Dear Readers,

My column today is written by a guest, and reminds us of our duty to

Hear and Follow the Good Shepherd by Alice Doyle

The Lord feeds His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather together the lambs with His arms, and take them up into his bosom. (Isaiah 40:11)

I once heard an excellent sermon on the parable of the Good Shepherd, an image Jesus used because it was familiar to people of His day. Early in the morning shepherds brought their flocks together to graze. Sheep from different flocks mixed together while the shepherds hung out and watched for wolves. At day’s end, separating the sheep presented no problem, because each sheep recognized and followed the voice of its own shepherd. Obviously, if a sheep didn’t know his shepherd’s voice, he was lost. A large part of our faith journey, Father said, is getting to know our shepherd, learning to recognize His voice, so that at the end of our day, we will be able to follow Him. Those who spend no time with the Shepherd may hear the call, but they won’t recognize His voice and follow.

Reflecting on the sermon, I believe the two main obstacles to learning the Shepherd’s voice are too much noise and, to quote Fulton Sheen, “evil philosophies that challenge the truth.” The first is an obstacle because it stifles God’s voice – much easier to hear in silence; the second, because, as we are influenced by these philosophies, we find it harder and harder to distinguish the voice of the one true Shepherd from the many false ones.

The solution to the problem of noise is fairly obvious but not easy. We need more silence. An interesting aspect of sitting quietly is we often find it’s not so quiet after all. If I sit silently in my kitchen, for example, I notice background sounds I usually miss: the refrigerator’s hum, the ticking clock, the drip of the coffeemaker. Sitting in silence with God produces a similar effect. We begin to hear Him. Screwtape, C.S. Lewis’ famous devil, wrote to his nephew Wormwood saying that Hell is full of noise. The more noise we eliminate from our lives, the better. The solution to overcoming the second obstacle is not so obvious. The evil philosophies to which Archbishop Sheen referred influence everything: from the media to the entertainment industry to politics and even our Church. They challenge truth primarily by questioning its existence independent of individual conscience. We are encouraged not so much to follow a different shepherd as to follow no one but ourselves. Of course we know in the end there are only two choices and, if we don’t choose God, we condemn ourselves to eternity without Him.

One way to deal with the many voices competing for our attention is to go on a strict diet of the mind. There’s no way to avoid completely the influence of evil messages but, just as a healthy diet can tolerate a little junk food, the mind can tolerate some junk (bubble gum for the brain you might call it) as long as most of what it consumes is healthy. The vast majority of what we listen to, watch, or read should support our values and help us grow in holiness. This applies especially to our children. One source of quality materials is Fr. Fran Peffley’s website. There are many others. As the parable tells us, Jesus loves us so much He will never stop seeking and calling. The challenge for us is to humble ourselves becoming meek and gentle as sheep whose only job is to hear and follow Him.

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