Pew research suggests that young people are leaving the Catholic Church in droves. Sometimes it’s a lack of good catechesis; sometimes it’s the stubborn will in the face of cultural decline. But most likely it is a lack of one central and essential thing. It happens to be the same thing that all the saints actually have in common. What is it? A special piety or devotion? Knowledge of the faith? Acts of charity? In the Gospel today, Jesus unveils the secret to what makes his disciples chase after him and remain faithful. It is remarkably simple: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).
In a word, they hear him. They actually hear him! I’m not speaking about extraordinary graces like locutions or audible revelations. I’m talking about God speaking to the heart of everyone who seeks to be a follower of Jesus. In fact, every day the Church begins in the Divine Office with this exhortation from Psalm 95: “Today, listen to the voice of the Lord.” If today she instructs us to listen, it is because today God continues to speak.
There are two “books” to read in order to hear his voice: the book of Scripture and the “book” of his providence in our lives. St. Augustine provides great insight into how to hear the voice of God in Scripture and in providence. He didn’t always hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, at least not while he was a young man. There were two reasons for this: first, in his pride, he didn’t think that Scripture was worthy of his time. He was initially repulsed by the Gospels’ simplicity in comparison with the majesty of Cicero’s rhetoric. And secondly, he never brought the questions and feelings of his own heart before the Scriptures, at least, not until the suffering and disappointments in his own life led him on the path towards conversion. Only when he entered the deep frustrations and feelings in his own heart did he begin to read the two “books” simultaneously. In Book 8 of the Confessions, Augustine’s heart was in absolute turmoil. He finally faced it. Then he recalls how he heard a child’s song in the distance singing, “Take and read, take and read.” He took it as a divine sign, and so he picked up St. Paul’s letters. With a heavy heart and eyes full of tears, he opened the Scriptures and heard the Shepherd’s voice speaking personally to him. And then, at last, he experienced deep peace of heart accompanied by true joy. He immediately decided to follow Christ, and his life was never the same. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).
The sheep who learns that the Shepherd is good, through this purifying transformation, possesses something characteristic of the saints: she has confidence that the plan of her Shepherd is good. When difficulties and uncertainties arise in her heart, she does not ask, “What will I do? Will you help me, Lord?” but says to him rather, “I know you will lead me. I know you will help me,” even if she has no idea how. This confidence pleases the Shepherd because it is a sign that his sheep really know who he is and the depth of his love for them.
A mother’s heart is often full of many anxieties and difficulties. What is on your heart today that you can bring before God in the Scriptures? He wishes to speak to your heart—the best Mother’s Day gift! So, “Take and read! Take and read!”