The Good Shepherd

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

This image is one of the oldest and most beloved images used to characterize Our Lord. It comes from the words Jesus speaks about Himself in this week’s Gospel, as He describes how His sheep know His voice and follow Him. The early Christians met together for prayer and for the sacrifice of the Mass beneath the image of Christ the Good Shepherd because they recognized His voice and placed themselves under His care.

The Gospel passage for this week centers our attention on the voice of the Shepherd because a person’s voice is a powerful instrument. Consider how often, in times of crisis or isolation, we can be consoled merely by hearing the voice of one we love. Medical science tells us that even someone in a deep state of unconsciousness or a coma can still hear the voices of others, and so family members and friends are encouraged to talk, to offer comfort just by the sound of their voices. In this light, the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd does three things.

First, His voice calls us by name. A name expresses our identity. When we are called by name, we feel known by the one who calls, and we are drawn into greater intimacy with that person. In calling us by name, Christ is saying to us that we matter to Him — each one of us, uniquely and personally. We are not just anonymous individuals; rather, we belong to Christ as the sheep of His flock, and we find strength in the fact that He knows us by name.

Secondly, the Gospel contrasts the Good Shepherd with “thieves and robbers.” These do not use their voice, because “success” as a thief or robber depends on stealth, on how silently one can slip into the sheepfold and “steal and slaughter and destroy.” They know that the sheep, recognizing their unfamiliar voices, will run away in fear. How often do we encounter unfamiliar voices — in our culture and society — that try to turn us away from the true voice of the Shepherd? How often are we presented with attitudes and values that contradict those of the Gospel? How often are we tempted to adopt those attitudes and values only to find that we destroy ourselves in the process? The voice of Jesus is the one voice that enables us to avoid the pitfalls and errors which lie in our path. That voice of the Good Shepherd remains present in the Church through Peter and his successors, together with the bishops whom God appoints to shepherd us on our pilgrimage to the Father’s kingdom.

Finally, the voice of the Good Shepherd gives us life in abundance: the life of truth, grace and holiness. The life that Jesus offers is eternal life that flows from faith. If we desire this superabundant life, then we must possess a faith that is unshakeable. That faith in turn comes to us by our responding to the voice of Jesus as it remains perpetually active in the words of sacred Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church.

Though a parish may not have a fresco of Christ the Good Shepherd on the wall, nevertheless He still calls us together to hear Him and to worship Him. And it is in so doing that we are able to enter into the sheepfold of Christ’s flock and there find our salvation.

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