Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year C
[Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30]
Today, I will begin this homily by mentioning a few names to see if they mean anything to you: Google, Siri, and Alexa. You may hear someone saying, “Okay, Google!” or “Hey, Siri!”, or simply “Alexa”, with no other person in sight. What I am referring to here, of course, is voice recognition technology operative in our devices. How it works is totally beyond me. Whether it is a smartphone or a TV remote, one can now simply speak to these things, they recognize the voice, and respond with the answers sought or carry out the actions requested.
Within the realm of technology, computerized voice recognition and responsiveness is relatively novel. Considered within the perspective of our lives as disciples of Jesus, voice recognition and response is not new at all. In fact, it has been from the beginning the very heart of the Christian life. Speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus says this: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” I don’t know how Siri or Alexa recognize my voice, and I don’t really care. What I do care about deeply, as do we all, is our ability to recognize and respond to the voice of Jesus when he calls to us. There is no question more urgent than this, because, as Jesus himself says, when we recognize his voice and respond by the decision to follow him, he leads us to eternal life, to an everlasting participation in the communion of love he shares with the Father.
We refer to this Fourth Sunday of Easter each year as Good Shepherd Sunday, a time to reflect upon the mystery of vocation within the Church. The call of the Shepherd goes out to each of us, summoning us to lives of holiness by following his voice throughout our time on earth as he moves us toward communion with him forever in eternal life. Within this universal call to holiness, Jesus issues specific calls, inviting to the ministerial priesthood, consecrated life, diaconate, Christian marriage, or the single life. When we respond to the call of the Shepherd, happiness is the result, something I am always ready to confirm from personal experience.
The opposite is also easily and readily confirmed by us all, because we see it daily before our very eyes. Not recognizing the voice of Jesus, or failing to respond when we do, leads to unhappiness, confusion, and pain. Great harm arises when the call of Christ is unrecognized and unheeded. Globally, we see this in numberless refugees fleeing persecution, unresolved conflicts in the Middle East, and war in Ukraine. Closer to home we continue to live with affronts to the dignity of innocent human life, fracture in our country, growing drug crises, particularly among the young, situations of dire poverty and homelessness, and division in families.
All this begs the question: how do we recognize the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd? For this, we do not need any technological wizardry. Jesus himself has made it possible to recognize him when he speaks. All we need to do is turn to Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. The voice of the Shepherd echoes throughout the sacred pages of the Bible, redounds through time in the teaching of his Church, reverberates in her sacred Liturgy, and resonates within the depths of our conscience.
Now, while the recognition of his voice is made possible by Jesus, our culture renders hearing it rather difficult. In order for me to use today’s recognition technology properly, my voice needs to be clearly heard. If my voice is garbled or there is background noise, I might very well get from the device answers to questions I am not asking. The voice of Jesus is crystal clear. Yet there can be plenty of background noise competing with it. We live in a culture of chatter and babble, in a time when a multiplicity of voices bombards us daily. In the midst of this static, it can be very difficult to recognize the voice of our Lord. We can end up shaping answers to questions Jesus is not asking, or responding to directions he is not giving, and this can leave us lost and wounded. What is required from us, therefore, is a determination to close out from our minds and hearts all noise we know is contrary to the Gospel, and seek divine grace to help us truly recognize the voice of the Lord and respond in faith and trust.
As a model of how to do this, we have the Blessed Mother. May is the month of Mary, and we who seek to recognize the voice of her son and follow where he leads can do no better than learn from her example. Mary is lifted up by the Church as not only the Mother of the Saviour, but also his perfect disciple. She received in faith the message of the angel and surrendered herself fully to the mysterious call of God. She “pondered and treasured” all that was spoken about her son at his birth, allowed Jesus’s own words to shape her life, and counselled others to “do whatever he tells you”. Her entire life revolved around the voice of Jesus.
So, too, must it be with us. There are no words more beautiful and wondrous than those spoken by the voice of the Shepherd, Jesus Christ. They lead us to life. In our celebration of the Eucharist, may the grace of communion with our Lord awaken our capacity to recognize his voice as he calls, and deepen within us the gift of faith to respond with the whole of our lives.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
May 8th, 2022