What are the voices that scare us?
That’s easy! They are the harsh voices, the voices of condemnation, the menacing voices of impending doom. By contrast, let us think of the voices that have the power to soothe, to reassure, to calm our fears, to make us smile and face the world with a bit more courage. They are choice, selected voices. They are the voices of those people that have gained our trust with more than mere sound bites. They are the voices of those who unquestionably love us and assure our wellbeing and joy.
Thus, we long to hear their voice because of what those behind the voices evoke in us.
I read somewhere that, in theory, it might be possible to build a device which could go back in time to pick up voices of famous people from the past. In these years when we are forced to hear so many menacing voices filling our hearts with anxiety; in these years when sporadic voices of reassurance are swept away by the enticing voices of deception and empty promises, we, believers, long to recapture the voice of our divine Shepherd.
When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.
Awestruck and amazed, we can spend time imagining how uniquely beautiful, reassuring, powerful and convincing Jesus’ voice must have been if the crowds could follow him into the desert for days and forget even about their basic needs of food and water. Furthermore, we can imagine how moving and compelling his voice must have been if the guards sent by the Jewish authorities to arrest him couldn’t do so because, as they said: “Never before has anyone spoken like this one?” (John 7:46)
And yet, we should keep in mind that the God/man with the best voice ever in the whole wide world was condemned to a most shameful death as a criminal on a request made, in part, by some of those who heard him speak many times and followed him for as long as the path which he had chosen remained smooth and promising. Of all those who had been enthralled by the voice of God’s only Son, only a few women, looking on from a distance and the beloved disciple with Mary, near his cross, remained!
This simple realization is significant for two reasons: First, we should not envy those people whose physical ears were struck by Jesus’ voice because every time we so desire, we can open the Bible and have his Words of life reecho in our heart, tailor made with a personal message. And secondly, we, unlike his audiences of old, possess most compelling evidence that his voice spoke only Words of Life. Indeed, we live and celebrate life on the other side of his Resurrection.
Thus, while those people could somehow be excused for not being swayed by his voice, we would not only be foolish but also inexcusable. The voice of Christ is now the voice of those whom he has appointed shepherds as it is proven by his very words. Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
Today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We should begin to wonder what the near future (5 to 10 years down the road) holds in store for the Catholic Church. It could be priest-less or nearly so.
It is imperative that we do not look at Rome for a solution unless we are actively, directly, and personally involved in challenging all young men whom we know, to consider the Catholic priesthood as a sublime vocation in life.
Although, in theory, we could absolve ourselves of negligence in this field of vocations to the priesthood, we should go slowly in absolving us from failing to equate the voice of our priests and bishops with the voice of our divine Shepherd.
A contributing factor to the steady decline of priestly vocations could be our failure to extoll our shepherds whenever there are young men in our audience.
Such failure could exacerbate a double selection we might make almost instinctively: firstly, to which among the shepherds God has placed in our life we listen and, secondly, among those priests and bishops who meet with our approval, what areas of their living and preaching to take into consideration and which areas to ignore.
As a rule of thumb, I strongly suggest listening to all shepherds whom the Lord has placed in our lives, because they are all called by him to exercise for us the priestly ministry of the Gospel in its entirety.
Look at our first two readings for this 4th Sunday of Easter: they are both from Peter and they are both very painful to hear; very challenging to live by even though they come from a visibly flawed man who was overconfident and who denied his Lord three times!
Could any of us feel free to pick and choose what part of those teachings to consider and which to dismiss? The same must hold true of the shepherds in our lives.
Let us face it: we cannot follow Jesus out of the sheepfold toward green pastures unless we recognize his voice. And the only voice we will hear is the voice of those shepherds with whom he is blessing our sojourn on this earth.