Good Shepherd Sunday Year C:
Every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter we hear a reading where Jesus talks about being a shepherd. That’s why this Sunday has gotten the name “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd must have been popular in the earliest days of the church. One of the oldest pictures of Jesus we have is from a 3rd century catacomb and it depicts Jesus as the good shepherd with a sheep on his shoulders.
So, from the earliest days of the Church, people have turned to Christ to be their shepherd: to lead and guide, to defend and protect, to nourish and feed. Christ is our good shepherd, and he takes care of our needs.
Today also marks a worldwide day of prayer for vocations. The word vocation means “calling.” So, today is a perfect day to think a little about vocations. Jesus says in the gospel: my sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I am convinced that Jesus is still calling, asking people to follow him.
But, vocations are a bit of a mystery. It is not always the easiest and clearest thing to hear a call from Christ to priesthood or religious life. At St. Jude, where I’m pastor, we have a vocations’ cross and it travels from room to room in the school. Every week, me and the principal, Mr. Obergfell, take the cross to a new classroom and we talk to them a bit about vocations and I talk to them about my own call to the priesthood. I always start out with a joke. I say how do we hear God’s voice. Then I say: does God call us on the phone? Then I pull out my cell phone and act like I’m talking to God. The little kids think this is hilarious. The older kids probably think it is dorky. Wouldn’t it be great if God just called us on the phone and gave us directions? Of course, vocation doesn’t quite work that way.
But, all vocations do begin the same way. Every vocation there is: married life, single life, priesthood, religious life begins in the universal call to discipleship. Every vocation begins by following Christ. Listen to those people in the second reading: there was a multitude of people beyond counting, washed clean in the blood of the lamb and singing the praises of God. Think about the people in that crowd: I’m sure there were married, single, priests, religious; yet, all of them share a common calling, disciples of Jesus Christ, made holy by the blood of the lamb. I can certainly say that in my own life, I only started sensing the call to priesthood more clearly when I started to take my call to be a follower of Christ more seriously. When I started to pray more, to go to mass more, to go to confession more. When I started to listen to Christ’s voice, then I could hear him calling me to priesthood.
So, today the whole church is given the task to pray for vocations. I want to challenge everyone here and everyone watching at home to pray for vocations. But, it begins by praying for holiness. Pray for our young people. There are so many distractions, so many competing voices. I’m convinced that Christ is still calling priests and religious, but it is hard to hear the call in our present day. Pray for our young people that they will follow Christ. Pray that they will pursue the call to holiness. Pray that they will be open to a call to serve as priests or religious.
Christ is still our Good Shepherd. He is still calling us to follow him. On this vocations Sunday, let’s pray that everyone will listen to his voice and have the courage to follow after him. He doesn’t call us on our cell phones, but he calls to us in our hearts, especially here in the Holy Eucharist. Are we listening?