Today’s readings draw us even closer to Jesus. The readings for this Fourth Sunday of Easter, as known as Good Shepherd Sunday, help us to focus our attention on our relationship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
The custom of focusing on Jesus as the Good Shepherd during the Easter season is a very ancient practice. As early as the fifth century, we read of individuals, like Pope Leo the Great, who describe this intimate connection between the Shepherd and his sheep to explain our relationship with Jesus – a connection that begins at our Baptism and is strengthened in the Eucharist.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is trying to teach the Pharisees who he truly is. Pulling both from the Old Testament and from the common experience of Jesus’ time, Jesus uses the metaphor of gatekeepers, shepherds and sheep to describe who Jesus truly is. Jesus is the gatekeeper who opens the way for us to God. As the shepherd, Jesus leads his sheep to God. It is Jesus who has come from God and who leads us to God the Father.
As the good shepherd, Jesus perfectly cares for his sheep – for each one of us. He is in a loving relationship with us – even to the point of insult, suffering, crucifixion, and death. Jesus knows us by name and invites us to enter through the ‘gate’ from sin and death to eternal peace and joy. As proclaimed in the Gospel, Jesus has come in order to give us life, and to give it more abundantly.
In return, the sheep know their shepherd’s voice and respond to his voice. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus in last week’s Gospel, we can say that our ‘hearts are burning’ whenever we are Christ’s presence – we know in our hearts and our minds the desire we possess to be in relationship with him. Too often, however, we don’t know how to respond or, more often, we choose not to respond.
For this reason, we need great men and women in the Church to teach us how to respond and to give us the example and encouragement to respond as we should. Christ the Shepherd who nourishes and safeguards his flock provides for us the example of such humble service to God and others. While each of are called and anointed at Baptism to follow Christ’s example of service to God and his Church, we need, in a special and specific way, great men and women willing to consecrate their life exclusively in service to the Church and its members.
We need men and women to answer God’s call to priestly and religious life. We need great men and women who are in love with God and his Church and are willing to “leave behind their own narrow agenda and notions of self-fulfillment” to serve God and his Church. We need great men and women, like the Apostle Peter in today’s first reading, who was filled with the Holy Spirit and was willing to risk everything so that others may know God’s great love and mercy. We need great men and women who know and will help us to know, as in today’s Psalm, that the “Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing else that I want.” We need of great men and women willing to follow Christ’s example and endure insult and suffering for God and his Church. We need great men and women who are willing to lead us in Christ’s mission to give life and to give it more abundantly.
We need great men and women, like Father Kavanagh (Monsignor Ruef) and Sister Barbara, who are willing to selfLESSly serve God and others. We need great men and women, who in their special role in the Church, will fearlessly proclaim the Gospel, teach others of God’s great love for us and how we are to respond to such love, and to model Christian virtue.
We need great men and women like those sitting with us today and like those in the families of our parish to say yes to God’s call to serve his Church.
Pope Benedict has declared this Sunday the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The Pope in his message for this Day states that: “Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and to the consecrated life are first and foremost the fruit of constant contact with the living God and insistent prayer lifted up to the Lord… in parish communities, in Christian families and in groups specifically devoted to prayer for vocations.” And, so let us pray for those discerning a call to priestly or religious life. AND, let us pray that our parish and its families may be places where we may experience the living God. Let us pray that our parish and our families may be places where we may know of our encouragement and support for vocations. Let us pray that our parish and our families may be places where we feel the warmth of this community as we say “yes” to God and the Church. Let us pray that those discerning a vocation to priestly or religious life, like each of us, may have the strength, the wisdom and the courage to follow our Shepherd, Jesus.