I love to watch the Nature channel on TV. That’s when I wonder how many scientists can claim that there is no God guiding His creatures to their designated purpose according to His divine plan. How can order and purpose result from randomness and chaos? For example, in the animal world there is a bond between mother and her young that is incredibly strong and foolproof. It could be the scent, the voice of the mother, the cry of the cub, whatever it is, it is there and it works also from far away and out of sight.
Speaking of unbreakable bonds: how about the one that Jesus reveals to us on this 4th Sunday of Easter between him and each one of us?
“…and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.”
The bond between Jesus and us sets us apart from the rest, from those who do not recognize his voice.
“ Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them…”
The Pharisees represent those without a bond uniting them to Christ. They are the “others,” the outsiders, the strangers. In his infinite love, Jesus reaches out to them, but there is something in their hearts that keeps them from recognizing his voice, from accepting his teachings and from thinking and acting according to his Word.
Jesus’ desire is universal and it is for everyone: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
So, we should wonder what is allowing us to be his sheep; able to recognize his voice; enjoy his abundance of life; or what might keep us among the “others,” those unable to do so.
As every page of the Bible seems to affirm, it must have to do, first of all, with an inner attitude: hardness or openness of the heart. Only those who admit and accept their interior poverty, their need for total reliance on God; only those who are completely open to hear his voice, can actually be reached, be fed, be taken care of, be protected and guided.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic altered our lives so dramatically, I had noticed already the danger of emphasizing rituals and Sacraments over God’s Words. This is actually a natural tendency in us because, while we have some control over rituals and reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion and they bring us solace and a sense of general well-being, God’s Word can penetrate forcefully into the deepest recesses of our heart (cf. Hebrews 4:12), wipe out all pious illusions, challenge us with unusual force and even trouble us if our response to it is not adequate.
Those who think that they have most, if not all of the answers, might have reached this conclusion precisely because they habitually glide over God’s Word and “fly” to their favorite rituals and Holy Communion. Consequently, rather than keeping their hearts opened to God’s subtle messages in daily events and to the relentless challenges of the Gospel, they would focus their attention away from their own spiritual poverty, and onto condemning and railing at those who have much political power but abuse it as well as on “obvious” sinners around them.
In this self-made comfort zone, they might miss the urgent need to repent by paying attention to the voice of Jesus talking to them, daily, through the Holy Scriptures and through the teachings of those he appointed as their shepherds. The Church set a minimum standard of what should be done to assure mere survival within Jesus’ flock. They are called the Precepts of the Church.
The first one is about attending Mass every Sunday and all holy days of obligation. Holy Mass can be looked at as an encounter with Jesus as Bread of Life (cf. John 6:35). Basically, there are two essential components of every Holy Mass: God’s offer of grace at the Table of the Word and at the Table of the Sacrament. If, first, our heart is not burning inside us (cf. Luke 24:32) as we become fully receptive of God’s Word, the Bread of Life in Holy Communion, most likely, would leave our inner condition unchanged.
For nearly 167 hours a week we hear a cacophony of quite different voices telling us that it is okay to do this; inviting us to do that and so on. How in the world can we recognize Jesus’ voice telling us to do otherwise: to obey his commandments, to embrace his crazy logic of loving our enemies, of praying for our persecutors, of being chaste, faithful, honest, forgiving, humble, modest, and so on, if not by being, first, fully receptive of his voice?
You see? In these trying months we must miss the “whole Jesus” as Bread of Life. We must want so badly to go back to our beloved church because we need again to familiarize ourselves with Jesus’ voice to be able to pick it out from all other enticing voices and follow him no matter where he might lead us.
In order to reap completely the abundant graces available in Holy Communion, first we need to hear his voice guiding us to the spring of genuine, everlasting life. We cannot forget that the Pharisees were considered the most religious, the most pious, the most devoted people of their time. If, now and then, we do not stop and check whether we abide by the Word of God spoken and explained to us, we will wind up in the group of the Pharisees and so, by choice, out of Jesus’ reach.
Today is Vocation Sunday worldwide. It is a day in which we become profoundly aware that, while we all have a Christian vocation in life according to the state we have chosen for ourselves, we, as believers, need priests to be, physically, Christ’s presence among us and train us to recognize his voice. There are many reasons why vocations to the priesthood are scarce, woefully insufficient. We all have our set of reasons why there are so few newly ordained priests. Hence, we might be praying for future priests according to our image of who a bona fide Catholic priest should be. However, it would be wiser of us to be humble enough to pray for future priests to be such according not to our view, but according to the Lord’s divine design and purpose, so as to be truly like him.
Also, this brand of humble prayer would help us fine-tune our ears and our hearts to the true voice of Christ.