Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2015 – Year B
Readings: Acts 4:8-12 / 1 Jn 3:1-2 / Jn 10:11-18
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Today, as you can probably guess from the readings and from the prayers, is Good Shepherd Sunday. I got an early start on preparing for the homily today. Normally, I wait until a couple days beforehand, but I actually read the readings several weeks ago and started studying them and started doing my exegesis on them: reading all the notes in the Bible and so forth. Nothing was coming to me.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We know that. He was faithful until the end. He laid down His life for us. He gave us the perfect example to follow. He loves us. He loves us still. And He calls to us. What more can you say? It seems pretty straightforward.
But earlier this week, something finally occurred to me: If Jesus is the shepherd, then that makes us the sheep. Obviously? But I never really thought about the implications of that. There are some very important lessons for us, when we realize our relationship to Jesus as that between a shepherd and his flock.
First, Jesus calls us. He speaks to us. He speaks to us through the scriptures. He speaks to us through prayer. He speaks to us when we worship. He speaks to us through each other. But the fact that Jesus speaks is moot if we’re not listening. Perhaps that was my problem, why I was so late in realizing what I should preach about. I was busy doing, instead of listening. That’s hard to do, but it’s a necessity.
Another important point is that Jesus leads us. I realized earlier this week that, when I think of sheep, I get an image of a flock of white, fluffy things being driven by a yipping dog. The dog is going this way and running that way and driving the sheep where they’re supposed to be going. But that’s not how Jesus rolls. Jesus leads us. He doesn’t drive us. The option is ours. We are free to go our own way or to follow Him.
A couple of days ago, I also realized something. Maybe some of you weren’t aware. Today is the fifty-second World Day of Prayer for Vocations. When I realized that, it seemed perfectly obvious, that on Good Shepherd Sunday we would be praying for vocations. Each one of us is called by God to live our lives in a particular vocation. But it’s up to us to make the decision for ourselves.
Most of us are called to live our lives through the vocation of marriage or the single life. We’re all quite familiar with that. However, the vocation of marriage has been suffering lately, just like other vocations. More and more often, young people are deciding that there’s really no reason to get married. That’s a shame, and that’s something we should be praying about.
Some of us are called to live as religious brothers and sisters. Those vocations have been suffering, too, and we need to pray for them.
A few of us are called to the vocation of the priesthood. A few of us are called to answer Jesus and to live our lives as shepherds, continuing His work among His flock.
Some weeks ago, on Palm Sunday, Pope Francis wrote a letter to each one of us, and it was on the topic of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We’ll post a link to it on the website when we post this homily, and I would encourage you all to read the whole thing. It’s great stuff, but I’d like to share one little part with you. The Holy Father writes: “Hearing and following the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd, means letting ourselves be attracted and guided by Him, in consecration to Him. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us into this missionary dynamism, awakening within us the desire, the joy, and the courage to offer our lives in service of the kingdom of God.”
On this same topic, a few years ago in 2012, the bishops of the United States commissioned a survey. They surveyed American Catholics who have never married, and they asked them questions regarding vocations. The data they collected is quite telling. Some of it is inspirational, and some of it is a call to action.
In this survey 12% of men and 10% of women said that they at some point had considered a vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood. Three percent of men and two percent of women said they had very seriously considered that call. This study extrapolated that data to the entire unmarried population of the United States. If you apply the three percent and two percent numbers, that means that 350,000 male Catholics in the United States, and 250,000 female Catholics had seriously considered a vocation to religious life or the priesthood. As of 2012, there were just under 40,000 priests in the United States, about 4500 brothers, and 55,000 sisters.
Imagine if just a small percentage of those 350,000 men and 250,000 women had answered that call. Imagine what those numbers would be today.
So what can we do about this? This study and others offer some very practical advice on what to do. Many studies have concluded that the number one factor in people answering a vocational call to the priesthood or religious life is regular Mass attendance. That should not be a shock. It should be obvious that people who show up at Mass regularly and are fed by the sacraments will be more open to the call of God. (The good news for all of us is also that the same benefit comes for us regardless of our vocation.)
Another important factor is the faith of the parents. There are many cases of people growing up with no religious affiliation at all, discovering the Catholic Church, and then answering a vocational call. But that is a very small percentage. The vast majority of kids, whether Catholic or Protestant or any other religion, follow the faith of their parents.
The most important aspect of parenting, second to Mass attendance, is whether they carry that faith into the household. Do they talk about the faith outside of church? Do they pray together as a family? Fr. Sal shared a statistic with us yesterday: approximately 30% of children whose mothers faithfully take them to church continue in the faith after they move out. However, if the father and mother both actively practice the faith, that number jumps to 90%. That’s not to say that men are better than women. The message I take from this is that a united front is much more effective than a half attack.
Another important activity is volunteering in ministries, especially in ministries outside the Church: serving at The Shepherd’s Table, serving the poor and the homeless. That shouldn’t be a shock either, because from the Christian point of view, love is an action; it’s not a feeling. We love by serving.
Another important factor is participating in groups with other Catholics. Some of us attended the Diocesan Youth Conference several weeks ago. I can tell you it was a wonderful experience. It was a wonderful experience for our young people, and it was a wonderful experience for those of us adults who were able to join them.
The final point I would like to share with you is about encouraging all vocations, not just those to the priesthood and religious life. A very important factor is encouragement from parents, but even more important is encouragement from people outside the family. Those of us who have children are very aware of the fact that our children don’t always listen to us. But when advice comes from someone who has no vested interest in their following the advice, that is a powerful witness.
Regardless of our vocational call, we all need shepherds. Some of those shepherds are our parents. Some of those shepherds are our teachers and our catechists. Some of those shepherds are our priests. Pope Francis also says: “Those who set out to follow Christ find life in abundance by putting themselves completely at the service of God and His kingdom.”
So on this fifty-second World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let’s all open our hearts to the call of Our Lord and support each other as we strive to answer that call.