“The Lord is my shepherd.” The Lord’s flock knows His voice, and we follow Him. We follow Him as He leads us through the pilgrimage of time, the pilgrimage of our earthly life. Time passes. We listen for His voice and follow. Years pass. He leads on.
Two quick points on this.
1. Speaking of time passing… Exactly three years ago, we had just finalized the Martinsville-Rocky Mount parish-cluster Mass schedule. Remember that? On Good Shepherd Sunday, 2011, those of us down here in Franklin and Henry counties, Virginny, had to face some facts together. Life was going to get a little bit harder, for the people and for me.
Me: trying to live like some kind of celibate bigamist with two families, one on each side of Fork-Mountain ridge. The people: practicing the faith with a harried, distracted priest, with Mass times not altogether convenient, and other sacrifices to make on the altar of the early-21st-century American priest shortage.
We stepped forward with faith, though, trusting in the Lord. And He has provided. I don’t really have the personal resources to deal with the task the Bishop laid on me. But the Lord has filled generous people here with all kinds of zeal and skill to keep the parishes running well and growing. A lot of Catholic America has seen a disheartening decline in the past few years. But we have not, praised be the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord has used us, and continues to use us, to keep the sacred fire burning here.
2. Which brings us to point #2. When we do what we have done, and hopefully will continue to do—that is, when we let the Good Shepherd lead us through time—when we stay close enough to Him, so that we can hear His strong, gentle voice in our ears—when we do that, the passing of time always has a particular effect. When we follow Christ faithfully every day, the passing of time always means that we grow spiritually.
Now, we cannot envision, really, what “spiritual growth” even means, much less can we plan it out for ourselves. But the Lord knows exactly how to foster it. All we have to do is submit to His guidance, like the sheep who amble along through the grass, following the voice of the shepherd.
Let’s remember: sheep are not altogether stupid. When it comes to a sense of direction, yes, sheep have no clue whatsoever. Utterly lost. But sheep do have great acuity when it comes to recognizing voices.
What the Lord said in the gospel reading for Sunday Mass is not only spiritually profound, it is also scientifically accurate. Sheep will not follow a strange voice, but they will recognize and follow a familiar voice.
We can apply both the sheep’s skills, and lack thereof, to ourselves. I ask myself: What do I need to do to grow my soul, to enlarge it and fill it with more sublime and enduring things? On the one hand, I have no answer at all; the question itself is totally beyond me, just like a sheep who doesn’t know east or west from a handsaw or a parakeet.
But, on the other hand, I actually do know exactly how to grow spiritually, because I know exactly Whose voice I must heed. The Lord Jesus Christ. Let me patiently listen to Him week in and week out, year in and year out, from now until He calls me to the pasture on the other side of the veil—let me listen to Him my whole life long, and He will make my soul bigger and bigger and more and more beautiful.