Recognizing the Shepherds Voice
By now you probably have heard the term “fake news.” It’s used to describe what some would argue is bias in a story; a story that intentionally slants one way or another to get the reader to not come to their own conclusion, but to the conclusion the author intends. An op-ed piece becomes the story. This of course is nothing new; just watch classic films like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or “Citizen Kane” to see how stories disguised as real in fact were designed to sway people one way or another
Unfortunately, there can be a lot of fake news out there too when it comes to our faith.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus says the sheep will not follow a stranger, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Jesus is talking about Himself as the Good Shepherd; and the sheep who are by no means dumb have come to recognize the voice of the true shepherd, and he is the one they follow.
Doing this though requires the sheep to truly come to know their shepherd, which they do over time. But in reality in our lives, as followers of Jesus, it can be easy to lose one’s way. And we have to be on guard that we stay focused.
For one, sometimes people gradually fall away. Their prayer life goes. Then they start skipping Masses, and go less and less. Or the faith becomes one thing among many. Our faith is like a marathon; we run with God many miles from womb to tomb and He is also waiting for us at the finish line too, but we need to keep our eyes fixed on the goal. So maintain the habit of prayer, of coming to Mass (hopefully in person again sooner than later!) and of truly coming to know God.
Other times, people fall away because of bad information. In my life, I’ve been a lifelong Catholic. But I remember in high school, when I was in an ecumenical Christian group at a public school, I started really being challenged as one person said the Catholic Church did not preach the truth. And I indeed found myself really asking hard questions about the faith, even considering leaving the Catholic Church briefly. My parents in their wisdom realized I was growing up and asking questions and ultimately this led me to a deeper faith and appreciation for my Catholic faith. Unfortunately some do leave though. We have to be aware of false shepherds out there, but also remember that while asking questions is one thing, up and leaving is another. Remember there’s a lot of misinformation online, but among others who want people to leave the Catholic faith. Christ the Shepherd founded one Church, not thousands. So this means we need to trust the Church. Some teachings will be challenging, and that’s a good thing to be challenged. But we need to sit with these things, pray about them, and think about them. We also have to remember our pope and bishops change; some people like one person’s style or another, but these aren’t people running for office. They speak to us and are there to guide us. They carry a crosier because they are the successors of the 12; the Holy Father the successor of Peter and vicar of Christ. Sometimes they express opinions that are not binding on the faithful, but in this day and age when people can be quick to tear others down, the point is it’s OK to disagree, to question; it means we are engaged. And again, a quote in a paper is a far different thing than a declaration of a dogma. But what we don’t want is to say “I’m leaving because of this bishop or pope” or “I’m rejecting everything this particular pope or bishop says.” That’s now how it works. They are there to lead us closer to Jesus, so we need to listen and pray for them, and bring our struggles to prayer and honest dialogue with other Catholics, not airing them out on social media.
We also need to be aware of the lost sheep and help them. We all know people who have fallen away from the faith. Some have been deceived; others just not catechized so they think the evangelical free church with the upbeat music and feel good message is no different even though the Eucharist isn’t celebrated there; others lose hope and despair. Whatever the case, don’t give up. Keep praying for others. Keep inviting them to Mass. Look for opportunities to evangelize. And be patient as often people have a way of returning to the faith too.
Lastly, we need to look at our lives and be honest when things might not be quite right in terms of sin creeping in. All of us sin, but the good shepherd comes to get us. But we also want to try to keep hearing his voice. So make a good regular act of contrition, and seek out the sacrament of reconciliation too on a regular basis. We need to identify what it is that may pull us off the right track, naming these things for what they are (sins) but not wallowing in shame but turning them over to God.
Inevitably we always lose our way at various points in life.
But God is always there for us to seek us out. So trust in the Good Shepherd, and work daily to drown out the voices that would lead us away from Him, hearing His voice and knowing He will lead you home to the heavenly pastures.
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