The fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday, is also the “World Day of Prayer for Vocations.” Each year on this Sunday, we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who devotedly and kindly takes care of his flock. The title “pastor” means shepherd. A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects his flock—responsibilities that belong to all Church leaders, parents, civil leaders, and all who oversee others.
Today’s first reading describes how Paul and Barnabas opted to listen to the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and follow him, and how, like their Master, they were rebuffed and rejected when they tried to share the good news of salvation. It also suggests that the sympathy of the early Christians for the Gentiles caused a rupture with Judaism. The second reading, taken from the book of Revelation, depicts Jesus as both the glorified Lamb and the Shepherd. John’s vision encourages his readers with the assurance that every person who has ever followed Christ and led others to him will share everlasting life with him. The Gospel text offers us both comfort and a great challenge. The comforting message is that no one can snatch the sheep out of his Father’s hands. The challenge is that pastors should be good shepherds to those entrusted to their care, while their flock of lay people should respond by being good sheep.
Introducing himself as the Good Shepherd of his flock, Jesus makes three claims in today’s Gospel.
He knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice: Just as the Palestinian shepherds knew each sheep of their flock by name, and the sheep knew their shepherd and his voice, so Jesus knows each one of us, our needs, our merits, and our faults. He loves us as we are, with all our limitations, and he expects us to return his love by keeping his words. He speaks to us at every Mass, through the Bible, through our pastors, through our parents, through our friends, and through the events of our lives. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks to us in our consciences, and He shouts to us in our pain!” (C.S. Lewis). He gives eternal life to us, his sheep by receiving us into his sheepfold and giving us Faith through Baptism, and then he strengthens that Faith in Confirmation. He supplies food for our souls in the Holy Eucharist and in the Divine words of the Holy Bible. He makes our society holy by the Sacraments of Matrimony and the priesthood (Holy Orders. He protects his sheep by placing them in the loving hands of his Almighty Father. Without him to guide us and protect us, we are an easy prey for the spiritual wolves of this world, including Satan and his minions. In chapter ten of John’s Gospel, Jesus adds two more roles to those of the Good Shepherd. He goes in search of stray lambs and heals the sick ones. Jesus heals the wounds of our souls through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthens us in illness and old age with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Jesus dies for his sheep: Just as the shepherds of ancient days protected their sheep from wild animals and thieves by risking their own lives, so Jesus died in expiation for the sins of all people.
Through today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches one of the central aspects of the ministerial priesthood: the priest as shepherd. It means that a priest is one who, by his consecration, lives for others. The title, “Father”, like the title, “Shepherd,” expresses a relation of loving service to others in everything, from the most sacred ministries to the most trivial chores.
Today is also “World Day of Prayer for Vocations.” It is a day when Christians are invited to reflect on the meaning of God’s call and to pray that they may answer the call to dedicate their lives to serve the Church in a special way, i.e., to shepherd the Church communities, particularly as pastors in their parishes and as superiors in their religious orders or congregations. The Church presents to us in today’s Gospel the figure of Jesus the Good Shepherd that we may reflect on the meaning of the religious vocation to priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life. Last Sunday we reflected on Our Lord’s commission and charge to Peter, saying once, “Feed my lambs,” and twice, “Feed my sheep.” In that way he made Peter a shepherd, a pastor. Our Lord continues his work of shepherding his people through Peter and his co-workers: the apostles and disciples, and through their successors: the Pope, the bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, and committed lay people. The first thing we need to remember is that every single person here has a vocation! Each person here, whatever one’s state in life, has been, and is being, called by God through the Holy Spirit to offer one’s special gifts to benefit the rest of the community. Therefore, “Vocations Sunday” is not just for a few selected for directly religious vocations, it is for all of us here. On the one hand, each one needs to reflect on what one’s particular calling is and how one can respond to it for the well-being of the whole parish community. Secondly, one needs to help others, and not be an obstacle to them as they respond to the particular calling and graces that God through his Spirit is giving one. If we will all actively respond to that call what a wonderful community, we will be! For, “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”