There was a parish that had a Rosary Altar Society, and some of the members were young, stay-at-home moms. One day the group had a luncheon and meeting at the home of one of the officers, and several women brought their small children with them. After lunch, all the little ones were taken to an upstairs bedroom for an afternoon nap while the women conducted their business down in the living room. However, a short time later there was a cry from upstairs, and each mother turned her ear to listen to it. All of them but one immediately thought to themselves, “Okay, that’s not my child,” and the exception immediately went upstairs to see what was wrong. A mother instantly knows the sound of her child’s cry, and if anyone else were to offer assistance, it wouldn’t work: a little child wouldn’t be reassured or satisfied with a stranger (Msgr. Arthur Tonne,Stories for Sermons, Vol. 2, #97).
I learned the truth of this when I was about three years old. I got separated from my mother in a grocery store, and when I realized she wasn’t there, I went looking for her. I saw a woman wearing a coat similar to my mother’s, and thought it was her at first, but when I went to her, it was someone else. I looked at her in confusion, and she looked back at me with kindness—but that wasn’t enough for me. I needed and wanted my mother—and fortunately she found me a moment later. That’s also supposed to be how it works in our relationship with Jesus: if we wander away, He will search for us. We, for our part, must love Him so much that no one else will ever be able to take His place.
Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd Who knows His sheep, and He promises to lead them to eternal life. The Book of Revelation (7:9, 14-17) provides us with a beautiful description of how this promise will be fulfilled. Those who followed the Lamb of God—Jesus Himself—during their earthly lives will dwell forever in the house of God, or Heaven, free of all hunger and thirst, suffering and sorrow. In the Gospel of John (10:27-30), Jesus also promises that no one will ever take away or snatch His sheep from Him; they are safe as long as they remain in His care. However, each member of Christ’s flock has free will, which can be misused not only to wander away from Him, but even to reject Him entirely. We see an example of this in the Acts of the Apostles (13:14, 43-52). Paul and Barnabas tried to share the Gospel in Jewish synagogues during their early missionary journeys, but oftentimes experienced opposition from God’s Chosen People— so they finally began preaching exclusively to Gentiles, or non-Jews. The Lord never forces His gifts—including the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life—upon anyone; we must freely choose to accept them. The world, the flesh, and the devil are at war with us, trying to confuse and mislead us so we’ll go the wrong way or make the wrong choice. Only if we have a genuine and ongoing love for Jesus will we be able to hear His voice, resist temptation, and follow the Lord to our heavenly home.
Satan hates each one of us personally; he desires our eternal damnation, and whenever possible, he will use the people and things of this world to deceive us and lead us to spiritual destruction. Over the last fifty years or so the devil has especially targeted or made use of three noble ideas or institutions, trying to twist and corrupt them so as to lead millions of souls astray. The first of these targets is motherhood. In the last half-century, over 60 millions times mothers in America have chosen to, or felt themselves pressured to, end the lives of their unborn children by means of abortion. Many other mothers who have not sinned this way have still, along with their husbands, allowed their children to be caught up in the false values of this world, without sufficiently training them in the Faith and helping them develop a genuine relationship with Jesus. These sad truths should make us appreciate all the more the many millions of good women who are trying to raise their children properly—and they truly deserve to be honored on Mother’s Day.
Satan’s second target is the priesthood. The word pastor is of course Latin for “shepherd,” and priests and bishops and other religious leaders are supposed to imitate the example of the Good Shepherd in protecting their flocks. Tragically, far too many have proven to be like hired hands who run away when danger comes, or even like wolves in disguise. Each of them will be held strictly accountable by God. However, Jesus has also allegedly warned through private revelation that those who judge their shepherds or oppose or undermine their efforts will also be subject to divine judgment.
We might say that a third target of the devil is the idea of vocations: Satan tries to keep young people from hearing and answering God’s call, whatever it may be. One of the reasons the Church has a shortage of priests, pastoral ministers, and religious brothers and sisters is that many of those called to such a life are either so distracted by worldly things that they never hear the call, or so contaminated by our society’s values that they have no interest in responding. This also happens to persons called to a vocation of marriage and parenthood, which for them is meant to be their path to spiritual growth and personal happiness. The devil wants us to be so ensnared by selfish interests and pleasures that we fail to prepare ourselves for eternity—and, tragically, it seems this strategy is very successful. That’s one reason the Church observes the World Day of Prayer for Vocations: not just to promote more vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but also to proclaim that each one of us has a calling from God, that we are all important members of Christ’s flock with something valuable to offer, and that true and lasting happiness can only come from striving to hear and answer the Lord’s call.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who leads His sheep to safe pasture—but this truth is of no benefit to us unless we’re willing to follow Him. Mothers and fathers, and pastors and religious leaders—if they’re doing their job—can help us in this regard, and the Church has valuable and powerful spiritual resources to assist us, but it must be our choice to follow after Jesus. Satan makes use of many wolves in disguise, and is always searching for new victims—and this makes loving the Lord with all our hearts more important than ever. Jesus wants us to be vigilant and morally strong by always remaining close to Him. Only if we’re willing to do this will we be spiritually secure and eternally blessed.