Monday, May 4, 2009

Hearing the Shepherd's Voice

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, World Day of Prayer for Vocations, May 3, 2009:

Jesus was walking around Heaven one day and came out by the gates where St. Peter was hard at work sorting out those who would enter Heaven from those who wouldn’t. Jesus said, “Pete, you’re at the gate a lot. When do you take a break?” Peter said, “A break? Never. This is my job. All the time.” Jesus, feeling compassion for his friend said, “Hey, I’ll take over for a while, why don’t you grab a cup of coffee.” Peter gladly said yes and went on his way. Jesus opened the Book of Life and looked up to the next person in line. “Name?” he said. “Mary O’Donnell,” the old woman responded. Seeing her name he said, “Ah, yes, here you are. Head right on in, we’ve been waiting for you…Next.” A middle-aged man stepped up and gave his name, “John Smith.” Jesus looked at the Book and didn’t see his name. “Sorry John, you’re not in here. You’ll have to take that elevator over there…press the down button…Next.” Suddenly an old man appeared before Jesus and he 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, “Pinnochio?”

“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” We celebrate today the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. And, what a perfect day to be mindful of vocations as we hear this Gospel reading in which Jesus gives us this powerful image of Himself as the Good Shepherd. 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. God continually calls people. We must create environments in our lives, in our families where we help and allow people to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can follow where He will lead. The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something. He is most definitely calling someone here today to the priesthood or religious life. The question is, can we hear His voice?

You know, people talk about the vocation crisis – what are we going to do, there aren’t enough priests and religious? As a new vocation director, I can tell you that there is no vocation crisis. All can show you countless young people that who love God, who are involved in many aspects of our parish life, who are always there when it comes to service, who very likely may have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. But, time after time, that seed of vocation planted in their hearts is not nurtured or encouraged by those around them.

Just think about your own experience for a moment. When was the last time you said to someone, “I think you’d make a good priest, or religious sister or brother?” I would not be a priest today if it weren’t for the crucial, caring people who affirmed that vocation; who helped me to hear God’s call - 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 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. The crisis the Church is facing is not a vocation crisis, it is a crisis of vocation awareness. We each have to take this responsibility personally. We, you and I, must be the people who encourage a young person to consider a life dedicated to God through the Church. Unless we’re willing to do that, we shouldn’t be surprised at dwindling numbers of priests and religious in our Church.

I challenge all of our young people to consider living a life dedicated to God as a priest or religious. And, even more so, I challenge everyone here today to pray for vocations and just as importantly encourage vocations. If you’ve ever thought that someone might be called to the priesthood or religious life, tell them. Make that promise to me today – that you will speak to someone this week who you think might have a vocation. Maybe they’ve been waiting for someone to confirm what they’ve been feeling inside.

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.

“I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine and mine know me.”

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.

May God bless the Church with many vocations and may God give you peace.

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