Do you recognize this image? Take a moment. Yes, you do? Keener! No? You are not alone. When the same question was posed to me a year and a half ago, I was unable to identify it as the image gracing the cover of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. On the inside of the first page of the Catechism, it reads:
“This pastoral image, of pagan origin (…) also suggests certain characteristics of this Catechism: Christ, the Good Shepherd who leads and protects his faithful (the lamb) by his authority (the staff), draws them by the melodious symphony of the truth (the panpipes) and makes them lie down in the shade of the ‘tree of life,’ his redeeming Cross opens paradise.”
Sounds alluring, doesn’t it?
In the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time, various shepherds would arrive in town and corral all their sheep together into one sheep-fold…enough sheep to count for even the worst insomniac. This was done for protection and companionship, and I have read that a competent shepherd would know each member of his flock, often by individual name. The relationship between flock and shepherd was not one-sided, though. The sheep knew their shepherd as well, and would recognize the voice of their master when called. There was no need for the sheep to be marked according to individual herd, or kept separate from one another using a physical barrier. They knew their master’s voice.
This Sunday past I facilitated a confirmation retreat for one of our parishes in Moncton and before we did anything else, even before we prayed, I led the group through an exercise where I asked them to don blindfolds before I gave them a long list of detailed instructions for a picture I wanted them to draw. As I read out the instructions, I blared loud music by One Direction and Rachel Platten. Once I finished with my instructions, I asked them to remove their blind-folds and view their drawings, which delighted them because of course they looked nothing like they were supposed to. The idea behind the exercise was that it is possible to hear the voice of Jesus through the noise, but it involves challenges along with some focus and some effort.
In 2016 our culture is one of distraction from truth, forcing us to filter out many noisy voices in order to attune to the voice of Jesus. We have the voice of advertising (You’re not good enough! You suck! Buy more of our products and be more beautiful! More popular! Be a better human being! Buy now!); There is the voice of individualism (In the end, you’re all alone so look out for yourself!); Ironically, even the voice of religion (I’m right, you’re wrong! You’re not good enough! Just leave!) can distract us from connecting with Jesus at times. Noise.
There is good news, though. Like the sheep who recognize the voice of their master, we have the gifts needed to discern the voice of God. At times when I find myself caught up in the distracted noise of all of the competing voices around me, I hear the voice echo within me “Remember who you are,” and I know this is the voice of my good shepherd.
-Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development