Saturday, April 21, 2018

Listen to Jesus!


Jesus was at the Pearly Gates one day and decided to give St. Peter a break from the hard work of sorting those who would enter Heaven from those who wouldn’t. He opened the Book of Life and after he had sorted a few people, looked up to see an old man before Him who looked familiar. “And you are…” Jesus asked. The man responded, “I’m a carpenter. And, I was told that my son was in there. I’d like to see him. You’d recognize him, he’s got nail marks in his hands and in his feet.” Jesus was stunned, He leaned forward, looked at the old man, smiled and said, “Dad?” The man’s eyes widened and he looked at Jesus and said, “Pinocchio?”

“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” As we hear these words about the good shepherd in our Gospel today, the church also invites us to celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It is a perfect fit as Jesus gives us this powerful image of Himself as the Good Shepherd. To fully understand the image, we need to know a little bit about shepherds and what they do. In Jesus’ time, there were two kinds of shepherds. First, there was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just a job. He moved from flock to flock depending on the conditions of service and he would not risk his life for them in a dangerous situation. Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same sheep all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and knows everything about each of his sheep. He knows which ones are strong, which are weak; which ones might stray from the flock and would keep an eye on them. When in danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep.

Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be. And this is the heart of vocation. Discovering our best identity – who we are called to be in God’s sight – is what a vocation is all about. God, of course, continually calls each one of us to something special in His kingdom. Our challenge is to create an environment that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can follow where He leads. The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something special and He might even be calling someone here today to become a priest, deacon or religious.

The question of vocation is all about our identity. God very simply calls us to be who we are created to be. The question is who are we in God’s sight? St. Francis of Assisi would remind the friars, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s sons and daughters. It is only when we know our true identity before God, that we discover our vocation.

If this identity has been nurtured, and if we open our heart to the Good Shepherd, it is here at the Holy Mass that we begin to see this identity emerge. Receiving the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, tells us something about ourselves. When we enter into that personal relationship with Jesus that we can only have in the Eucharist, Jesus helps us to discover who He calls us to be. In fact, we are never more clearly ourselves than we are right here; gathered around the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist. If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do – meet Jesus here in the Eucharist and he will reveal it to you.

I’ve told my own vocation story many times before. But, it all boils down to this. As a teen, I had the merest spark of faith. I did not yet know the Lord. In my early 20s I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Eucharist. When I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences. The Mass was speaking to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed in my heart that this was Jesus. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom. And you can too.

To discover that identity requires two things of us. First, can you hear His voice? Can you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls you? And secondly, do we pray for and encourage those around us to discover that call; especially those who might be called to service in the Church? I don’t know if I would be a priest today if it weren’t for the support I received from crucial people in my life as I explored this call – the Dominican sisters who taught me and encouraged a vocation, my aunt Maureen who is a Sister of Mercy and who showed me the joy that can be found in religious life, Fr. Marc Hession who was my first mentor and led me toward a life of priestly service, and most importantly my mother and father, who gave witness to me of what it means to live a Christian life.

We have all been led here by a Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and wants the best for them. We will meet Him in a profound and special way in the Eucharist and discover who we are in God’s sight and what God has planned for us in His Kingdom. Let us pray that more young men and women will have the courage to pursue the vocation that God is calling them to; that they will follow the Good Shepherd. And let us be the people who encourage them to do so.

“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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