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Terrance KleinApril 29, 2020
Photo by Rasheed Kemy on Unsplash

This time of the virus offers many lessons. One of them is the power of the voice. Physically isolated, we have nonetheless learned to seek each other out by means of modern media. That is a comfort, whether it is sharing drinks with friends via the web or watching as the Eucharist is celebrated in our absence.

We have also discovered that some voices have something to say. And to our chagrin, others do not. Some have been a source of information and inspiration. Others have sowed confusion and concern. The voice of a leader makes a difference. It cannot change the way the world is, but it transforms who we are and how we respond to the challenge.

The sheep hear his voice,
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice (Jn 10:3-4).

What does it mean to hear the voice of Christ? Let us consider that carefully, because this is a time when mistakes matter. Let us look at insufficient, misleading answers.

“The Lord speaks in the sacred Scriptures,” some might say. “There, you hear the voice of the shepherd.” This is good, but it is just not good enough. The Scriptures are quite sacred, quite inspired. But this does not guarantee that the understanding you and I receive from them is accurate, sufficient or inspired. The devil himself can quote sacred Scripture. And we read in sacred Scripture that he does: Twisting revealed truth was part of how Satan tempted Christ in the desert.

“The Lord speaks in the sacred Scriptures,” some might say. “There, you hear the voice of the shepherd.” This is good, but it is just not good enough.

Attempts to substitute some other authoritative voice are also insufficient. No need to review each of these, some obviously better than others. There is still the gap between what one says and what another understands. That is a condition of our humanity. We cannot perfectly understand each other. How then does the Good Shepherd speak to us? How does the Holy Spirit guarantee that we hear and understand his voice?

Remember those distorted numbers and letters that web portals use to challenge us, for example, when we make a mistake with our passwords? You know them: A robot is verifying that we are not robots. It presents a series of twisted symbols and asks us to identify them correctly.

We have to look and discern. That is something artificial intelligence cannot do. It cannot direct its gaze. It cannot assess one element against the horizon of all others. Yet we humans do it all the time, as we decide what matters and what does not. We can do that because we place each element into an inner horizon of understanding.

How do we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd? Ponder what the Spirit brings before your eyes. Pray and process. Let the patterns emerge.

Of all the creatures on earth, of all the things we have fashioned, we alone can truly know because to know anything is to set it in a horizon of understanding. Animals and computers cannot do this, and they never will. This is what we mean when we say that we have been fashioned in the image of God. Like God, we know.

How does this apply to our hearing the voice of Christ? The Holy Spirit directs our attention to this event and not that. The same Spirit suggests that something that has happened to us matters. It might be the most insignificant of events, words spoken ever so carelessly. And these words do not mean anything until the Spirit assembles them into a pattern that we perceive.

Then we can suddenly say that we see God, that we hear God’s voice. We can see reasons to maintain our trust in God’s love, God’s concern. We can hear God calling us to action, charging our consciences with some task Christ himself gives to us. That we cannot prove this perception to another means nothing. We cannot prove beauty, but that does not lessen its truth.

But isn’t it possible to be wrong in our perceptions of the Spirit? Yes, that is in the nature of what it means to be human. We are not God. We can make mistakes. Yet our errors do not cancel our knowledge. Indeed, recognizing them reveals our fundamental orientation to truth.

So how do we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd? Ponder what the Spirit brings before your eyes. Pray and process. Let the patterns emerge. But how does human intelligence know that it has rightly received the word, correctly understood the voice of the Shepherd? By our fruits. Only by our fruits, which, in the end, are the very harvest of the Holy Spirit.

Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41 1 Peter 2:2b-25 John 10:1-10

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