ALWAYS LISTEN ATTENTIVELY TO THE VOICE OF CHRIST, THE GOOD SHEPHERD!
1st Reading: Acts 13:14,43-52; 2nd Reading: Revelation 7:9,14-17; Gospel: John 10:27-30
The Almighty God created us for a good purpose which is to fulfil His Divine Will. For God says: “Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, the plan of good and not disaster, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
Besides, we cannot understand the Will of God properly, except when we pay attention to His Voice. This implies that, for anyone to fulfil God’s Divine Will effectively, he or she must be docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit; for guidance, direction and information on how to actualise that good purpose.
Meanwhile, in the Catholic Church, the fourth Sunday of Easter every year is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” or “Vocation Sunday” simply because the Gospel reading is centered on Jesus Christ being the Good Shepherd. It is also a day set aside to pray seriously for vocation in all facets of life, particularly that of the priesthood and religious life.
Although, the image of a shepherd and his sheep may not be familiar to people living in urban areas, but not with those living in rural areas, especially where nomads inhabit. It is obvious that Jesus Christ was very much familiar with the image of shepherd and sheep than we are because He used it so very often. The shepherd commits himself to care for the sheep, to lead them to fresh and green pastures (Psalm 23:2), to defend them against the wolf and other potential predators (John 10:28).
Moreover, the sheep for their part, are expected to listen to the voice of the shepherd and follow where he leads. They are to follow him alone, and not strangers. Although, the sheep may refuse to listen to the voice of the shepherd, thereby choosing not to follow him. If and when that does happen, the sheep are exposed to grave danger from the wolf and other predators.
Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who knows, guides and guards His sheep (disciples) with His life such that no one can snatch them from Him; for His sheep will listen and follow Him. The description of a good shepherd laying down his life for his sheep alludes to the Servant offering his life as a sacrifice according to Isaiah 53:10 which says: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his life; through him the will of the LORD shall be done.”
Certainly, discipleship is not only adhering to particular religious rules or devotions, but recognition of the master’s voice and following His guidance. Now, the question is, do we listen to our Shepherd? Always … or only when it suits us or it is convenient, doesn’t cost us much? If and when we do listen, do we follow where he leads? Or do we prefer to go where our own whims and caprices, appetites and fancies lead us? Even while Jesus Christ was in the world, He was always listening attentively to the voice of His Father; “Early in the morning, He would go to the mountain to pray alone” (Mark 1:35), and “would not do anything or make any judgement except what He hears from heaven” (John 5:30).
Undoubtedly, one of the easiest ways of hearing from God is through the scriptures. For the book of Amos says that, “God cannot do anything without you revealing it to His Prophets” (Amos 3:7). He speaks to us in diverse ways, but the problem most times is that, either we do not know actually when He is speaking to us or we are not ready to listen to what He is telling us to do. Unfortunately, this could be as a result of many distractions in our contemporary society accruing from social media, bad governance, global economic meltdown, unemployment, poverty, discrimination, persecution, insecurity vis-à-vis banditry, unknown gunmen, insurgency, etc.
However, amidst all these distractions, God is still speaking to those who are attentive to His Voice and are diligent in obeying His commands. For no one can separate us from the love of God, not even hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword, etc (Romans 8:35-39).
For instance, permit me to recount my vocation story: My vocation to the priesthood is a Divine Call, and was born out of attentive, diligent and conscious listening to the Voice of God through the Scriptures on a daily basis. I never dreamt or planned to become a priest one day, as a matter of fact, I am the first son. Also, I had already studied engineering in the university, and after that, I got employment and was working comfortably in a reputable company in Port Harcourt.
At a point in 2007, I started having an inner yearning and a driving force to serve God in a very special way, and that became a disturbance to me. As if that was not enough, I started having dreams and visions where I became a priest and was celebrating Holy Mass. Initially, I trivialised the dreams and visions, and even suppressed them. Subsequently, many people started asking me why I did not want to become a priest. One of them told me that anyone who has the Spirit of discernment would see priesthood boldly written on my forehead, that my own is not hidden.
Surprisingly, even one of the ladies I was thinking of settling down with as a wife, gave me a shock of my life the day I came to propose to her. After preaching in her family house, she joyfully exclaimed: “I will go to Seminary schools and tell them that one of their brothers is here; that something is wasting away.” That I supposed to be a priest. I tried to ignore and discard these unprecedented disturbances about priesthood because, I saw myself unworthy to be called to such Sacred Ministry, but the revelations continued unabated; more than eighteen (18) different times. I never knew that God was using those people to talk to me.
After several fervent daily fasting and prayers/ meditations in the Chapel before the Holy Eucharist, booking of Holy Masses, going for desert experiences for more than 6 months and finally engaged in indoor prayers, God showed me beyond reasonable doubt that He was the one calling me. One of them was, a day when there was a downpour with heavy thunder and lighting, I just said a short prayer: “Lord, if you are the one that has been speaking through the mouth of all these people about priesthood, let this rain stop.” Shockingly, the rain stopped instantly. When I eventually entered the seminary, I began to pass through moments of excruciating challenges and persecutions, just like Paul and Barnabas in the first reading, but by the grace of God, I surmounted the challenges.
Finally, if we constantly and attentively listen to Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd, and follow where He leads, He will definitely direct us to God’s plan and purpose for us in the world. Surely, He promises us eternal life, and we shall never be lost because no one will ever be able to snatch us from Him. “No one” includes Satan and all the forces of darkness and evil that serve his cause.
Also, God has entrusted us with the responsibilities of shepherding His sheep in different capacities. Therefore, are we good shepherds in our families, work places and among our friends such that they listen and follow us? Can we accept sacrifices, endure insults and persecutions for the sake of our sheep, just like the multitude of Saints enunciated in the second reading: “…who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14)? So, let us always listen and follow Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd who emptied Himself for us.
May the Holy Spirit continue to guide and direct you in all your endeavours, and protect you from every persecution and harm, and grant you the grace to always listen attentively to the Voice of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!!!
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.
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