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The Good Shepherd

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, April 13, 2005

This Sunday’s Gospel tells us the story of the good shepherd. Indeed, the fourth Sunday of Easter is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” as every year on this Sunday we read from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, known as Jesus’ “Good Shepherd Discourse.” And thank goodness for that! We can always use a good shepherd in our lives.

The sheep, in John’s gospel, recognize the voice of the shepherd, and even though they may mingle on the same hillside or at the same water hole with others who belong to different masters, they need only to hear the voice of their own shepherd and they will follow only him.

A few weeks ago, at the Easter Vigil Mass in the Basilica, twelve people from our community publicly chose Jesus as their Good Shepherd. They had heard his voice calling and knew that it was time to follow. They made the rather amazing choice to spend this past year praying and studying, preparing for Baptism as Catholic Christians at the Vigil, and to receive Confirmation and Eucharist. Such a choice, after lives without formal affiliation to a church community, could come only from careful, attentive, prayerful listening to Jesus’ voice in their lives.

Just this past Sunday, we welcomed a separate group of eleven into the Catholic Church. These already-baptized Christians had also heard Jesus’ voice, calling them specifically to Catholicism. They too had spent the year in study, prayer and discernment. On Sunday they pledged their belief in what the Catholic Church “believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God,” and they too received Confirmation and Eucharist.

What voice had these new Catholic Christians heard that they found so compelling? Who called them away from the places they had been and toward these Sacraments? Jesus Christ is the obvious answer … but what does his voice sound like these days? Well, it probably sounds a lot like yours and mine; a lot like the voice of people of the Notre Dame community and our Church community who try to live out Christ’s example of holiness, who also listen for the voice of the Shepherd, who sometimes also somewhat lost as well.

In Hebrew literature images can change and clash at will, and Sunday’s gospel is no exception. Jesus at the same time is the Shepherd, leading us, and the gate, through which we pass to safety. We too may one day serve as Christ’s voice for others, and another day may need desperately to hear that voice ourselves.

Our newly baptized and newly received Catholic Christians already know, as a wise Holy Cross priest is fond of saying, that “nobody gets to heaven by themselves.” We are all part of a community, part of the same Shepherd’s fold, and together we can sort out the competing voices, that we might hear Jesus’ call to discipleship. The voices through which we hear Christ may fall silent, as that of our beloved Pope did so recently, but that only calls us to continue to listen, to speak and to act with greater care and attention.

Who’s your Good Shepherd? To whom do you listen? Of what do you speak? Does your voice lead others to follow Christ more closely? We have a special care and concern for those we have recently welcomed into the Church, and we’re all in this together. Listen well. Speak well.

Kate Barrett works for Campus Ministry. She can be contacted at Barrett.28@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.