It was the morning of Sunday, May 3rd. The year was 2009. I awoke very tired. Actually exhausted. Even the shower and the hot coffee wouldn’t snap me out of my weariness.
I had three anticipated commitments that day. First, I would drive from the seminary to celebrate the morning Mass at the former Saint Hedwig Parish in Lakewood. Next, off to St. Leo the Great for the 12Noon Mass, and then a baptism immediately after Mass. I was asked to baptize some friends’ first child.
However, I knew something else was being planned that day. My gut told me. My heart ached. Gladly, my soul was still at peace. I even prayed on the way to St. Hedwig while driving on the shoreway and looking through the windshield into a beautiful blue sky, “Lord, if this is the day, then just allow me to fulfill my obligations. Your will be done.”
It was also Good Shepherd Sunday. The familiar Gospel of Jesus being the Good Shepherd and how a shepherd knows the voice of his flock and how the flock knows His voice. That He will not let one of His own be lost – he’ll go after it. These thoughts, these words, would come to be fulfilled in a personal way for me, for my family, and especially for my father.
As I was removing my cassock and surplice after baby Clinton’s baptism, I naturally turned on my phone. I had a voice mail. It was Mom and I was told that it’s time to come home as soon as I am able to do so. She also called the others. After six long months of Hospice care, the summons was happening. It’s time. My father would soon be dead.
The consolation of Dad being called into eternal life on that particular day was no coincidence as the image of the Good Shepherd was an important part of his final weeks here on earth. Although his brain cancer ravaged his mind and stole many of his attributes, Dad continued to pray his daily rosary and would recite other familiar prayers. Even when I would celebrate Mass at his bedside, he uttered much of the liturgy so familiar to him.
In those final weeks, however, Dad became somewhat anxious. He knew the time was coming and he was afraid that Jesus wouldn’t find him. We assured him that the Good Shepherd knows his voice and that Dad would recognize the Voice when He came calling for Dad. That Divine Voice, so familiar to Dad because he heard it from the time of his own baptism and kept listening to it throughout his earthly pilgrimage. He would hear it through the trials and tribulations as well as in the joys and happy events that accompanied his life. And all those familiar prayers taught since childhood – spiritual staples for this husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, man – became his litany of praise crying out into the vast pastures where heaven and earth seem to meet and where he found himself at the end of his journey.
On 3 May 2009, on Good Shepherd Sunday, Dad heard the voice of the Shepherd. We all knew it.
As we celebrate this year’s Good Shepherd Sunday, I invite us to listen closely to His voice as we continue our Eucharistic Fast but are joined through the abundant spiritual staples found in countless family rosaries, group reflections with Scripture, hymns of gladness, Chaplets, Faith Formation lessons with Mom and Dad, whispers of “I’m sorry” or “I love you” filling the home as we cherish – and endure – an abundance of family togetherness. And even in the silence and aloneness that others may be experiencing. In the oft-bland and routineness. In the voices of those of those who are complaining, lamenting, frustrated, anxious, depressed, and tired. Listen carefully for the Shepherd’s voice. It may take some practice.
The voice forms us, accompanies us, and prepares us for wherever the journey takes us. Listen for Him.
In Christ the Good Shepherd,