The Shepherd’s Tender Call
“Once again we hear the voice of the good shepherd calling us tenderly: ‘I have called you by your name.’ He calls each of us by our name, the familiar name used only by those who love us. Words cannot describe Jesus’ tenderness toward us.”
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
Christ is Passing By, no. 59
What does the voice of the Good Shepherd sound like? Would you know it if you heard it?
Our’s is a media culture, dominated by distracting voices, sounds, and images which offer little rest to the senses, and even less peace for our souls. Information and misinformation are both freely circulated. Everything competes for our attention—to influence our opinions, to make us spend money—and often with the effect of drawing people into error and sin.
In the midst of this competition, the voice of Christ can sound like just one more voice, the message of the Gospel, just an alternative set of values—not revealed or inspired, just alternative. Or the voice of the Pope, or of a priest, may seem to be just other voices in the crowd that vies for our attention and allegiance.
How do we discern the mild voice of the Good Shepherd, what St Josemaria describes as “the whistled beckoning of the loving Shepherd” (In Love with the Church, no. 8)?
Christ Himself tells us how in the same words He spoke to Pontius Pilate: “Every one who is of the truth hears my voice” (Jn 18:37). Truth does not need to shout in order to be heard. It does not need to manipulate in order to convince. Isaiah had foretold that the Messiah would not “cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street” (Is 42:2). Truth speaks serenely and confidently, and to be heard only needs ears that are open to receive it, and a heart prepared to be changed by it.
To be “of the truth” is to be receptive to the word of God and to keep it once we have heard it. We have to want to hear the truth, make an effort to listen to it, and to change our lives according to it. The Lord Himself joins truth with life in discipleship: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6).
When Christ our Shepherd calls us by name, He does not leave us as we are, but brings us to a fuller life in Him: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). The Lord’s love and tenderness draws us along the narrow way of self-denial so that we can arrive at a deeper union with Him—based in the truth of who He is and who we are: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship” (1 Jn 1:6-7).
To hear ourselves called by Christ our Shepherd is to hear our name spoken with all of the nuances of love, which only those who know us best can employ with perfect ease, subtlety, and affection. It must have been this power that made Mary Magdalene recognize the risen Lord after He merely spoke her name, “Mary” (Jn 20:16). That was all it took to turn her tears into joy, her feet lingering at the tomb into the hurried steps of an apostle.
The more sensitive we are to Him, the less Jesus has to do to get our attention. He can whisper, nod, or just make eye contact (as He did with St. Peter after his betrayals), and all is immediately understood. If we are looking out for it, every day of our lives becomes an uninterrupted series of these little gestures or calls wherein Jesus is softly whistling to us, attracting us to Himself and drawing other souls along with us.
Like Mary Magdalene, we have to be responsive when our name is called. Because when Jesus calls, He expects mission of us—that we come and go at His word. In calling us personally, the Lord appeals to our true self—the self that just wants to forget about everything and follow Him blindly. He addresses the radical disciple in us who wants to cut every tie, burn every bridge, leave everything behind, and follow like Abraham, who “went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Heb 11:8). Jesus the Good Shepherd speaks to this one, whom He knows exists within each of us.
We should ask ourselves periodically: Do I allow Jesus to be as much of a Shepherd to me as He wants to be? Or, Am I still listening as closely as I should to His voice? The Shepherd Himself says, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…. and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (Jn 10:3-5).
All of the unimportant things that preoccupy us are like the voices of strangers—and those strangers also know our name. They know how to tempt us away from the Shepherd’s call. Jesus calls us to flee from the other voices—those that would lead us to the extremes of false joy or unholy discouragement, for neither are true nor life-giving. The Lord tells us that He comes not to steal and slaughter and destroy, but to give us life. The more we can tell the difference between distracting chatter and the accents of Divine speech, the more surely we are following Jesus on the way to life.
His voice is wholly unique—not noisy, blustering, or flattering, as much of commercial and entertainment media is. His is a still small voice—a voice that rends the oak trees, that sounds like the roar of mighty waters. The voice of Christ whispers and thunders. Its gentle force can penetrate the “noises of the street,” navigating us through the inevitable distractions of life and onto the paths of peace (see Christ is Passing By, no. 174).
We are never finished asking ourselves what it means to follow Christ. Our lives change, new demands are placed upon us, new trials emerge. Each day brings a fresh question: How does Jesus want me to follow Him today, in this situation? Even if our lives are mostly predictable and monotonous, as most lives are, the question remains basically the same: How does Jesus want me to follow Him while very little seems to change?
The Good Shepherd promises, Follow me, and I will lead you to springs of life-giving water, providing us with no further information. Only He knows where those springs are. St. John of the Cross tells us that we must follow Christ in ignorance and darkness, not according to our intelligence and understanding. That is our commitment and it takes everything from us: faith, hope, and love; the mind, the heart, and the body. It takes the past and the future. It demands complete trust and docility.
We are told in the book of Revelation that the virgins follow the Lamb wherever He goes (cf. Rev 14:4-5). Whether He does the same thing everyday or changes everything without warning, they follow. They are virgin-followers—that is, virgins more according to love than anything else. They know not their own will, their own ways, but only those of the Lamb who was slain for them. And significantly, it is said of them that “in their mouth no lie was found” (14:5). They are of the truth that leads to life.
The peace that radiates from such faithful disciples shows that they are drinking from the hidden wellsprings of the Redeemer. They have heard His voice, heard their name called, and let themselves be led to the verdant pastures where alone we can find rest for our souls.
The content is published by the St Josemaria Institute for the free use of readers and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from its author © Fr. John Henry Hanson, 2014.