As many of you know, I’m very blessed (especially during these strange times) to have a little, furry, black-and-tan 12-pound Pomeranian companion, “Otto of Grotto.” Some of his dog behaviors I’ve noticed lately remind me of our Lord’s words in the Gospel from Sunday.
Often when I go over to the office to work, to the delight and glee of my parish staff, I’ll bring Otto. But usually when I start working, I’ll place him in his crate, with the door, open of course, and tethered to a chair. He usually just sits there observing things and then takes a long nap (as you know, he has a very, very tough life!) But… he always has his “ears up” so to speak: he is listening for the voice of his master. And if he hears me coming back into the adjacent room, he will pop out of his crate and look around to see where I am.
When I approach, most often he doesn’t bark at all because he is familiar with me. But when the UPS guy or another stranger shows up, he barks 1,000 times! The nature of a dog.
Jesus teaches us that the sheep who follow the Good Shepherd know his voice well, like my dog knows mine. And if those sheep, we good Christian people, know their shepherd well, they know how to discern between his voice and a voice that is different. In spiritual theology we call that the discernment of spirits. It means to distinguish between the voice of God and, to use Our Lord’s description today, the voice of the “thief” or the robber.
If we know the voice of the Lord Jesus well, and we continue to respond to it, then we know what follows it: an abiding peace and confident hope that cannot be taken away and the “breath of God” in the form of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Those gifts are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (that’s from Galatians 5, verses 22 and 23; the Latin Vulgate version adds also forbearance, modesty and chastity.) All these fruits, like the brushstrokes of paint on a canvas, form the image of Jesus. This is what he “looked like” and who he is.
Recently I was speaking with a friend about how interesting (though at times depressing and a bit uncomfortable) it is to “watch” this time of pandemic and see how people respond to it. It is like a giant “sociology” study.
Some people are “staying home” as is recommended, and some people are not. Some people are content at home, working on house cleaning and home improvements, and others are legitimately going “stir crazy.” Some people have a militant attitude of social distancing, obsessively avoiding germs and staying away from others, and others are angrily protesting in front of state capitols because they are out of work and feel that their freedoms have been restricted too much.
And we remember all the doctors and nurses and caregivers who have truly been heroes and inspirational to us. These good souls are working hours and hours a day and are facing this pandemic so sternly and most gravely; and yet there are still also some who amazingly don’t believe it’s “for real.” And I guess everyone else is “zooming” or Face-Timing.
See the weeks ahead as an opportunity to strengthen your spiritual and interior life, your relationship with the Good Shepherd.
Many of us, myself included, have been exercising more (and in some cases very creatively) – and that gets our bodies to good health. We should see this time as an opportunity of grace for the health of our souls, to discover the voice of the Lord in a new way now: in our prayer times, reading the Scriptures or the daily readings from Mass, praying the rosary, or other devotional prayers, or reading about the life of a saint and another good Catholic spiritual book (I highly recommend “Reimagining the Ignatian Examen” by Father Mark Thibodeaux, S.J.)
It is also a wise time to pray prayers of repentance and reparation for our own sins and the sins of the world. If you do these things, what you will probably find is that you will hear the voice of the Lord speaking to you through these experiences but also in the way he speaks through the people and his beautiful creation around you as well.
Until we can gather again joyfully and gratefully in our churches again, may our Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus, bless you and guide you in these days as you seek to hear and know his voice – and follow it.