Readers familiar with the work of Adé Béthune will recognize here her Good Shepherd. Clean lines, simplicity, and strength characterize Adé’s work. She has had an enduring influence on my life since my apprenticeship to her in the early 1970s. Ade shared my passion for Gregorian Chant. One of her favourite expressions was, “Plain Chant for plain folk.” More about Adé here.
Fourth Sunday of Paschaltide
Good Shepherd Sunday
The Voice of the Shepherd
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, the Lord Jesus says, “My sheep will hear My voice” (Jn 10:16). For the sheep of His flock, the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd has a uniquely penetrating quality, an unmistakable accent of tenderness, a note of divine authority that goes straight to the heart. The believing heart leaps with recognition at the sound of Jesus’ voice. “The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out” (Jn 10:3).
Say Only the Word
The word of Christ accomplishes what it expresses. Just before approaching the altar for Holy Communion, we will pray in the words of the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but say only the word, and my soul shall be healed” (Lk 7:6-7). Our hearts may be frozen in an icy indifference. They may be shriveled up in the desert wastes of sin, or numbed by a secret pain. Even so, the psalmist sings, “He sends forth His word and it melts them; at the breath of His mouth the waters flow” (Ps 147:18).
Listen with the Ear of the Heart
To listen to the voice of Jesus with the ear of the heart is the first step in any relationship with Him. In the book of the Apocalypse He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Ap 3:20-21). Intimacy with Christ the Good Shepherd requires a listening heart. A listening heart will be a vulnerable heart. To listen with the ear of the heart is to open oneself to the other; it is to risk relationship. When the heart stops listening to the other, relationship — communion with the other — begins to disintegrate. This is true of friendship. It is true of marriage. It is true of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Good Portion
Recall that in Saint Luke’s gospel, Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and of Martha, seated herself at the Lord’s feet and stayed there listening to His words (Lk 10:39). Mary of Bethany was like a lamb resting at her shepherd’s feet, and Jesus praised her listening heart. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42). The Song of Songs interprets her experience, “With great delight I sat in His shadow, and His fruit was sweet to my taste” (Ct 2:3), and again, “His speech is most sweet, He is altogether desirable” (Ct 5:16). This is the experience of all who, down through the ages, have stilled and quieted their hearts to listen to the voice of the Shepherd Christ. Our relationship with Christ necessarily expresses itself in action — and in words — but it begins in listening. This listening in adoring silence is, to borrow Dom Chautard’s expression, the soul of the apostolate.
The Word of God: Living and Active
The ear of the heart learns to distinguish the voice of the Shepherd Christ among the tumult of a thousand other voices. There is something incisive and tender all at once about the voice of Jesus. It wounds and it heals. It challenges and it comforts. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (He 4:12). If we resist the voice of Jesus, the sound of it is painful; if we listen to His voice, by a single word we can be healed.
A Lamb at the Cross
Like Mary of Bethany, Mary of Magdala heard the voice of Jesus. Our Lord knew her to be one of His own, and she followed Him even to the cross. Saint John shows us the Good Shepherd become the Lamb of Sacrifice. His arms are spread wide upon the Cross, and at His feet are the cherished sheep of His flock. “By the Cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala” (Jn 19:25), the lamb wounded and torn, the lamb whom the Shepherd had made whole by the word of His mouth. Mary of Magdala is there, at the feet of the immolated Lamb, listening and loving. The words of Jesus, from the Cross fall into her heart, wounding and healing all at once.
At the Empty Tomb
After the resurrection of Jesus, Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb, a disoriented lamb in search of her Shepherd. She sees Him through her tears. Saint John says, “she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus” (Jn 20:15). There follows a moving exchange between the Shepherd and the lamb. “‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away'” (Jn 20:14-15). And then, in His own inimitable way, the Shepherd Jesus said, “Mary” (Jn 20:16). She knew Him then, at the sound of His voice, and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means “Master” (Jn 20:17).
The Sound of His Voice
Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus not at the sight of His face, but at the sound of His voice. Our own intimacy with the Lord Jesus leads to vision face-to-face, but begins in the bright darkness of faith where we have only the sound of His voice to guide us. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).
He Calls Each of Us by Name
For the present, we walk in darkness with only the voice of the Shepherd to direct us. Our Shepherd speaks to us in the Church. He speaks to us through the Scriptures and through those to whom He has confided His flock. He speaks to each one also in the deepest recesses of the heart, saying, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). The spiritual experience of a Poor Clare of the last century, Sister Mary of the Holy Trinity (Louisa Jacques, 1901-1942) attests to the mystery of the One who, at every moment, speaks to the soul who is silent enough and humble enough to listen. He calls each of us by name; we know Him at the sound of His voice, revealing the Father and breathing forth the Holy Spirit.
The Vision of His FaceHe Feeds His Flock
In the meantime, we are given the Most Holy Eucharist. In the Breaking of the Bread, “our eyes are opened” (Lk 24:31 to recognize the Lamb who was slain, Christ our Shepherd. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the prophecy of Isaiah is wondrously fulfilled: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd, He will gather the lambs in His arms, He will carry them in His bosom” (Is 40:11). “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29)! Behold, the Shepherd!