Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
May 6, 2001
Acts 13:14,43-52; Rev 7:9,14-17; Jn 10:27-30
1) Christ says to us very clearly that his sheep hear his voice. He knows them and they follow him. He also says that no one will be able to snatch them out of his hand. The only way his sheep will come out of his hand is when they choose to leave. Jesus doesn’t put his sheep, us, in a cage. If we wander off freely, hearing someone else’s voice, he will go after us, to try to bring us back, but he respects our freedom to leave, even if this is an abuse of our freedom.
2) It’s very important to ask ourselves very often if we’re really hearing the voice of the Lord, if we’re really following him. It’s getting harder and harder today for us to do that. Not just because of the noise of the world and all of the competing voices, but particularly because, in an era in which fewer and fewer people are hearing the voice of the Lord at all, we can feel so good about ourselves listening to him every once in a while. We can start to say to ourselves, “Hey, at least I come to Mass.” “Hey, at least I’m not committing those types of huge sins that others are.” We can begin to say, “hey, my hearing’s just fine,” when we’re only tuning the Lord for a few minutes a week, when we’re really not listening to God very well at all
3) I like to do a test every once in a while so that all of us can be honest with ourselves about how well we’re listening to the Lord, because so often I think we can deceive ourselves into thinking we’re listening to him when all we’re really doing is playing his voice as kind of background music. If we’re really trying to listen to his voice, we will be able to answer the following questions: What was the first reading about? Where did it take place? What was the main point? Who were the characters? What was the response to the psalm? From what book of the Bible was the second reading taken? What was its meaning? What was the opening prayer of the Mass about? If we really were listening, we should be able to remember not necessarily everything, but at least some of the aspects of each of these questions. How did you do? Do we take Jesus’ voice for granted?
4) I’m convinced that very of us here in the Church would have gotten close to 25% on that test. We’re almost programmed by now not to pay close attention. We go from one reading to another, not really capturing what’s there. A lot of times we blow off the priest’s or the deacon’s homily as well. All the while we can think that everything’s fine in our relationship with the Lord. But if we’re not actively trying to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, to tune him him in EVERYTHING, in every aspect of our lives, but especially in prayer, the Mass and in Sacred Scripture, everything is NOT right in our relationship with the Lord.
5) To hear Jesus’ voice, we have to tune out everything else in order to tune him in. Many of the older people in the parish come to me and ask me for advice about distractions in prayer. I’m so happy when they do, because at least they recognize that they should be trying to tune the Lord in with everything. But our human weakness and inability to concentrate because of fatigue or some worries can prevent us from hearing the word of God well. But the two greatest causes for the lack of being able to hear God are (a) indifference to it and (b) sin.
6) When was the last time you opened up a Bible on your own? God has written such enormous love letters to you in the Bible, he’s written you letters to shed light on the greatest mysteries about him, about you, and has given the answers to the most important questions you’ll ever ask, but when was the last time you actually opened up the Bible to hear what he said to you? When was the last time you came to him in the Blessed Sacrament and made a holy hour, not just to make yourself feel good about your relationship to the Lord, but in humble recognition that your relationship with the Lord is not what it could be and to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”? These types of things are what someone who doesn’t take the Lord’s voice for granted would do, who treasures the Lord’s voice, who tries to hear the Lord’s gentle whispers and directions and love. So often we can end up treating God as if he were one of the mute and deaf people he cured countless times. We believe that he exists, but we pretend that he can’t speak or never does, and we don’t really pray as we know we’re talking to someone who hears EVERY SINGLE WORD we say, but rather just mumble through prayers without even thinking about what we’re saying.
7) The second cause of failure to hear God’s word is sin. Sin ultimately makes us blind and deaf to God, because we start tuning in more and more to the seductive voice of the devil. You see this often with young people, especially those who are involved in drug abuse and sexual sins, but it can affect all of us, no matter what our age. Parents experience much the same thing when their kids don’t listen to them. As soon as they start to get involved with the wrong crowd, or as soon as they start to give their minds and their hearts and their bodies to sin, they start tuning everyone out and following the voice of the BAD Shepherd, of the Devil. Whereas the Good Shepherd, Jesus, lays down his life for the sheep, the Evil Shepherd, whom Jesus calls a thief and a marauder, wants to kill the sheep, to kill you, or rather, to have you commit spiritual suicide and to kill others in the process.
8 ) Today, I want to challenge you, in the name of the Lord, to ask yourself honestly how hard you try to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. And if you’re not hearing him well now, to ask yourself the reason. Is it because you’re really indifferent to it? That you take it for granted? That you just don’t pay attention because you don’t really love him as you ought? Or is it because you are caught up in some sin, listening to the voice of the Bad Shepherd more than the Good Shepherd. Jesus gave us ears ultimately so that we could hear his voice, so that we could follow him. Let’s use them well.
9) This fourth Sunday of Easter is, throughout the Church, at the explicit request of Pope John Paul II, Vocations Sunday, which should force us to focus on a particular type of hearing, when God calls someone to follow him all the way in priesthood or in religious life. We’re facing a real “hearing” crisis in the Church. God is still calling, but so few are hearing the call. And this going to bring about some drastic consequences in the near future. We’re in a crisis stage now in terms of the number of vocations, both in terms of priests and religious. We’re going to be closing lots of Churches because the numbers of priests are just not there. In ten years, I’d anticipate seeing several more Churches close here in Fall River for the sole reason that there are not the number of priests to staff them. Catholic schools are so expensive because we don’t have religious brothers and sisters anymore teaching in them and hence, even though we don’t pay our lay teachers what they deserve to be paid, and only pay them half of what the public schools pay, it still costs too much for many poor families to afford.
10) And in Portuguese Parishes, we have to be honest, although there is a great deal of faith in them, there have been in many of them very few vocations. ES have has six priests in 97 years. I was talking to a priest friend of mine at a huge Portuguese parish in the north of New Bedford and he said they have had only One in the same period of time. One of the Portuguese parishes here in Fall River that will soon be closing, as far as I’m aware, has never had one. Have you ever asked why a community as faithful as the Portuguese are in practicing the faith, needs to have a French-Canadian priest serve you? My friend in New Bedford is also non-Portuguese. I love it here, really love it here serving you and I love the Portuguese language, but I’m here primarily because the bishop was desperate to have someone come to serve the Portuguese faithful, because there have been so few vocations.
10) Why is that? It’s not because God doesn’t want Portuguese men to become priests and isn’t calling them, but it’s because we’re really not doing a good job helping young people hear the call, to hear God’s voice calling them. God helped me hear his voice by having so many people when I was young come up to me and say, “Do you think God wants you to be a priest” “I think you’d make a great priest.” “I’m praying that God give you the vocation to be a priest?” When was the last time you that type of conversation with a young man or boy? With one or your sons or grandchildren? With a brother or nephew? With one of our young boys in CCD or at the school? Would you really want your son, grandchild, nephew or friend to become a priest so much as to pray that they have a vocation?
11) God is calling young men here in this Church to become priests. But we all as a community have to hear his voice and help others to hear it. One concrete way we’re trying to do that is by our Vocations Holy Hours on Mondays, in which we pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and after which do some small concrete gestures to help out those who are discerning vocations. The next one is this Monday at 6:30 pm. At the last one, at the beginning of April, there was a decent turnout of people. But what was very disappointing about it was at the beginning of the Holy Hour, so that I could determine the percentage of prayers and readings to do in each language, I asked how many would prefer things in English and how many in Portuguese. There was not one English-speaking hand in the Church! I was fine doing that in Portuguese, but what do you think it says about the English-speaking part of our community?
11) And so I’d like to make a concrete and very direct appeal to everyone in the Church right now. Please strongly consider coming to tomorrow night’s holy hour, so that we as a whole parish community, can hear God’s voice calling some of our young members to serve him in a most intimate and rewarding way. But don’t just come for that. Come for the simple reason that we will have the Good Shepherd on the altar in the Blessed Sacrament, listening to your prayers and speaking to you. If you hunger to hear his voice, what better way to show it, than in coming here to be in the Good Shepherd’s real presence? Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Jesus is going to be coming here to speak tomorrow night. Will you follow him to this altar to hear his voice?