Today we celebrate not only this fourth Sunday of Easter, this “Good Shepherd Sunday;” we also celebrate today the forty-third World Day of Prayer for Vocations because today Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and will lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10: 14-15). Through his prophet Jeremiah, the Lord also promises us, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15).
These are beautiful words the Savior says to us today and they are comforting words, for we cannot truly “know” another person unless we first love them. We may think that we know someone whom we do not love, but what we really mean is that we know about them; we do not – in reality – know them personally. We do not know their thoughts or true concerns, their worries, fears, and loves. Jesus says to us with confidence and with authority: “I know mine and mine know me.” He knows us through and through because he loves us and it is because he loves us that he reminds us, “[I] will lay down my life for my sheep.” This is the very reason he has come to us, to show us the depth of the Father’s love and to call us back to him. “[I]n Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the ‘stray sheep’, a suffering and lost humanity” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 12).
He comes among us and lives with us. He listens to us, he encourages us, he challenges us, he calls to repent and to turn from sin and he loves us. He loves us like no has ever loved before and he loves like no one will ever love again. He picks us up – wounded, broken, and in pain as we are – and places us upon his shoulders. He carries us all the way to the Cross, all because he loves us. And he invites certain men and women to join him in this act of love, in this act of service.
Jesus cannot know us any more deeply than he already does because he loves us perfectly and completely. We, on the other hand, can always know Jesus more deeply because we can always love him more profoundly. This side of heaven, our love for him will rarely be perfect. Nevertheless, he calls each of us to know him and to love him and so to become one with one.
As we grow in knowledge and love of God we come to know his will in our lives and we come to accept his will. So very often we consider our will for lives – what I want – and what God wants for my life as two very different things, almost as two forms of life set completely in opposition to each other. But this is not the case for the more we come to know and love the Lord
God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy (cf. Psalm 73 :23-28) (Deus caritas est, 17).
My will becomes one with God’s will for me because I have come to know and experience his marvelous love, a love which knows no limits. In knowing his love I come to learn that he desires my happiness and joy – this is his will for my life and only in him will any of us ever be truly happy and joyous.
This, then, brings us to the heart of the prayer of the Church today. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us today that
it should never be doubted that Christ continues to raise up men who, like the Apostles, leaving behind all other work, dedicate themselves completely to the celebration of the sacred mysteries, to the preaching of the Gospel and to pastoral ministry” (Message for the 43rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations).
Still today the Lord calls men in this very parish to serve him as priests and deacons, just as he calls men to serve him as consecrated brothers and as he calls women to serve him as consecrated sisters.
This is a faithful parish and a vibrant parish. The faith is alive here, and yet there has been no priestly vocation to come from this parish in quite some time. And so the question must be asked, “Are we doing enough? Are we doing what the Lord truly asks of us? Are we living the faith as we should? Is there more the Lord asks of us?” Fifteen years – twenty years – since the last ordination from this parish is simply too long.
I can say with great certainty that I would not be standing before you today, I would not be a priest of Jesus Christ, if it were not for the parishioners of my home parish in Quincy. These faithful men and women have a great love of the Church and of priests, as do you. These men and women saw something in me when I was in high school and they thought the Lord was calling me to the priesthood and so they told me; in fact, they repeatedly told me. Little did they know that at this very same time I, too, believed the Lord was calling me to the priesthood. Even so, without their invitation, without their support, without their enthusiastic encouragement, I would not have had the courage to pursue the priesthood, feeling myself unworthy of such a sacred calling. And indeed I am unworthy of the priesthood – as is every priest; but as the Holy Father reminds us, “Weaknesses and human limitations do not present an obstacle, as long as they help make us more aware of the fact that we are in need of the redeeming grace of Christ” (Message for the 43rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations).
With this in mind, then, I challenge you to ask the Lord to let you know which young men in this very parish he is calling to serve him as priests and deacons. Ask him, too, to tell you whom is calling to serve him as consecrated men and women. I am watching several young men and women – and have been for some time – whom I believe the Lord is calling at this very moment. Many of them know who they are and so do you.
These are the young men and women with whom you live, work, study, and play. You know their qualities and characteristics and you have a sense whether or not the Lord is calling them. When was the last time you extended the invitation to a young man to consider the priesthood or to a young woman to consider the consecrated life?
Vocations are nourished, supported, and sustained through the parish; vocations do not simply fall out of heaven. The Lord raises up men and women to serve him and his Church through the communities of faith we call parishes and families. Vocations must be supported, they must be talked about, they must be encouraged if those whom the Lord calls are to hear his call and to respond to his call with generosity and with love.
The Holy Father reminds us that the Lord invites all people to know him love him. He says,
Already on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, many allowed themselves to be won by Jesus: they were in search of healing in body or spirit, and they were touched by the power of his grace. Others were chosen personally by Him and became his apostles. We also find some, like Mary Magdalene and others, who followed him on their own initiative, simply out of love. Like the disciple John, they too found a special place in his heart (Message for the 43rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations).
Let us then always encourage and invite young men and women to offer their lives to the Lord as priests, deacons, and consecrated men and women. Lord, give us shepherds to lead us!