Every so often I come across someone who is very critical of St. Patricks’s College, Maynooth, the seminary I went to and how awful it is, etc. This is usually from things they have heard about it, as opposed to direct experience. Before I began my studies there I heard nothing but bad press as well. However, what I found there was quite different. Essentially Maynooth offered us a pretty good formation or training program, but all they could do was offer it to us. It was completely up to us whether we engaged in it or not. Like anything else, it was far from perfect and there were plenty of problems there too, but that is quite normal. However, the staff there were continually reminding us that our formation (or training) as priests was basically in our own hands. They could not force us to comply with what they taught and if we decided to just have a great time while we were there, there was not a lot they could do about it. A few guys did have a great time and didn’t take their time there seriously, but inevitably they were the ones who hit a major crisis either just before or just after they were ordained.
While most of us are not going to be in a seminary, but just getting on with our lives wherever we find ourselves, the same holds true of our spiritual life. If I want to grow as a Christian it is essentially in my own hands. God offers us everything we need and more, but it is up to us whether we make use of it or not. It is the Lord himself who guides us, and that’s what today’s readings are all about. Even if the shepherds don’t do their job properly, the Lord is saying that He himself will look after us, and He does.
How does the Lord guide us? Firstly, through the sacred Scriptures, the Bible, which we listen to at every mass. If someone told you that God was going to speak to you if you read a certain book, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity? That is exactly what the Scriptures are. They are personal letters to us, where God speaks to us and tells us about himself, what our life is about and how He is inviting us to live. That is why we go back to the Scriptures in every mass, to see what God is saying to us. But this is not just meant to be for the mass. We are encouraged to go on reading it all the time ourselves. Do you want to know what God has to say to you? Then read the Scriptures. That is where you will hear God’s word, speaking to you personally. Do you have a Bible; then take it out. If you don’t, then buy one. If you’re not sure where to start, start with the New Testament. Read a chapter of the Gospels each day and just stop and think about it. Every day if you can, spend five or ten minutes reading some of the Bible. You’ll be amazed at how much God has to say.
Secondly, the Lord teaches us through his Church. It is his teaching, and not just the teaching of a group of people. That is why we to try and live it and take it seriously, because it is what God himself is teaching us. It was what Jesus taught the Apostles and that has been passed on down through the centuries.
Thirdly, He gives us spiritual food and peace through confession so that we can begin again as often as we need to, and above all He gives us his own body and blood in the Eucharist so that we can be intimately united to him in the most extraordinary and intimate way.
It is both sad and strange that so often we come to see these things simply as some kind of obligation, or duty, which we have to put up with, instead of seeing them for the treasures that they are. Everything God has given us is pure gift, to help us. Often we need a reminder of what we have already been given. In different parts of the world, it is illegal to have the Bible and the mass. People go to great lengths to get the Scriptures, even learning off large passages so that they could pass them on. Mass has often had to be celebrated in secret. Sometimes it is only when we hear of these things that we realize how blessed we are to have what we have and to be able to practice our faith freely.
If you ever find yourself wishing that God would speak to you or help you more, remind yourself of what you have already been given.
The remnant of my flock I myself will gather from all the countries where I have dispersed them, and will bring them back to their pastures.