by Robert Eikel
Robert Eikel is a catechist and CCTheo board member from Hartford, CT.
On Easter Monday I buried one of my oldest and closest friends. At the end of the funeral Mass, we shouldered the casket and turned to carry John out of his parish church for the last time. The crucifix led the procession and as we started to walk, I looked up and saw the image of Christ on the cross, above and a few paces ahead of us. Suddenly I remembered:
The Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has gone on ahead of them, his sheep follow him, because they know his voice.
The Good Shepherd leads each of his sheep in both life and death. He calls each of them – by name – from the cross, to the cross, and ultimately through the cross to the green pastures and still waters of his blessed rest. Sometimes he leads us to a place we want to go; sometimes he leads us, like Peter, to a place we do not want to go (Jn 21:18). Always he leads us where we need to go: closer to himself.
John died suddenly in his early forties, leaving a wife and three small children. His death shattered his friends and family. Nobody wanted John to go to the grave where the Good Shepherd led him that day. But we all knew that John knew the Good Shepherd’s voice and would follow him where he needed to go.
The sheep follow the Good Shepherd because they know his voice – they hear it amid all the others, recognize it as the Good Shepherd’s, and trust him to lead them. This takes work! It’s not easy to hear him amid the other voices calling in our lives, to recognize him among the others, and to trust him even when he leads us where we do not want to go. The daily and weekly work of prayer and worship, at home and in church and in the atrium, form our souls to know and to follow – not all at once, but slowly and patiently over months and years.
Many of us are winding up our atrium year and preparing for a summer break. Our children, too, will be away from the atrium for a few months. How will we keep up our regular work of learning to know the Good Shepherd’s voice? How will we use our time to prepare our environments and ourselves to help children do the same?