant mothers to talk to their unborn children. We sometimes see mothers rubbing their bellies and singing softly to their child in the womb. All this serves to build up the natural process of bonding that is taking place between mother and child by attuning the child to the voice of his or her mother.

During the first few weeks of the Easter season we have heard much about the sense of sight. Saint John sees the empty tomb and believes. Mary Magdalene meets Jesus in the garden and believes. Jesus shows the apostles the wounds in his hands and side, and they believe. Saint Thomas overcomes his doubts when he finally sees the Risen Lord for himself. It is by seeing Jesus that Mary Magdalene and the apostles come to faith.

Today, however, the focus is on the sense of hearing. Faith comes not only from seeing Jesus, but from hearing his voice. Jesus tells us as much in the gospel when he says, "My sheep hear my voice....I give them eternal life."

Faith which comes through hearing is a very important concept in the New Testament. Only a few believers were privileged to see Jesus with their own eyes. The vast majority of Christians - ourselves included - came to believe through our ears, not our eyes. We heard God's word, it touched our heart and we believed. We are among those whom Jesus called "blessed" because we have believed without seeing. We are the Christians who, like children whose ears are attuned to the voice of their mother in the womb, have recognized the voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus, and decided to follow him.

During those first few weeks of Easter, when the readings focused on the sense of sight, we discussed how we can still see the Risen Lord, though in a hidden way, through the sacraments. All seven sacraments are real, life-transforming encounters with Jesus. If the sacraments are a way for us to see Jesus, then is there a way that we can hear the Risen Lord speak to us today? Is there a way that we can attune our ears to recognize and respond to the voice of our Good Shepherd?

The answer, of course, is yes! The Risen Lord continues to speak to us, his sheep, through the Bible.

As Catholic Christians we believe that the Bible, though written by men, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to such a degree that we can rightly call God its author. Because it is God's word, it is totally reliable as a source of knowledge of our Heavenly Father. It is a sure way of hearing his voice. When we proclaim the Scriptures together at Mass or when we read them to ourselves in our private prayer, it is God himself who speaks to us. When we approach the Bible with faith that it is God's word, our hearts and lives are changed.

It is for this reason that the reading of Scripture has such a prominent place at every Mass. The Bible is really the first course of this holy meal which Jesus prepares for us every week. It speaks to us of his love and willingness to forgive. It also challenges us to invite him to change those areas of our lives wherein by our actions or attitudes we are not living up to the great commandment of love. Through the Bible, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, continues to lead, nourish and console us, his sheep.

If we are to grow in our ability to recognize the voice of Jesus, we must make time everyday to read and study both the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes we can be intimidated by the Bible because it is so big and so many parts of it are difficult to understand. The best way to approach it is to remember that God has a message for us hidden in those pages. We only need to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our reading and to help us to understand it. No one is better at explaining a book than the one who wrote it. Since the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture, he is the one to go to when we come across a passage which is difficult to understand. He does not want to keep his message of love a secret. So if we are patient and diligent, the meaning will become clearer and clearer with time.

Another helpful way to grow in our knowledge of the Bible is to find books that explain certain facets of Scripture such as the history of the people of Israel and the cultural background of the people of Jesus' time. Such books give us added insights that can take away some of the mystery from the places and peoples mentioned in the Bible and can make it seem less intimidating. There are also many good Catholic resources online that can help us in our study of God's word. As with any study, it takes time, dedication and effort, but the fruit it bears in deepening our faith is rewarding beyond measure.

We often say, "Seeing is believing." But for most of us, it is in hearing that we come to believe. Jesus, our Good Shepherd and Risen Lord, continues to speak to us. We are his lambs, the sheep of his flock. He loves to tell us how much he cares for us, and he longs for us to follow him. Like a child who recognizes her mother's voice even before she is born, we can attune our ears to the gentle whispers of our Good Shepherd by reading his word, the Bible, everyday. Then we will be quick to follow him whenever he calls. And we will be ready when we finally see him face to face at our judgement when he calls to us, "Come, good and faithful servant. Enter the kingdom I have prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

(image by Marisol Sousa)

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