The Church dedicates the 4th Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, as a World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which means “to call.” Our God who reveals himself to us also calls us to follow him. He is truly the Good Shepherd who walks ahead of us, the One whose voice we recognize and follow. Recognizing God’s voice is key to understanding the mystery of our vocation.
Because it is a call, we first ponder who calls us. What sort of person is he? What is the nature of his call? Why does he call? Today’s Psalm beautifully presents to us who he is: “The LORD is my shepherd.” We can find in this declarative statement a sense of belonging, especially because of the word “my.” The one to whom I belong protects and cares for me: “I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” He provides for me and guides me: “In verdant pastures he gives me repose, beside restful waters he leads me…. He guides me in right paths.” Because I belong to him, I have an abundance of blessings: “you spread the table before me… you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” God calls us because we belong to him.
Jesus Christ reaffirms this in today’s Gospel. He describes the Good Shepherd calling his own sheep by name. We are not random, insignificant creatures to God. He knows us personally and calls us in a specific and unique manner, by name. Jesus also uses the images of the gatekeeper and the gate, both of which refer to protection and guardianship. Then he identifies himself as “the gate for the sheep.” For us to belong to God, we need to pass through Jesus Christ; it is he who will keep us safe in God’s embrace. Sometimes we view gates and guardianship as restrictive or prohibitive. But Christ’s guardianship over us is not primarily restrictive, but rather leads to our flourishing: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
St. Peter reminds us what kind of shepherd and guardian we have in today’s second reading. Citing the way that Jesus endured his Passion, Peter shows us how gentle he is: “When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten….” Peter had personal experience of the Shepherd’s love; when he failed and denied him, Jesus did not condemn him but gently led him back to peace in union with him. We remember that it is through his Cross that Jesus provides for us the way to safe pasture. It is his Passion that frees us from sin so that we may live in righteousness. By his wounds our wounds have been healed.
This gentle guardianship of Christ is the basis for his loving call for us to “follow in his footsteps.” St. Peter urges us to follow Christ by imitating him in every aspect. “He committed no sin,” so we strive to commit no sin. “No deceit was found in his mouth,” nor must deceit be found in ours. Because of his grace at work in us, we can patiently “suffer for doing what is good,” just as he did.
St. Peter instructs us in the first reading as well. In describing how he shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the crowds on the day of Pentecost, the reading uses a series of vigorous verbs: Peter “stood up,” “raised his voice,” and “proclaimed.” This shows us that we too are to proclaim Christ with boldness. Then Peter calls all to repentance and the Sacraments. These are daunting steps for us, but Peter assures us of the gift of the Holy Spirit who will animate us to fulfill them. It is the Spirit of the Lord who empowers us to be like him.
We have now pondered who calls us – Jesus himself, our Good Shepherd; what his call is – to follow him; and our rightful response to this call – to imitate him with the boldness and strength provided by the Holy Spirit. But today’s Gospel Acclamation indicates something deeper. Our Lord says: “I know my sheep, and mine know me.” Knowing another person, in biblical language, is akin to spousal knowledge; it refers to a life of shared intimacy with a beloved. The Good Shepherd knows us not merely as sheep with names, but as persons with whom he creates a profound communion of life. When he says, “I know them,” he is referring to a knowledge of us that permeates our entire life. Because of our intimate union with Christ, we too are shepherds. That is, we can share fruitfully in the work of shepherding his people.
We can say that the goal as well as the fruit of every vocation is intimacy with God. This is lived in different ways in marriage, in consecrated life, and in single life, but every vocation reflects the spousal love between Christ and his Church, the profound relationship of a Lover who calls and a Beloved who responds. It is in this relationship with the Good Shepherd that we find life and we “have it more abundantly.”
How can I be gentler and more loving like our Lord, the Good Shepherd? In what ways is my faith growing in intimacy with the Lord? During the day, how am I aware that the Shepherd calls and guides me in all I do?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.