SCRIPTURE READINGS:  ACTS 11:1-18; JOHN 10:1-10

Regardless of who we are, we are all shepherds in our own ways, whether at work, at home or in the Church.  All leaders, in their respective capacities, are all called to a shepherding role.  To be good leaders, we must endeavour to be shepherds after the heart of Christ, our Good Shepherd.  It is not even enough to aspire for leadership; we must earnestly seek all means to make this dream of ours a reality.

For this to happen, it is essential to listen to His voice speaking to us.  Jesus makes it clear that, “The sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.”  So the question is: are we hearing Him clearly enough?  Are we sufficiently intimate with Jesus to recognize His voice amidst our activities?  Or have the voices of the world, our friends, our enjoyments, our academic pursuits and even apostolic zeal prevented us from hearing His voice?  There is a real danger that we might not be listening to Him sufficiently.

If we have not listened to Him and we pretend to be His shepherds, are we not guilty of being thieves and brigands?  Why is that so?  Jesus said, “I am the gate of the sheepfold. All others who have come are thieves and brigands; but the sheep took no notice of them. I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.”  How can we be shepherds when we do not have the heart of the Shepherd, His mind and will?  By shepherding those under us with the counterfeit values of the world, we lead those under our care away from truth and from God.  We steal them away from Jesus because we are often misguided, and thus we kill them.

In contrast, in the first reading, we have Peter who listened attentively to the voice of the Lord.  He must be a man of prayer, otherwise he would not have been so sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, who showed him a vision of the animals and wild beasts, which God declared all to be clean, when he was at prayer.  He recounted thus, “I fell into a trance as I was praying and had a vision of something like a big sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners.” Again, St Peter underscored that when the three men from Caesarea were outside his house to fetch him to meet the Centurion Cornelius, it was the Spirit who told him “to have no hesitation about going back with them”.  On this basis and prompting, he went with them to Cornelius’ house.

We can be certain that Peter had the courage to do so, only because of the vision and the prompting he received from the Holy Spirit. Indeed, without listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, St Peter, a Jew, would not take the risk of being made spiritually unclean by visiting Cornelius.  Non-Jews were considered profane and unclean, and thus Jews were forbidden to mix with people of another race or to visit them.  This also explains why the three men stood outside the house; they knew the sensitivity of the Jews.

But what happened to Peter also happened to Cornelius.  For in the Acts, we are told that Cornelius sent his men to fetch Peter because he was directed by an angel to bring him to his house, so as to listen to what he had to say.  He too had a vision when he was at prayer.  He “suddenly saw a man in front of him in shining robes saying to him, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been accepted as a sacrifice in the sight of God.’”  It is significant that it was at the ninth hour when this event took place, because this was the hour that the veil of the Temple was torn right down the middle, and when Jesus cried out, “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Lk 23:44-46).  Yes, it was that hour when He poured forth His Spirit on the world.

Finally, we read that when Peter was still speaking to them, the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners.  Peter and the rest of the Jewish Christians “were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God.”   As a result, Peter said, “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?”

Unlike the apostles, we are no longer sensitive to the Holy Spirit, so much so, we no longer hear the intimate voice of Jesus speaking to us.  We have lost the Spirit of discernment because we cannot distinguish the voice of the master from the voice of the world, and the voice of the Holy Spirit from our own human spirit.  This explains why we are often lacking in wisdom in leading our people.  Instead of boosting their faith, we weaken their faith by indirectly leading them away from God.  Instead of promoting the values of the gospel and the Church, we begin to think and act like the rest of the secular world.

We must encourage prayers, devotions, conversion experience, love for the Eucharist and frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Why?  Because this is the way in which the Holy Spirit is given to us; especially in and through the sacraments, besides praise and worship, as in the case of Cornelius.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is given to all freely, but we must make use of the means available to us.  As Acts told us, the Holy Spirit was given through the preaching of Peter. This was completed with the Sacrament of Baptism, when they were incorporated into the Body of Christ.

The Late Pope John Paul II once told the ordinands, “Each one of you will become a good shepherd with Jesus’ help, ready even to give your life for him if it is necessary.”  But, “to be worthy ministers you will have to unceasingly nourish yourselves by the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life … Draw near to the altar, your daily school of sanctity, of communion with Jesus, the way of entering into his sentiments; draw near to the altar to renew the sacrifice of the cross, you will discover the richness and tenderness of the divine master’s love more and more … He is the one who is calling you today to a more intimate friendship with him … If you will listen to him with docility, if you will follow him faithfully, you will learn how to translate his love and passion for the salvation of souls into everyday life.”  Furthermore, the Holy Father assured them, that they will have “the certainty that Christ will not abandon you and that no obstacle can stand in the way of his universal design of salvation be for you a reason for constant consolation – even on the difficult days – and indestructible hope.”

When leaders lack holiness, the people too cannot grow in holiness.  At the root of it all, we ourselves need conversion, which we are not fully aware of.  Because of a tepid prayer life, we do not realize our sinfulness and the need for a real conversion of heart.  I truly believe that when we put our prayer life in order, everything will be put right.  We need to intensify our prayer life and our relationship with the Lord.  Put Him first in our life, and the rest will follow.

Let us therefore be faithful to the grace we have received.  Listen to His voice daily through the Word of God, and especially when we adore Him before the Eucharist.  It is necessary to be empowered in the ministry by the Holy Spirit, who gives us the qualification we need to be His servants.  He will speak in and through us, from our heart, a heart that has become one with Jesus.  If Jesus is truly the Good Shepherd after His Father, it is because, as He said in the gospel, “the Father and I are one”.