Hearing the Voice of the Good Shepherd

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on April 29, the Fourth Sunday of Easter and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, at the Fort Belvoir Chapel, in Fort Belvoir.

Moments ago, we kept repeating the psalm refrain: "We are His people, the sheep of His flock." What does it mean to belong to "His people," to be among "the sheep of His flock," or, in more familiar terms, to be a disciple of Christ and a member of Christ's Body the Church? Jesus Himself tells us in today's gospel account: hearing His voice and following in His steps. Yes, "we are His people, the sheep of His flock" when we hear the voice of Christ the Shepherd and follow Him. If we do, then He will give us eternal life.

So, the question for us is: are we "His people, the sheep of His flock?" Are we listening to His voice? Where do we hear His voice? In prayer, both personal and liturgical; through our ongoing formation in the faith, which includes the sacred Scriptures, the living Tradition of the Church and the teachings of the Church. Are we following Christ? How do we follow Him? By imitating the way He lived, which is revealed in the Gospels. Are His thoughts ours, His words ours, His actions ours? Do we really try to be like Jesus in the family circle, on this military post, in our relationships with others?

Hearing Christ's voice and following in His footsteps: these enable us to cope here and to inherit eternal life hereafter. In fact, was this not our prayer: "Attune our minds to the sound of His voice, lead our steps on the path He has shown, that we may know the strength of His outstretched arm and enjoy the light of your presence forever?"

In order to hear Christ's voice and to follow in His footsteps, we need guides and instructors. We need priests to proclaim the Good News of our Catholic faith, to celebrate the sacraments wherein we really encounter the Lord Jesus through outward signs, to provide pastoral care and governance for our salvation. We need men and women living the consecrated life to make present in our midst Christ the Chaste One, Christ the Obedient One, Christ the Poor One as they exercise their various apostolates, like teaching, caring for the sick and elderly, and collaborating in pastoral care.

Today, the Universal Church is observing World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated Life. We are united today in praying for more vocations to the priesthood, the permanent diaconate and the consecrated life.

I urge you, first of all, to pray daily that those whom the Lord is calling will say "yes" and be supported by their families and friends. Also, I invite you to identify those persons who, in your judgment, have the qualities to serve the Church as priests, religious brothers and sisters and permanent deacons. What would happen if you said to a young man, "I think that you should consider being a priest" or if you said to a young man or a young woman, "Have you ever thought about becoming a religious?"

There are many families here this morning. It is within the family circle where the seed of a vocation is planted, nurtured and developed. Make of your family life a setting where vocations can be pursued in positive and encouraging ways.

There are many young people here as well. If God is calling you to the priesthood, or the consecrated life of a sister or brother, or, later, to the permanent diaconate, you will not find true fulfillment in any other calling. Ask the Lord to show you His plan for you and begin to pursue it. I have been a priest for almost 42 years. I know much more now about what it means to be a priest than I did on the morning of December 18, 1965, just as married people know much more about being married later than when they walked down the aisle. But knowing all I know, I would be a priest all over again in a heartbeat! Pray to know the Lord's plan for your life!

Priests, deacons, men and women living the consecrated life: these help us within the Church to hear the voice of Christ and to follow in His footsteps. After all, our being Christ's disciples, our being "His people, the sheep of His flock," is all about hearing Christ's voice and following in His footsteps. No wonder John Mohler, a 19th century German theologian could affirm, "I think I could no longer live if I stopped hearing Him speak." Let us listen and let us follow! Then we shall truly live — here and hereafter! Amen.

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