Today, Good Shepherd Sunday is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This is usually understood as prayer for vocations to the priesthood or religious life, which we need to pray for every day. But right now, however, I would like to broaden this prayer to include all Christian vocations. I want us to pray that all children of God are able to realize and know their own vocation, because God has a plan for everyone. There are two levels to each and everyone’s personal vocation. And at the first level of our vocation, something that all baptized Christians are called to, is the vocation to holiness. So whether you’re married, single, a professed religious, or a priest the very first vocation is holiness or we could also call it a vocation to love. And this vocation to love permeates every aspect of our life. The Second Vatican Council taught that we are called by God not by virtue of any of our good works but by his good design and grace. We are justified in the Lord Jesus, and have been made the sons and daughters of God by our baptism and, by receiving God’s divine nature in the other sacraments. These actions truly sanctify us. With the right disposition the Sacraments truly sanctify us. The Vatican II document ends with this sentence, “Therefore all the faithful are invited and obliged to holiness and the perfection of their own state of life.”
This state of life that Vatican II speaks of is the second level of our vocation. And this is marriage, the single life, or the religious life. And it’s through one of these paths, whichever one God deems best for each of us, that we best achieve our sanctity. Everyone in this church is called to be a Saint and with God’s generosity we can all become one. St. Gregory of Nyssa once said that Christian sanctity, or perfection has but one limit, and it’s that of having none. We can always grow in sanctity. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations it’s important for us to remember that each and every one of us has an influence on the future of our Church. So when a married couple remains joyful, faithful and loving, a seed is planted. When a single person remains joyful, faithful and loving, a seed is planted. And when a religious sister or brother or a priest remains joyful, faithful and loving, a seed is planted. These seeds, planted within the hearts of our young people, grow to become the future vocations of sanctity for our church.
There always seems to be a sheep theme on Good Shepherd Sunday. There’s a book that was printed a few years ago about shepherds and their sheep, the title is “A Shepherd looks at psalm 23.” It’s by W. Phillip Keller. He writes that it’s no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways. Our mob instincts, our fears and nervousness, our stubbornness and foolishness are all parallels of profound importance.
At the time of Jesus people knew all about sheep. Sheep were everywhere. So when the crowd listening to Jesus hears him say, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” they knew exactly what he was talking about. That crowd knew that sheep without a shepherd are easily frightened, easily led astray. Sheep without a shepherd don’t know where they’re going and they’re easy prey for predators. But when Christ is our shepherd and we live within the sheepfold of His Church we’re not easily frightened, we’re not easily led astray, we know where we’re going and hopefully we’re not easy prey for the predators of sin.
A good shepherd knows his sheep; he knows when something is wrong. He gives each lamb the individual attention he needs; each lamb is protected and guided. Sometimes, however, the shepherd needs to use his crook, that big cane we see shepherds carry (Bishop Bradley has one too). The shepherd uses his crook to pull back a straying lamb. Christ uses that crook on us too when we’ve strayed only we know it as grace the grace that gets us back into his fold when we’ve strayed. The grace that inspires us to go to the sacrament of reconciliation.
So, on this Good Shepherd Sunday I want to end with a couple things that we can learn from sheep. First, sheep are mindful of their shepherd. They keep an eye on him and his presence in the field can bring a sense of peace among the flock. When sheep are nervous or anxious just having the shepherd walk through the field calms them. The sight of their shepherd calms them. And second, sheep know their shepherd’s voice and will come when he calls, even in the midst of other noises. For us to be in the Flock of Christ means knowing his voice and paying attention to it. We hear his voice in Sacred Scripture, the Tradition of our faith, in prayer, and we sometimes hear his voice in what other people say to us. For us to be in the Flock of Christ also means keeping our eyes on him. And we have that opportunity at every Mass, on the altar where He is made present, and in our tabernacle where He resides always. His presence can bring us peace, go to him.
Let us become great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley