“I am the Good Shepherd…my sheep hear my voice.” John 10:11
We celebrate “Good Shepherd Sunday” and honor the role of the shepherd who directs, values, and rescues even one who strays from the flock.
The word “pastor” draws from shepherding itself. We value our pastors here at San Carlos Cathedral, Fathers Peter and Patrick, retired Bishop Ryan and Bishop Garcia, and shortly we will welcome to the priesthood, our deacon Jason.
Pope Francis, at his very first Holy Thursday Mass as pope, and later in his “Joy of the Gospel,” said to priests: “This is what I am asking you… be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.” In other words, the pastor must identify with his people, and even smell like them.
On May 2nd, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass with the faculty and seminarians of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where some three hundred men are preparing for the priesthood. The pope will attend a day-long gathering of reflection on the life of Junipero Serra, our founding pastor; as part of the pope’s forthcoming visit to the United States, Blessed Junipero Serra will be declared a saint on September 23rd in Washington, D.C.
I don’t know what the pope will say precisely, but I hope the pope will reflect the idea that all in ministry today need to listen to his call and to truly “hear the Lord’s voice.”
This past January, I was at the North American College as part of my January Term course, “In the Footsteps of the Early Christians,” and I brought my group of twenty college-age women and men to hear from a group of seminarians about their calling. The several years that I have conducted this pilgrimage, this conversation with the seminarians is a highlight; we join them in prayer, at Mass, listen to a panel of seminarians, followed by a pizza party.
This past year, we heard from several of these young men. One of the seminarians told us he was from Rhode Island, and how he got the idea of becoming a priest, mainly while he worked in campus ministry when he was an undergraduate.
A fourth-year student from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., had a most impressive background, having graduated from Harvard Law School. While working for a law firm in Washington, D.C., he discerned that he wanted a deeper spiritual life, and decided to join the seminary.
Interestingly, I’ve been told that lawyers account for an increasing number of men who decide for the priesthood. In researching their priest-candidates, the Archdiocese of Washington discovered that many men come from families with a military background. Naturally, there are many military personnel in Virginia and Maryland. However, it speaks to the stable family ties that may attract vocations today and in the past.
Our final panelist was a seminarian Matt Murray, from the Oakland, CA diocese, who is the first son in an extensive family. He told us that while in college, he worked at an “In-N-Out Burger” franchise on Rt. 80 in Fairfield, nearby the Travis Air Force Base.
If we are going to use the pope’s “smell of the sheep” test for identifying with people — campus ministry is excellent, a law office may have its merits, but I can smell those burgers, and that’s where real people are!
The NAC seminarians had plenty to tell my students. Each year, I’ve noticed that getting to meet these young men is a great inspiration. For my own Saint Mary’s students we live in such a climate of change where people change jobs every three years, we are “friended” on Facebook, and find our spouse on “Match.com.” Here are people discerning whether they have an authentic calling and trying day-by-day to “hear the Lord’s voice.”
.On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear, namely, “My sheep hear my voice,” our second theme.
John’s gospel is distinctive. We are in conversation with Christ in prayer, discernment, and based on the great discussions or discourses in John. Here, Jesus is in dialogue with the woman at the well; Nicodemus is “born again” in John 3:16; the man was born blind; Peter, and others. Perhaps the most dramatic encounter in the New Testament is Jesus’s statement before Pontius Pilate — in which Pilate asks: “So you are a King?” And Jesus’s reply: “I am a king, but not of this world!”
Some of these dialogues are among the most extended passages in John’s gospel. You may notice that John’s gospel contrasts with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who rely on teaching and parables. John presents Jesus in conversation with people, and we know their names.
So Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice.” At the heart of this statement is a challenge. Our task is to listen, in prayer, and discernment – in a conversation about our own particular needs, hurts, concerns, and yes, that prayer of thanksgiving.
We listen to his voice, and gradually, our prayers give way to oneness in the Lord. And before a “good and gentle shepherd” who guides us into the “ways of peace.”
San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, CA.