Knowing His Voice

“…the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 
When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
Jn 10:3-4

This past Sunday was Good Shepherd Sunday.  There are so many aspects of the Good Shepherd story that I love, but what really struck me this week was the idea of knowing His voice.  This imagery is central to the  Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training I took, and I can’t hear this Gospel without seeing Sr. Mary Charles in her atrium, teaching her little students this parable.

There is a priest in the diocese of Knoxville who is originally from Ghana.  There’s a certain story that he tells on Good Shepherd Sunday, and I think you’ll know why.

When he was growing up in his village back in Ghana, there were two herders who were in dispute.  One of the herders accused the other of stealing some of his animals– some of his sheep, goats, and cattle.  So the judge took the two men out into the field where the man’s animals were grazing.  There was a huge group of animals — sheep, goats, and cattle.  The judge motioned to the first herder.  He stepped out and made a clicking sound.  That was it– just a simple clicking sound with his mouth.

Out of the herd came cattle, sheep, and goats, and they came to the man.  Not all of them — just the ones who knew his voice.  His cattle, sheep, and goats.

They knew him.  From a simple clicking noise.

I have several friends who have faced or are facing difficult decisions lately.  And I sympathize with them, having had to make difficult decisions myself the past few months.  I was talking to one of my friends the other day and she pinpointed why decisions are so difficult some times … what happens if I’m not hearing His voice?

Her question hit home.  Because it’s so true.  What if we’re faced with a decision — a life-altering decision — and we don’t know His voice?  I want to follow His voice.  I want to be that sheep that is standing in the herd and hears His voice and comes to Him.  I desire more than anything to do His Will.  But what if it’s hard to hear His voice?

What if I can’t distinguish His voice from my own emotions?  Do I desire to do this or that because He has placed that desire in my heart?  Or rather because it’s easy, or because I just think it would make me happy, or because I’m capricious?

In the homily today, Father spoke of the importance of humility.  And I think that might be the key.  To hear His voice, I have to be ready to do anything– including if that means giving up what I thought was His voice.  I have to realize that to hear His voice, I have to stop hearing my own.  Sometimes that means seeking out the quietness of Eucharistic Adoration.  Sometimes that means listening to the advice of others.  And sometimes it simply begins with admitting to myself that I don’t know best.

It also means humbly submitting to His Church, even when that Church says things that are hard to live out or difficult to accept.  If we don’t listen to the voice of our shepherd here on earth, to whom Christ gave the keys and the power over heaven and earth, how are we ever going to listen to the voice of the Shepherd in heaven?

I’m not saying it’s easy.  And I wonder if we’ll necessarily ever know about some of the decisions we make?   What if I make a decision, using everything He has given me — my intellect, the good advice of those around me, prayer– and it’s not the right one?  I suppose there comes a time when you just keep walking forward unless something really sends you backward.   That’s why I pray and just ask God to slam a door if I’m not supposed to walk through it.  I highly recommend this approach.  Just don’t get mad when He does! : )

Perhaps if I was better at discernment, I would know His voice and not require slamming doors.

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