Imagine being thrown in prison or condemned to death for your religious beliefs.
In a free, democratic society, it sounds impossible. However, in many countries around the world, fellow Christians are languishing in prison for sharing and defending their religious convictions.
Pakistan, like many other Muslim countries, makes it a crime punishable by death to defame the Islamic religion or Mohammad. Many times these anti-blasphemy laws are used to suppress religious minorities such as Christians and keep them from practicing their faith.
One man decided to face this injustice and speak out.
Shahbaz Bhatti spent much of his life serving the people of Pakistan as an elected official.. His hard work and dedication earned him a seat on the cabinet as Minister for Minority Affairs making him the only Christian to hold such an important post. With the power and prestige of his office, he could have made a comfortable life for himself. However, he decided instead to use his influence to speak out for those imprisoned because of their religious beliefs and against the laws that put them there.
On March 2, 2011 he was shot dead in the capital city of Islamabad by terrorists.
Shahbaz Bhatti knew that by speaking out against the anti-blasphemy laws he would be killed. However, he felt a calling to stand up for his fellow Christians and to not allow fear to keep him silent. As he said in a statement taped before his death: “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given His life for us...and I am ready to die for a cause... I’m living for my community...and I will die to defend their rights.”
Following the example of Jesus and hearing His call, he laid down his life so that others might be free.
In today’s gospel, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd who came to give life in abundance to us. He calls His sheep, and they hear His voice.
Every one of us is called by Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Each of us is chosen to provide a service uniquely our own, a service no one else can perform. Shahbaz Bhatti was called to speak up for religious minorities suffering persecution. Most of us, however, will be called to less heroic but no less important service. We are called to raise children, to teach catechism, to witness to our co-workers, to preach the gospel and to perform many other anonymous tasks. All of them, nonetheless, contribute to spreading the Kingdom of God on earth and fulfilling the Church’s mission to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.
If being called means being chosen by God for some appointed service, then how do we hear God’s voice and how do we know what He is calling us to do?
There are many ways to hear God’s voice. Sometimes in prayer we will feel an urging within us pointing us in a certain direction. Other times, we will feel a restlessness driving us to take some action or promote some cause. At times people in our lives who often know us better than we know ourselves will notice our gifts and talents and invite us to consider a vocation. Many priests and religious began thinking about their vocation when a family member or parishioner said to them, “I think you would make a good priest,” or “ Have you ever considered becoming a sister?”
Each person will receive his or her calling in a different way. However, it is the same Lord who calls us according to His divine plan.
How do I know that it is really God calling me and not my own voice I am hearing?
That is a question that all Christians have struggled with. And there are no easy answers that fit every person.
However, one thing is true. We learn to hear God’s voice with time. If a desire lingers on in our hearts, if we find ourselves thinking about it constantly, if we find ourselves being reminded of it, then it may be that God is whispering it in our ear. If it is truly the voice of God, we will continue to hear the call in some way until He gets an answer from us.
Finally, every vocation must be tested. Other people have to confirm that the call we have received truly came from God. This is clear in the vocation of marriage. If someone is called by God to be married, then there is someone else out there who is also called by God to marry him or her. Eventually they will meet each other and the call will be confirmed. However, the same is true whether one is called to be a catechist, a politician or a priest. If it is God who is truly speaking to us then others will recognize it. On the other hand, if others do not see it in us, if we try to act on the calling and it does not work out, we know that it came from our own desires and misconceptions and not from God.
Each of us is called by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to make some contribution to the mission of His Church. Many times we fail to hear His voice because we are afraid. We fear that Jesus may ask something from us that we are not able to give. But we need never fear. Jesus is a good and gentle shepherd. He will not lead us to where we are unable to go, and He will always walk ahead of us. Though following Him always requires sacrifice, it brings with it unimaginable blessings.
Therefore, let us pray for ourselves and for our world that we may have the wisdom to recognize His voice when He calls and the courage to follow wherever He may lead. There is no greater joy than to give our lives for others after the example of our Good Shepherd for He came that we may have life and have it in abundance.