07 August 2009

My Sheep Hear My Voice

“My sheep hear My Voice. And I know them; and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

These are the familiar words of our Savior. And of cousre, we’ve always understood this passage to mean that Jesus is the Shepherd and we are the sheep. But when one examines this very literally, these words should have an even heavier impact on our souls.

The scene that Jesus creates here is very Middle Eastern. Many of us have never witnessed a shepherd and his sheep interact. Father Benedict Groeschel, a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, as well as an author, psychologist, and well-known EWTN personality, once shared a story of his visit to the Holy Land in which he watched shepherds work with their sheep. He said that there were a bunch of sheep walking around along with three shepherds. He said that the shepherds split up and each walked into a different direction, and then made a whistling sound with their mouths. The sheep, all bunched together, then began to divide and walk towards the direction of their own particular shepherd; each of them were able to identify their own shepherd’s whistle. That must have been a fascinating thing to witness!

The universal language of God is silence. How many of us make every effort to find a time for silence in our daily lives? The world in which we live is very noisy. And the technological advances of our modern day can be very distracting and lure us into using our tech-toys more than we should.

In that same Gospel passage are these alarming words: “I speak to you and you believe not… because you are not My sheep” (John 14:25-26). In the Spiritual Canticle by Saint John of the Cross, he writes these strong words: “O souls created to enjoy these grandeurs and called thereto! What do you do? Wherein do you occupy yourselves? Your desires are meanesses, and your possessions miseries. O wretched blindness of the eyes of your soul, which are blind to so great a light and deaf to so clear a voice… you remain… ignorant and unworthy of so many blessings!”

Finding a time to be quiet and still can be difficult in our often very busy lives, but it is essential if the sheep really want to hear the Voice of the Shepherd, to have their hearts and souls touched by Him. The Carthusian Statutes refer to silence as “holy ground, a place where… the Lord and His servant often speak together; there is the faithful soul frequently united with the Word of God.”

Saint Augustine said: “For lovers of this world, there is no harder work than not working.” That same concept seems to also apply to noise. It’s hard to make a concerted effort to escape noise. Our culture is very used to it and almost gravitates towards it. Silence can be very uncomfortable if not accustomed to it. The Carthusian Statutes go on to say that the fruits of silence are known only to those who have experienced it and that gradually there will be born within them something that will draw them to an even greater silence. This is related to an emptying of our souls of all the clutter and filling it up with the Blessed Trinity. Silence also makes our hearts a living altar in which our prayers, like burning incense, ascend to the Throne of Glory.