Reflections on Good Shepherd Sunday and Our Vocation
In the Gospel for May 15, 2011, Jesus tells us that he is the gate for the sheepfold. He is the one who guards the sheep and allows them to come into the sheepfold and leads them out. Further along in this passage from John, Jesus proclaims, I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me - In this short discourse –probably with the Pharisees – Jesus tells them and us that he is both the Good Shepherd and the gate – two wonderful images that Jesus gives for reflection. So we call this fourth Sunday after Easter Good Shepherd Sunday.
The image of God as shepherd comes to us from the Old Testament. Psalm 23 is probably one of the most familiar of the psalms as it is often used a funeral liturgies – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He leads me in green pastures, he refreshes my soul. In a short text in the writings of the Prophet Isaiah, we read – Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.
I think this is one of the most compelling of the images that Jesus gives us of himself. Many of us I am sure are familiar with a picture of Jesus with a small lamb around his shoulders and a large flock of sheep following him. I think this is an especially appealing image for children and is often used for First Communion – portraying to us and to the children the intimate way Jesus relates to us. We are his sheep – we are those that he protects as both the gate and the shepherd.
In my everyday life, I don’t often see sheep – though I do remember that on my trips to Ireland, I was amazed to see sheep and goats everywhere – and in many precarious places – clinging it seemed to the sides of the mountains. I’m sure some of you have experienced that as well.
Though I do not know much about sheep tending, I learned that in Jesus’ lifetime, the shepherd would sleep lying across the gate of the sheepfold so that he or she would awaken if either the sheep try to leave or if a person or wolf tries to enter the fold. And if someone is intent on entering the fold, he may even have to give his life in protecting them. This is the image that Jesus wants to us to have of him. His love for us is so strong that he willingly gives his life for us.
Toward the end of the passage that we read today, - Jesus says “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” He makes clear – as one writer says – that the basis for this offer of abundant life is Jesus himself. He is the one who nourishes us and saves us – we find fulfillment only through a personal relationship with Jesus.
Besides being Good Shepherd Sunday – today is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Our primary call – or vocation - is to that personal relationship with Jesus that I referred to earlier – each of us is called through our Baptism to a life with God – a life of holiness. Jesus is the one who will lead us to the fulfillment of that vocation – to the abundant life with God.
Our second vocation is to a particular way of living that first call. In this chapel today are many men and women who have been called by God to the married life – many of our residents at D’Youville Manor and many of our friends who are with us today. Others among us have been called to the single life and have lived that life to the full. Father Jack and Father Ed have answered a call to priesthood. Each of the sisters here today answered God’s call to live religious life as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart. And there are younger folks who at this time are students and have yet to find their particular path to God – their vocation.
A few weeks ago, we had a wonderful celebration of our sisters who had lived religious life for 70, 60 and 50 years – a Jubilee celebration. We chose as a theme for our celebration, Called by Name – this comes from a passage in Isaiah where the prophet says – I have called you by name, you are mine. We believe that God calls each of us by name – we are so intimately known and loved by God – we are God’s own.
At the liturgy for the day, Sister Denise Roche who celebrated her golden jubilee gave the reflections – and I want to quote some of what she said that day:
Quote - St. Marguerite (the woman who founded the Grey Nuns) learned the meaning of vocation for those who follow Christ – love of God and service to others because of that love. Her choice of marriage was only an expression of her real vocation and, in her case, this expression changed many times. Ordinarily when we think of vocation we see the options as marriage, the single life, vowed religious life, or ordained priesthood. Marguerite’s call to live her life for love of God led her to be wife, mother, widow, single parent, businesswoman, lay volunteer, and vowed religious. Like all of us who are followers of Jesus and who have accepted his invitation, her true life’s vocation was the call to develop a deepening relationship with God and because of it to share her love in service to others.
Jesus is the one who taught us the meaning of vocation. It is simply and only the call to love God with our entire being and to love and serve our neighbor – everyone – because of that love. Jesus exemplified the core vocation of love – and he loved us to death.” End quote.
So what is it we are called to today – let’s pray that we may live our vocation – love of God and neighbor – our deep relationship with Jesus – in the best way possible and to live it to death – willing to make sacrifices for the sake of others and so live even dying to ourselves.
And let us pray that our Church and our world will be blessed with men and women to bring Jesus’ message of love to others, to the world – that men and women will be open to God’s call to priesthood and religious life. I do believe – and I hope you believe as well – that God is continuing to call some to these particular vocations – and that you will pray – not just today – but everyday for the men and women who may be hearing such a call - that they may have the courage to follow that Good Shepherd.