17 April 2016
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Revelation 7:9, 14-17
John 10. 27- 30
A certain young man was studying at the university as he had a great desire to become a teacher. After he qualified he had great joy and satisfaction in his chosen vocation. What saddened him was that he met some classmates who told him they had no great love of teaching. They did it because it was a well paid job.
Today is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday when the Church asks us to pray especially for vocations to the priesthood. Perhaps the need to do this has never been greater. We need priests whose hearts are in it, who are truly good shepherds to the people God has entrusted to them. I feel that I am particularly blessed by God because I really enjoy being a priest and all that this involves.
Parents are asked to be shepherds of the family God has given them. It is the same for teachers, farmers, fishermen, doctors, lawyers, etc. Is our primary concern to care for and help others to a better quality of life? If we are in it just for our own good then no matter what title one has one is not a shepherd with the heart of Jesus.
Sometimes it may cost a great amount if we try to listen to what we believe we are called to do and put it into practice. In the gospel today Jesus is speaking to the Jews and he says ‘the sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me’. This does not just apply to priests but to all who want to be real disciples of Jesus. The theme of the Good Shepherd unfolds against a background of conflict and the threat of death as is clearly seen in the verses that follow today’s Gospel.
Down through the ages up to our own time many trying to really listen to the voice of God and put it into practice suffered in one way or another. It makes demands on us. We see people who try to be faithful in marriage despite difficult relationships, others who withstand the pressure to have an abortion, others again who refuse to give or take bribes etc. This is in no way a condemnation of anyone who may have given into temptation on any level. In fact, haven’t we all at some stage or other?
In our world today there are many voices calling out to be heard. Either on television or radio, by advertising, on the Internet, pressure from well meaning friends, peer pressure etc. There is also the voice of God calling us. Which voices will we listen to? ‘My sheep hear my voice’, says Jesus. Many religious leaders of his time refused to listen to him. They thought they were honouring God by killing Jesus and that they were saving religion by multiplying sacrifices, commandments, prohibitions etc. Isn’t it much safer and more secure to follow the law and tradition slavishly instead of risking to follow Jesus, who spoke about love, service, forgiveness, compassion etc being the core of true religion?
A friend of mine has a fish tank in which he has some small fish. He also keeps some canaries in a big cage. The fish and the birds belong to him. But in a sense he belongs to the fish and birds. If he doesn’t care for them they die. But I know he takes great care to feed them daily and clean their tank and cage from time to time. So they live longer and he gets great pleasure from them as Jesus does from us. Jesus says in the gospel that the sheep that belong to him listen to his voice. So in belonging to Jesus, he belongs to us and we know from experience that our belonging to him means that he does all he can to care and love us if we allow him. Very often we don’t. We stray away to follow other voices. Yet he keeps inviting us back to the true path that alone gives real peace and joy. This is the Good News.
To whom do we as Christians belong? It is not enough simply to say that we belong to Jesus. What we do and think will give us a good idea. Are we regular in going to Sunday Mass, to some daily prayer? Are we forgiving to those who may have hurt us or to those who think differently to us? Do we pray to put our trust in him and allow ourselves to be guided by his will?
He says also in this very short gospel: ‘I give them eternal life’, which doesn’t just mean life after death. Rather it involves the beginning of eternal life now – that is, a quality of life which gives peace, freedom, joy, but will also involve suffering and trial if we follow the Good Shepherd. It is especially about our relationship with God which begins here and continues into eternity.
In spite of our weaknesses Jesus gives us the great promise that as his brothers and sisters no one can steal us from him because the Father who is greater than anyone will not allow this.
Like any true shepherd Jesus will pull put all the stops to love and care for us. He does this especially through the friends and other disciples he gives us to care for us now.
‘Lord Jesus, true Shepherd of your flock, thank you for sharing this vocation with each of us. May your Spirit enable us to be true life givers and carers of your flock, those you have entrusted especially to us. In particular grant that God’s call to our young people to priesthood and religious life may not be drowned out by other voices or the lure of material wealth. Amen’.