Sunday, May 31, 2009

4-13-2008: 4th Easter (A)

Acts of the Apostles 2:14,36-41/Psalm 23/1Peter 2:20-25/John 10:1-10
Sheep, cute and cuddly though they may be, are not regarded as nature’s more intelligent creatures. So, it’s with some humility we need to approach today’s gospel of the Good Shepherd where Jesus is the benevolent shepherd and we -- the dumb sheep.

Although sheep may be simple creatures (seemingly unable to multi-task, their undivided attention focused on eating each subsequent blade of grass they come upon), Jesus implies they possess a certain innate intelligence – the ability to recognize his voice. My sheep hear my voice: I know them and they know me.

There’s substantial evidence that voice is as unique to the individual as fingerprints. Speech spectrographs chart pitch and tone, volume and inflection, so to produce voiceprints that can identify an individual with uncanny precision. Professional mimics, no matter how good, cannot imitate the unique vibrational frequencies of another’s voice. Even new-borns have been shown to be able to identify their mothers’ voices amid a host of others.

Good Shepherd Sunday is Vocation Sunday when the Church asks us to pray and work toward an increase in vocations to the priesthood and Religious life. Western nations, once the seedbed of numerous vocations to the priesthood, are now in a vocational freefall (Ireland being the most glaring example of all). “Experts” have offered varying reasons for the decline: from celibacy and sex scandals to the theological suggestion that no one answers because no one called -- God doesn’t want any more priests.

Apart from these age-old and hackneyed suggestions, perhaps the real reason few seek to embrace priesthood as a vocation – as an answer to a call – is because they have not been able to recognize, amid the din of myriad competing sounds, the voice of the one who knows them better than they know themselves. They cannot recognize what they don’t hear. And they do not hear because, like those sheep who find it difficult to multi-task, they are not attuned to that frequency on which the shepherd’s voice finds its vehicle. In short, there’s just too much traffic crowding those air waves: too many voices demanding our undivided attention; too much technology chattering away; way too much noise. Children with ADD, ADHD, or even autism, were once thought incapable of listening -- of paying attention. But the opposite seems to actually be the case: being immersed in a sea of sound which demands their undivided attention, these children cannot turn away and so, sadly, cannot recognize the voices that emanate from those who love them and seek their well-being.

I once read a magazine article (I can’t remember where) about a computer-enhanced way to help non-verbal disabled people communicate. One Down-syndrome teenager, who had never spoken intelligibly, learned how to type out his thoughts using this system. The magazine quoted one of his first sentences, which was, “I hear God’s finest whisper.”

Responding to the crises of recent years, the Church has made the requirements for those seeking priesthood more stringent and narrow vis-à-vis psychological profiles and the like. But I suspect the rebound in priestly vocations will come (and it will come) from those places we least expect. From listeners disabled and disoriented in some indelible and deep way who, because of their deficits and not in spite of them, have been able to recognize the familiar (if seemingly absent) voice of the shepherd who calls them above or, perhaps, from within the din from which the rest of us can’t seem to pull ourselves away.

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