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The parishioners at my first assignment begged us to offer the kids a group to which they could belong and thus get them off the inner-city streets. I said, “fine,” so we had a high school level youth group with lots of enthusiastic participants. Along with car washes, dances, lock-ins, retreats, I offered a “mystery bus adventure” once a year. The parents knew, of course, but we always managed to keep the destination of the trip a secret from the kids. Usually, we went to an amusement park because it was always a sure bet. One year I had the brilliant idea to take the kids fishing. I thought I will get them away from their video games, the TV, and the computer, and get them to experience nature. Moments after we left the dock, three of the kids got sick. “How is this possible?” I thought. I take these same kids to Six-Flags where they have roller-coasters that go up and down, high-speed rides that twist your body upside, and elevator shaft rides with a free fall. How is it possible for these kids to get sick in a boat going five miles an hour with no waves? We had not even left the harbor. One of the chaperones volunteered to take them off the boat. She made an announcement to the group. “A few of the fellers got sick so I am taking them to the beach. I grew up in this area so there is a lot to do. There is a boardwalk with ice cream shops, pizza parlors, video games, and arcades. So, whoever thinks they will not do well out there in the ocean, follow me.” I thought, “Don’t give that speech because they will all leave the boat.” Sure enough everyone walked off the boat except a few kids. When they all left, I turned to the captain and said, “Let’s go fishing.” It was a perfect day. Right away we were landing fish and the kids had a ball. They caught fish, held them up for pictures, and the first mate fillet them so they could throw them on the grill when they got home. As we were coming into the dock, the kids thanked me. They said to me that it was the best day of their lives. I asked them why. They responded that they were never in a boat, nor did they ever catch a fish. What kid has never fished? They said, that their parents were divorced and mom were always too busy working.

            When we got on the bus at the end of the day, none of the other kids who went to the beach said, “This was the best day of my life.” I didn’t expect them to say that. Why? Because they can have the beach anytime they want. It is only ten minutes away from where they live. There are hundreds of pizza parlors and places to go shopping and joints to buy ice cream. They can play video games at home. This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go out on a boat and catch some fish in the ocean.

            Jesus said in the Gospel that His sheep listen to His voice. This, of course, implies that there are other voices out there, other chaperones who are making announcements who will offer them ordinary things. Jesus offers us things that no one else can offer. There is nothing wrong with going to a baseball game, but does Fenway Park offer eternal life? Does the shopping mall give you inspiration to get you through the darkest times of your life? I don’t think so. Why do we follow Jesus’ voice?

My father had a barn with a big field on the other side of town.  Dad had the brilliant idea to get a cow. Not only does the cow make a great lawnmower, but it also can turn the grass clippings into porter-house steaks and filet mignon. But there is a problem. We boys would go to the field and see the cow. We would wave to the cow. Then we would pet the cow; next, we hugged the cow. We named the cow. And then we could not eat the cow! In the ancient world, there was nothing more loveable than a little lamb. The shepherd could not pat the lamb, hug the lamb or name the lamb because he would have to someday lead the lamb to slaughter for Passover.

Jesus is the good shepherd can name his sheep because he offers his sheep something that no other shepherd can offer. That is why it is wise to follow his voice. 

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