The Gospel for this Sunday is brief in comparison with those of the past few weeks.
The soothing, reassuring image of the Good Shepherd is easy for us to picture. We are the cute, cuddly, frisky sheep; and Jesus is the strong and caring shepherd who keeps us from harm. The key to this image is that the sheep listen. The sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out… the sheep follow because they know his voice.
I don’t know about you, but my world is full of voices and noise and sounds that easily distract and confuse. How do I hear the voice of the Good Shepherd amid, and in spite of, all the other noises? That is the great challenge of being a disciple, being part of the flock that is called Stella Maris Parish.
For a Christian, prayer is the most obvious way in which we listen to God. However, sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that if we don’t pray then God is not present. We don’t pray to make God present to us. God is already present. We pray to make ourselves present to God. God, as the English writer Sheila Cassidy colourfully puts it, is no more present in church than in a drinking bar, but we generally are more present to God in church than we are in a drinking bar. The problem of presence is not with God, but with us.
But if we seriously want to make ourselves present to God then we will need discipline, focus and determination. Like gaining anything worthwhile in life, there are no shortcuts!
The first step is to discern the sound of the Good Shepherd, to be able to identify his voice in the midst of so many distractions. To have any chance of this happening this week requires us consciously setting aside some time for prayer. If we are disciplined enough to begin each day in silence, or take advantage of morning Mass, or are creative and structure some time during the day where we can pray, then we stand a chance of discerning the voice of the shepherd and being attentive to his directions. If we don’t, then our senses will be overwhelmed with the competing noise and sounds of our modern, secular world.
But, and this is the bonus, in making ourselves present to God we run the risk of also becoming attentive to the richness of our own lives! Too often we are not present to the beauty, love, and grace that brim within the ordinary moments of our lives. There is a haziness to our lives that can develop and, if we are not careful, days slip into weeks that quickly become months, and before we know it, yet another year has slipped by. The beauty, richness and uniqueness of our lives is there for us to claim. Unfortunately more often than not, we are too busy or not disciplined enough to be in the same space.
So, if the secret to prayer is not to try to make God present, but to make ourselves present to God, the secret to finding beauty and love in life is basically the same.
To embrace the true joy of this Easter season is to be attentive to the voice of the Good Shepherd. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. So this week have the discipline, make the time and don’t expect the Good Shepherd to carry a megaphone!
Wishing you and yours every blessing for the week ahead,
Fr Peter Brannelly