Dear Ascension Family,

First of all, I would like to congratulate the 28 children in our parish Religious Education Program who received the Sacrament of Confirmation conferred by the Most Rev. Raymond Chappetto, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Brooklyn. On behalf of the children, I would like to thank Sr. Mary Genevieve and all the volunteer catechists who planned and prepared the children for this important day of their life. Our gratitude also goes to their parents, guardians and sponsors who guided them in their journey of faith. Let us continue to pray for them that they will stay close to Christ and his Church, and that they may have the strength to bear witness to the Lord in their lives, especially as young people.

This Sunday, often called the Good Shepherd Sunday, has a gospel which focuses on the shepherd and sheep. Most of us have never seen a shepherd. And we see sheep only in the zoo or Christmas cards. In biblical times, sheep were usually kept at night in a sheepfold. This was an enclosure designed to protect them against the hazards of bad weather, preying beasts (especially wolves) and robbers. Sometimes several shepherds would jointly use a common sheepfold for a plurality of flocks, the sheepfold being supervised by a single attendant through the night. In the morning, each shepherd would then call forth again his own flock in order to lead the sheep to pasture. Upon hearing the familiar voice of their shepherd, that shepherd’s sheep would follow him, but him alone. They would be afraid to follow an unfamiliar voice.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus clearly alludes to this Palestinian custom of sheepcalling by the shepherd of the flock. “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says, “I know them and they follow me.” Here he speaks as our Good Shepherd. Just as the Palestinian sheep could recognize and follow the voice of their shepherd, likewise we can recognize our own Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, who calls us and leads us safely through this life to eternal pastures.

“My sheep hear my voice.” About these words some Christians might wonder when, exactly, or on what occasions do they hear Christ’s voice. It is a good question, a question than any intelligent Christian can ask, “When does Christ speak to me? How does he speak to me?” The answer to those questions is simple: Christ speaks to us in many ways and on many occasions, probably more often and more insistently than we usually imagine. But there are two ways which are very clear and recognizable, two ways that the Church herself points out to us.

The first of them is the liturgy. The Second Vatican Council teaches the following truth: “(Christ) is present in his word, since it is He himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the church”(Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 7). The other clear way Christ speaks to his sheep is through their conscience. Again we have the assurance of the Second Vatican Council that this is so. The Council teaches: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which we must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God”(Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n. 16).

However, Christ speaks to us in many other ways. For instance, he send us good inspirations, new insights, great desires for doing good. Sometimes, too, he speaks to us through the suggestion of a friend, through the correction of a superior, through the good advice of a priest. In other words, we are never abandoned by our Good Shepherd. He will always use every means possible to bring us safely to the eternal pastures. But the challenging question: Do we listen to his voice?

I am reminded of a painting entitled His Master’s Voice. The painting, by British artist Francis Barraud, showed a little white dog mesmerized by a brass horn that was part of an invention known as a gramophone. The painting suggests just how much the world of technology would eclipse – and even erase – the sacred presence of the human subject.

When Jesus tells the disciples that his sheep hear his voice, I wonder if he knew just how difficult it would be to do that now. The age of technology has radically altered the stakes of discipleship. The shepherds voice is mimicked by a sound not his own. We live in a perplexing society of wolves dressed as sheep, of false-values masked as good. We are living in a culture of choice, disguised as democracy, disguised as freedom. The unwanted pregnancy, the dying old man, the boring marriage – all become subject to my individual discretion.

In a world of many voices, through the Church even with its scandals, the voice of the Christ, the Good Shepherd, is with us everyday.

For reflection let us ask ourselves: What are the competing voices in my life that take me away from listening to the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd?

Praying for you all.

Fr. Anacleto