My sheep hear my voice and they follow me...

Image source: SheepShed

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter:
Good Shepherd Sunday
(Scriptures for today's liturgy)

“My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus the Good Shepherd,
“and they follow me…”

You and I are meant to hear the voice of Jesus in church, in the liturgy:
in his Word, in our prayer and song, and in that Holy Communion
through which he speaks his love for us most eloquently.

And we’re meant to hear the voice of Jesus through the Church,
through her teaching, her mission and her works.

But sometimes the clear, true, trustworthy voice of Jesus is drowned out
by the noise (or the silence), the deeds (or the idleness)
of shepherds who failed to care lovingly
for the youngest of the lambs in the flock.

Sometimes it’s not easy to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus.

And because this is Good Shepherd Sunday,
the Church chooses this date
as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations,
a day to pray for more to hear and answer Jesus’ call
to follow him in ministry and religious life.

When I was in high school I was fairly certain
I wanted to become either a lawyer or a teacher
- until a schoolmate, Kathy Toomey, said to me one day,
“I think you’d be a good priest.”

My parents had never said that to me.
The Sisters and the priest at the Catholic high school I attended
had never said that to me.
Nor had I ever heard God say that to me in my prayer.

But I have no doubt that God chose to use Kathy Toomey’s voice
to plant an idea in my mind and my heart,
an idea which, once planted, I could not uproot and trust me:
over the years there were times when I tried very hard
to uproot that calling from the soil of my life.

Jesus, speaking to me through the voice of Kathy Toomey…

Jesus is the master impressionist of all time!
He has more voices than we could ever possibly imagine
and he’s speaking with them and through them - always -
and often in voices we don’t expect the Lord to assume.

Consider the scriptures we’ve heard in the last month...

Jesus spoke to us through the voice of Peter
who three times denied he even knew the Lord.

Jesus spoke to us through the voice of Mary Magdalene
whose words the apostles thought were foolish nonsense.

Jesus spoke to us through the voice of Thomas
who doubted that the Lord had risen from the dead.

And Jesus spoke to us through the voice of Paul
whose first cause was the persecution of Christ’s followers.

Jesus sometimes assumes the voices
we'd least expect him to use to speak to us.

I’ll even be bold enough to say that Jesus speaks to you through me -
and no one knows better than Jesus how the foolish mistakes
of my words and my silence, my deeds and my idleness
have denied, doubted and harmed the Body of Christ.
Still, he speaks through me and through my brokenness.

Jesus speaks to us through voices:
sometimes faithful and sometimes unfaithful;
sometimes clear as a bell and sometimes impossible to understand;
voices whose truth is sometimes matched by their deeds
and voices whose deeds sometime betray their words.

Kathy told me she thought I’d be a good priest after informing me
that she’d filled out a request card for “more information”
and sent it to a vocation director with my name on it!

I was angry that she had done this without my knowledge.
But then I began to hear the voice behind Kathy’s words
and I heard the Shepherd calling me to follow him as a priest.
I’m grateful that I listened beyond my anger to Kathy’s words -
consider the difference that has made in my life...

Some voices in today’s Church are
weak, confusing, confounding, broken and maddening -
so much so that we fail or refuse to hear the voices that are
strong, clarifying, confirming, whole and faithful.

I have no doubt that Jesus continues to speak to us faithfully
in the Church’s prayer and through her teaching, mission and works,
- even in a Church as broken as our own is.

“My sheep hear my voice,” said Jesus, “and they follow me…”

How are we to follow him if we do not hear his voice
and where better to hear his voice, even in these times,
than in the company of those who follow him
and in the tradition of those who have followed him
for some 2,000 years.

There is no place where Jesus speaks his faithful love for us more clearly
than here at the table of the Eucharist.

As the Shepherd and the Father are one,
so does the Shepherd make himself one with us
in the sacrament of this altar.

Let nothing, let no one
separate us from the love of Christ
and the Holy Communion we celebrate here,
in and through the flock of his body, the Church.

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  1. Estupendameto. Clear and compassionate it is calling all of us to where we should be. Right behind our Good Shepherd.
    Nice one Fr. Austin and thanks to Kathy Toomey too!!

  2. We thank God for people like Kathy who speak and act in obedience to the Holy Spirit, and for people like Fr. Austin who listen to God's call and respond by offering their lives in service to God's Church.
    May we all follow the Spirit's inspiration and act to build up the Body of Christ.
    Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful....

  3. you said, "I'll even be bold enough to say that Jesus speaks to you through me"

    I don't think you are being bold here-
    ...but, then again, maybe it is-
    maybe good things- truth- has to be- needs to be- bold.

    It's often very hard and confusing to know that Jesus is speaking to me-
    It's hard to know the difference between what we really want and need to hear from Jesus (through whomever), and what we are really hearing-

  4. Thomas: And thus the compelling need for the Church in our lives (even when she fails to be all that she can and should be) - and the foolishness of believing that a "just Jesus and me" approach is enough. We need the wisdom of the Body of Christ and the truth of its tradition to guide us.

  5. Father, great words. I am encouraged and convicted to give the Lord my ears to hear His voice, my mouth (especially my mouth) to allow His word to become my word.To think before I speak and for my thoughts to be washed anew in the time, brief as it may be, with our Lord Jesus. Thank you Father, for being obedient in accepting and following your vocation. We need to pray for our priests and seminarians in these difficult times. Our prayers are with you too, Father. May the peace of Jesus be with you Father this week!

  6. Pastor Fleming
    You will never know how much your words touched me today. To think that I had a hand in the making of a wonderful priest and pastor and to read of thanks by your parishioners. I remember sending in that card (I didn't know you were angry!) and telling you that when we carpooled to school. I hope that action of suggestion to you gets me a pass at the Gate. I'll simply tell them I knew you! I became an RN also ministering to people in a different way. Hope you are in good health. I look fondly on the youthful days spent in your presence. Kathy (Toomey)Duke Burlington, MA

  7. Kathy and I haven't been in touch for years and I didn't know how to contact her. I posted a link to my homily on FB and another childhood friend, Elizabeth, sent the link to Kathy! Praise God from whom all blessings flow - including cyber-blessings!

  8. What a wonderful outcome to your homily...to reconnect with your high school friend Kathy! May I say to Kathy...we are deeply indebted to you for sending Austin Fleming's name to the Director of Vocations!


  9. Fr Flemming,

    You wrote: "I’m grateful that I listened beyond my anger to Kathy’s words -
    consider the difference that has made in my life..."

    Consider too the difference your listening has made to the many souls your ministry has touched.

    We all are stonger in faith for it.



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