The voice of the Good Shepherd

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

Easter 04 Sunday Year A

A few days ago, we sadly read the news of the untimely death of another young K-pop star while at the apex of an extremely successful career, the latest of a long series of high-profile suicides in the South Korean entertainment industry.

Nobody knows the abyss of desperation which lies in the heart of persons who decide to take their own life. We all have dark inner voices which, if listened to, can distort our perception of reality, and lead us to make disastrous choices. Using the rich images of this Sunday’s Gospel of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:1-10), we could say that those voices are like lies used by “thieves and bandits”, “strangers” and “wolves” who do not seek the good of the sheep but want instead to harm them.

This week, a group of teachers and I started to read a book entitled Spiritual Warfare and the Discernment of Spirits by Dan Burke. The author had a painful childhood in a very dysfunctional family. As a result, he became a drug addict and even attempted suicide.  At the beginning of the book, he vividly describes one episode. He overheard his mother talking about him to a friend: “she said something no child should ever have to hear, and it ripped into my heart. She said, ‘He is a piece of ______.’ Mind you, I was somewhere around seven years old and a compliant though very sickly child. I am sure I was a burden in many ways, but I was not rebellious or disrespectful at this point. Why would my mother say this about me? I was crushed. Put into more palatable language, the poisonous lie my mother so cruelly injected into my heart was that I was worse than worthless. Unfortunately, this lie was surrounded by a fortress of hundreds more just like it. […] Those lies nearly destroyed me”.

Thanks to the help of good spiritual guides who taught him the method of the “discernment of spirits”, this young man fortunately understood that, among so many poisonous messages, another voice was resounding in his heart: the voice of the Good Shepherd. It was a totally different voice that gave him peace of heart, strength, hope and, most importantly, a real sense of his worth. He understood that it was the only voice he should heed and respond.  During a particularly difficult time, he wrote a simple prayer which said “In Jesus name, I reject the lie that I am worthless and embrace the truth that You love me, Lord — that You called me into existence for an eternal relationship of love with you. Lord, please heal me and help me escape these lies that lead me to despair. Please take control of my heart and mind.” In those moments, he needed indeed a Good Shepherd to lead him.

The Sunday of the Good Shepherd is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We imagine our vocation as a choice among others (oftentimes not even the most attractive one) or as a burden God put on our shoulders for the good of others, not our own. Nobody wants to become a brainless sheep in a flock where everyone blindly follows orders and sacrifices oneself.

The story we just read instead emphasizes the fact that God’s call is the possibility that He gives to each one of us, in our particular situation, to fully live our existence lest we get lost pulled by the destructive forces in our inner self. The Good Shepherd’s voice is the only one which can make sense of our entire existence, including our painful past, of our traumatic experiences and of our failures. It is the only voice which opens our present circumstances to a positive future without fear, no matter the challenges in front of us (“His own sheep will come in and go out and find pasture” v.9).

The Good Shepherd’s voice is always an invitation, never a blind order, because God desires our free answer in faith and love. Our vocational path, like any moral choice, should be a response to the Lord’s loving initiative, a grateful “yes” to the liberating actions of God who enters our concrete life experiences and opens for us the way to live every day a bit more meaningfully, more reconciled, more healed, more loving… and therefore less self-centered.

In the last moments of our life too, the Good Shepherd’s voice will resound in our hearts. Once I attended the funeral of a friend who died too soon because of cancer. Everyone was devasted because of his early death. But when the song “Come, follow me” was sung, I realized for the first time that death is a vocation too, the most sacred one. It is Christ inviting us to pronounce our definitive “yes” to His love, to accept His merciful embrace and to find in Him the fulfillment of our very messy lives. A call to go home, our common home as one of Christ’s beloved flock.