Mercy is the voice of the Good Shepherd

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Today's Gospel is probably one of the shortest in length and yet it is packed with lessons for our spiritual growth. Let us concentrate on three phrases from today's Gospel.

But before we do that, let us pause a moment to reflect on the basic image underlying this Gospel text: the image of the Good Shepherd. The good or true shepherd cares for his flock, guarding them, feeding them, looking for the stray ones and carrying them home when they are found. That is what a true or good shepherd did in the time of Jesus and still does today. That is who Jesus Christ is: our Good Shepherd! He was sent to reveal in ways we can understand the love of God Our Father, the love of a shepherd.

Now let us reflect on several phrases taken from today's Gospel. Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice." From our own experience we know how the voice of someone we love is so special to us. When we hear that voice, we smile, we rejoice, and when that voice is no longer present, how we miss hearing it! Are we listening to the voice of our Good Shepherd? He speaks to us in His word, that is, in the Holy Scriptures. Every time we come to participate in the Mass, the voice of the Lord is heard as the Scriptures are being proclaimed. Do we listen to His voice? Do we reflect on what He has said to us?

The Good Shepherd speaks to us through the successors of Saint Peter, that is, through the popes, and He also speaks to us through the successors of the Apostles, that is, through the bishops. This year, is not the voice of the Good Shepherd being heard through Pope Francis who calls us to open our hearts to the abundant overflowing mercy of God? As we are aware, this year is the Jubilee Year of Mercy. So then, is not the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking to our hearts about divine mercy? Are we listening? The voice of the Good Shepherd through our Holy Father also reminds us to share that mercy. We do so in so many ways. Pope Francis points out that we can do so very practically through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Are we listening?

The second phrase from today's Gospel is: "(my sheep) follow me." We follow the Shepherd when we listen to His voice and then do what He urges us to do. At the end of each day, as we look back, have we followed the Good Shepherd? If so, give thanks! If not, seek forgiveness. In any case, promise the Lord that tomorrow you will try to begin again to listen and to follow.

The third phrase in today's Gospel is: "I give them eternal life." The goal of listening and following the Good Shepherd is to inherit the life which Jesus won for us by His Dying and Rising. Yes it is a life we can hardly imagine, but in today's second reading, we have a glimpse of what that eternal life will be. For the Good Shepherd intends that we be among that great multitude in white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. These are those who are saved and God wills that we be among them. Are we listening and following so that we may live forever with Him?

One final reflection. The Good Shepherd speaks to us also through those who are the closest coworkers of the bishops, that is, the priests. He also speaks to us through those men and women called to live the consecrated life, that is, religious, not only priests but also sisters and brothers. Yes the Good Shepherd is calling men to make His mercy present in Word and in Sacrament and in pastoral care. He is calling men and women to make His mercy present in the works of education and health care. So, we must pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Our diocese is continuing to grow. We need more priests and more religious sisters and more religious brothers. First we must pray that those being called will listen to the voice of the Shepherd and follow in His footsteps. But we also need to express encouragement and support for these vocations from families, especially parents. Oh pray that those whom the Good Shepherd is calling "to bring His saving grace to His people will hear the call and follow His voice, becoming, in turn, voices of divine mercy. Indeed, each one of us, whatever our specific vocation, is called likewise to be the voice and bearer of God's mercy!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016