The beginning of our Gospel this Sunday is very simple, but has profound implications for all of us. Our Lord speaks and His sheep hear His voice. Then, when His sheep listen, they discover they are known (and loved) completely and, learning that, are called to follow their shepherd. That sounds simple enough, but it is not always easy in practice.
In a silent room or a quiet garden if someone speaks it is impossible not to hear. But in the midst of a noisy train station, or a crowded bar, you have to be listening carefully to hear what is said. And we live in a very noisy world! We are surrounded by a cacophony of voices and distractions, some of them diametrically opposed to Christ. That means we are called to make the effort to listen carefully, trying to discern what our shepherd is saying. Sometimes, in fact, we need to make the effort to find a quieter space – to try to shut out the loudest noises, so we might make it easier for ourselves to hear the Lord’s call.
I find myself reflecting on my own personal experience of that. I first had a hint of a call to a priestly vocation at the age of 19; I began to study for the priesthood at the age of 33. Was I actually ready to begin at 19? Not at all! Did I need to wait 14 years to get ready? Sadly, no. It took that long because I turned away too quickly and, if I am honest, stopped listening, or rather started paying more attention to other voices. I got there in the end but, keeping to the theme of honesty, even now I don’t always take the care to listen to the Lord’s continuing call to me. And that is very foolish of me.
It is very easy in the modern world to get distracted. There are so many things, events, and yes, voices, to which we find ourselves devoting our time and attention. Some of them are good, some distinctly dodgy, but none of them are, in the end, as important as the voice of Jesus. That is the voice of the one who loves us completely and utterly and who desires the greatest possible good for us. Because of that, the path on which He is calling us to follow necessarily leads to our greatest good, our greatest joy. That makes listening for that voice the very essence of good sense, as we say today, a no-brainer.
So, whether we are at the beginning of the journey or nearing its end, may we all make a greater effort to hear the Lord’s voice amidst the noise, and perhaps make an effort to find the quiet places in the world, and in our hearts and minds, to make it easier to do so. May we keep doing that even as we walk the path, so we don’t go astray. And may we all try not to wait 14 years!
Fr Chris Denham