Acts 13:14, 43-52; Rev. 7:9, 14b-17; Jn. 10:27-30
Church has established the Fourth Sunday in Easter time as “Good Shepherd Sunday” – a day for us to reflect on the absolute need for good shepherds in the Christian community, pray for our priests and religious, and foster vocations from our community.
The name, Good Shepherd Sunday, derives from the gospel reading for the day, which is taken from the tenth chapter of John's Gospel. In this reading Christ is described as the "Good Shepherd" who lays down his life for his sheep.
To understand today’s Gospel we must recall the social setting in which John wrote his gospel. John was writing to a community of Jews who had split because some in the community insisted on the divinity of Jesus Christ. Those Jews who insisted on Jesus’ divinity had been expelled from the synagogue. This left them vulnerable to Roman Persecution because they were no longer exempt from emperor worship. John brings assurance to these people with the words of Jesus that they will always be safe. Jesus says that his sheep have been given to him by his Father, that no one can take them away from him because no one is greater than his Father.
There is a great story of a mother’s powerful prayers and sacrifices that gave a great saint to the Church. In North Africa, a Christian girl, Monica was given in marriage to Patricius, who was not a Christian. She attempted to bring her children up in the ways of the Lord, and it pained her to see them stray from the truth she had taught them. Her most promising son, Augustine, was given an excellent education, and Monica hoped this might be a means of his more fully reaching God. Augustine ignored his mother's warnings against youthful lusts and pursued a life of self-gratification and immorality while continuing his classical education. He lived with a woman and had a child. Monica didn't have the words to convince her son of the truth of Christianity, but she determined never to stop praying that he would turn to God. Finally Augustine Got converted to Christianity. Constant prayer and tears of a mother had given the church one of its most influential preachers, a holy bishop and a great saint – St Augustine.
The biography of many saints reveal that they were encouraged by their parents to practice Christian values and that led them to dedicate their life for the Church.
In generations past, when Roman Catholic families were large and devout, behind almost every Catholic priest was a Catholic mother who had encouraged one of her children to commit his life to a career in the service of God.
We also have many examples where despite the vehement opposition from the family people pursued consecrated life. When St Francis of Assisi wanted to follow Jesus, his father disowned him. Saint Clare of Assisi was born into a wealthy Italian family but soon shunned her luxurious upbringing to embrace the life of piety and poverty. Clare refused to marry, as her parents wished, and fled to the Porziuncola Chapel below Assisi.
We also know about the rebellious teen age act of self-disfiguration of St Alphonsa by jump into a fire to avoid marriage and get into the service of God.
At all times God chose people from all walks of life and called them for his work. When Moses was called he was tending sheep. , Shepherd and fig farmer was called from his farm. Peter was called by Jesus when he was fishing. St. Francis Xavier was called through St Ignatius Loyola. When the call of God came they were able to recognize it and accept it.
But sometimes it is difficult to recognize the call of God. The call of Samuel was a great example for it. The Lord called to Samuel, and he replied, “Here I am!” Then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back and lie down.” So he went back and lay down. The Lord again called, “Samuel!” So Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I didn’t call you, my son. Go back and lie down.” Eli then realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go back and lie down. When he calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
God continues his call. But our young people need the help of the parents, the church and every one to recognize that call and accept it.
Now times have changed. Families are smaller. Career choices are more plentiful. Priesthood and religious life have been attacked due to some scandals and the work of a priest and religious have become more demanding and stressful.
If we want to foster vocations from out parishes a “vocation culture” has to take root in parishes and homes. Vocations must be talked about regularly. Everyone who is called take up consecrated life has a story, as how he recognized the call. There are young men from Army camps, Naval base and Air force joining consecrated life. Their recognition of the call may be sudden through events and people. But generally it is fostered from early years. But the final decision should be free from all other considerations and taken in a spiritual moment.
As a community our role is to foster a “vocation culture” and Pray