4th Sunday of Easter
Vocation Week – The Good Shepherd
1 Peter 2:20b-25
This is what you were called to do!
Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. During the last nine days before the celebration of Vocations Sunday, the Vocation Commission of the Archdiocese of Jakarta organized a special novena for Vocations in the church. Many priests, brothers and nuns are participating in this novena. They are also invited to do vocation promotion in certain parishes. The hope is that through this vocation promotion, young people can be interested in answering God’s call and joining existing congregations or Institutes of Consecrated Life.
The Holy Father Pope Francis himself for this year wrote a beautiful message to welcome the 60th Sunday of Vocations with the theme: “Vocation: Grace and Mission”. For Pope Francis, Vocations Sunday is ‘a providential initiative that seeks to assist the members of the People of God, as individuals and as communities, to respond to the call and mission that God has entrusted to each of us in today’s world, amid its afflictions and its hopes, its challenges and its achievement.’ Therefore, through the theme ‘Vocation: Grace and Mission’, may God’s people be made aware that ‘the Lord’s call is grace, complete gift, and at the same time a commitment to bring the Gospel to others.’ Several important points emphasized by the Holy Father in his message are: The awareness that we were chosen before the creation of the world, I am a mission on this earth that is the reason I am here in this world, we are called together and convened, our vocation as a gift and task of mission.
At the same time with this special day, God also greets us through His word to always be aware of the special calling and mission that He has bestowed upon us. Through the Liturgical readings, God reminds us of our vocation and mission as disciples of Christ in our daily lives. In the first reading, for example, the Apostle Peter professes about the call and mission of Jesus from Nazareth, which they have been following closely. Peter confidently testified that God the Father had made Jesus who had been crucified both Lord and Christ because He had risen victorious. This profession and witness about Jesus after the resurrection from Peter and his friends moved the hearts of the Jews in Jerusalem and they asked Peter and his friends for the best path to achieve salvation. Peter reminded them to repent and be baptized. Thus, they also receive the Holy Spirit. The spirit of these disciples is what Pope Francis calls the spirit of bringing the Gospel to others. As disciples of Jesus, they are united and do missions together. This is also the spirit of the Church throughout the ages.
To be able to bring the Gospel to others in our society today, it really takes a great desire to be a shepherd like Jesus the Good Shepherd. Pope Francis reminded priests to be “shepherds with the smell of sheep”. The Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel reading reveals the characteristics of a shepherd; first, fellowship with Jesus. Jesus is the Gate to meet the sheep. People who have fellowship with Jesus can make himself a shepherd for Jesus’ sheep. By allying with Jesus, the guards can open the Gate, the sheep hear his voice, and he can be the shepherd who leads the sheep. Second, the shepherd is always at the forefront. He is the one who leads the sheep to green pastures. Being in the front gives a good example, being a model in words and actions. Third, Jesus makes us the Gate for His sheep. It takes a basic awareness that as the Gate, whoever enters through Jesus ‘the Gate’, he will be safe, and he will go in and out and find green pasture.
Awareness as a shepherd who enters through Jesus, the true Gate brings about a very important self-transformation. Here there is a greater awareness of a calling in life that not all events that are experienced are all good. The call requires self-sacrifice and even suffering and by risking his life. St. Peter wrote in his letter: “If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (1Pt 2:20). When going through suffering in vocation, optimism is needed, as expressed by Saint Peter: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” (1Pt 2:21).
Jesus is “the Gate” through which good shepherds as well as thieves or bad people pass through and disturb his flock. There are sufferings, difficulties, and challenges in carrying out pastoral duties. In the light of Saint Peter’s thought, Jesus ‘the Gate’ once abused, did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1Pt 2:23-24). So as a shepherd with the smell of sheep right now, you must be tough. An important principle for sheep-smelling shepherds is: “This is what you were called to do!”
I will end this homily with the prayer of Pope Francis for this Vocation Sunday: “O Jesus, divine Shepherd of souls, you called the apostles and made them fishers of men. Continue to draw to yourself ardent and generous souls from among the young, to make them your followers and your ministers. Give them a share in your thirst for the redemption of all… Open before them the horizons of the entire world… By responding to your call, may they prolong your mission here on earth, build up your Mystical Body which is the Church, and be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world.’” Happy Vocations Sunday, persevere to cross the finish line in your vocation!
Fr. John Laba, SDB