“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
In 1987, I was in the 7th grade when St. John Paul II came to Miami, and I was in the crowd when he celebrated his unfinished Mass at Tamiami Park. He was so far away from where I was, yet I could still hear his wonderful, saintly voice speaking to us: the unmistakable voice of a shepherd. In 2010, I was in St. Peter’s Square during the Sunday recitation of the Angelus when a tiny white figure appeared at the window of the papal apartments and you could hear the gentle, prayerful voice of Benedict XVI throughout the square: the unmistakable voice of a shepherd. Two summers ago, I was again in St. Peter’s Square during a Wednesday audience and now you could hear the joyful, welcoming voice of Pope Francis: again, the unmistakable voice of a shepherd. In this case, it was the voice of the current Vicar of Christ, our Universal Shepherd here on earth who reminded us this morning: “No one can be said to be a follower of Jesus, if he is not ready to listen to his voice."
These three great shepherds remind us of Christ, the Good Shepherd. We listen to them much the same way the disciples listened to Jesus. The voice of Jesus calls out to us this day to follow him. We hear him, but are we listening? The image of God as shepherd was not something new that Jesus introduced. It is was an image that was quite present throughout the Old Testament. God is our shepherd, and now Jesus, God with us, is telling us he is the shepherd. Like every shepherd, his voice is distinct and authoritative. When the sheep hear him, they follow. But something more is required of us: we must listen to what he has to tell us. We must single out the voice of Jesus from all the voices of the world trying to drown him out and listen to him. Today he is quite simply telling us to follow him. If we follow him, we will not perish. As Pope Francis reminded us this morning: “The image of the shepherd and the sheep shows the close relationship that Jesus wants to establish with each of us. He is our guide, our teacher, our friend, our model, but above all he is our Savior.” Which is why the image of the lamb rescued over the shepherd’s shoulders is so fitting for this day. The Good Shepherd comes to our rescue even when we have strayed from him and can no longer hear his voice. He comes to our rescue when we are most in need to put us on his shoulders and take us to greener pastures. This image is what makes what Pope Francis did yesterday so remarkable.
The Pope traveled to a Greek island where there are a great concentration of refugees especially from war torn Syria. The Holy Father said that he encountered great suffering. Now he met with 300 refugees one by one each telling him their story. The Pope heard a story from a Muslim father with two children who recounted how terrorists kidnapped his wife because she was a Christian, and then killed her when she refused to deny Christ. “She is a martyr,” the Pope declared this morning. So one by one he listened to these stories of suffering. In our case, the shepherd also listens to his sheep, and in this particular case, even if they are not necessarily of his fold. Yet what the Holy Father did at the end of his brief trip is what spoke volumes. Twelve Muslim refugees from Syria boarded Shepherd One (the papal plane) and the Pope brought these refugees back to the Vatican where they would be cared for. The shepherd almost quite literally put the sheep on his shoulders and led them to greener pastures.
This is the image of the Good Shepherd that we should take with us this Sunday. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we pray that Christ send us shepherds after his own heart as he promised in the gospels. We see a wonderful example of a good shepherd in our Holy Father especially with his actions in Greece with the refugees: a shepherd like Christ. Pray for vocations and pray for your priests. I pray every day that I can be a shepherd like Christ and like our most recent exceptional popes. May the words you hear me say be the words of the Good Shepherd who today just simply calls us to follow him.