Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday, the fourth Sunday in the season of Easter marks the occasion of Good Shepherd Sunday, or also known as the Vocation Sunday. This Sunday is called as such because the Gospel reading was taken from the Gospel of St. John, in which the Lord referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd and we, the people of God as His sheep and flock. Through Him, our Good Shepherd, the Lord has called on all of us to follow Him and return to Him, to no longer be lost and separated from Him, but be reunited with Him and becoming once again part of that one flock of God in His Church.
In our first reading today, all of us heard from the Acts of the Apostles the works of two of the Apostles, St. Paul and St. Barnabas who were travelling to Antioch in Pisidia in Asia Minor, where they preached about the Lord and His truth in the synagogue. The two Apostles spoke to a large gathering of both Jewish people and the non-Jewish people, the Gentiles. But their efforts in attracting so many people especially the Gentiles caused some among the Jews to be jealous and hostile to their popularity. It was likely that those Jewish people mentioned had belonged to the Pharisees or at least those who were sympathetic of the position of the Pharisees and their opposition against Jesus.
Hence, as we heard, while the Apostles managed to gain great support and following even from among the Gentiles, who were happy to hear the Good News presented to them, but those people who refused to believe in them were offended and angry at the popularity that St. Paul and St. Barnabas managed to get, and considered them as a threat to the way of life and the beliefs of those who held and clung on to the traditions of the Jewish customs as promoted and preserved by the Pharisees and the elders. As such, they did whatever they could to oppose the two Apostles, persecuting them and evicting them from their region.
Yet, the Apostles, St. Paul, St. Barnabas and the Twelve Apostles led by St. Peter all continued to labour hard for the Lord and His Church, going forth to many places and spreading the Good News passed onto them as the shepherds of the Lord’s flock, the servants of the one and true Good Shepherd of all. They proclaimed the Lord’s truth to all the people, to the Jewish people and the Gentiles alike, and although they encountered many opposition and rejection from those who refused to believe in God and His truth, persecuted and having to endure arrest, prison, torture and even martyrdom, they continued to proclaim the word of God faithfully and many others did flock to follow the Lord through them.
In our second reading today, we heard of the vision of St. John the Apostle from the Book of Revelations that he wrote, detailing what he had seen in the series of visions he received at the island of Patmos during his exile there. St. John saw the vision of innumerable holy men and women from across all time and places, all gathered together to proclaim the Lord and glorify Him, to praise Him on His Throne, as St. John saw Him, the victorious Lamb of God, Who has won the ultimate victory over sin, evil and death, and by His sacrifice on the Cross, He has gathered all of us as our Good Shepherd, leading us all to the path towards eternal life.
What victory is it about, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is the great triumph that God had won for us over the forces of evil and sin. We have been corrupted by sin ever since the beginning of time, when we succumbed to the temptations of the devil and allowed sin to enter into our hearts. Because of that, we have been scattered throughout the world and fell into darkness, becoming lost from the Lord, our Good Shepherd. But what is important is that, God’s love for us far surpasses His disgust and anger for our sins. He loves us all beyond anything else, and He created us in the first place because He loved us all. If He did not love us at all, He would not even have created us or given us a chance at all.
Therefore, in coming upon us Himself, through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Word Incarnate, the Lord came to us to show just how much He loved us all and how precious we truly are to Him. The Lord has come to gather us all from the far ends of the world, and to lead us all back to Himself just as He has long promised to us. And to this end, He has established His Church, and called us all to be part of that one flock that He has gathered together in His Name, and entrusted all of us to those whom He had called and dedicated to be shepherds modelled after Himself, the Good Shepherd.
St. Paul, St. Barnabas, the other Apostles and many other holy men and women of God, the saints all showed us what they had done in following the examples set by the Good Shepherd in helping many more lost souls, the lost sheep of the Lord to return to Him. Just as the Lord Himself also said in another occasion, that the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, hence, He Who laid down His own life for our salvation inspired His own servants, like St. Paul, St. Barnabas and many more to be willing to lay down their lives and to suffer for the sake of the Lord and His people. Through their courage and determination, countless souls had been saved, and many had been brought to reconciliation with God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we commemorate this Good Shepherd Sunday, what we have just discussed earlier highlighted why we also mark the occasion of Vocation Sunday today. That is because while we remember the Lord, our Good Shepherd in all that He had done for us, we must not forget that He has called all of us to follow Him, and for all of us to embrace our respective calling in life and dedicate ourselves, in whichever capacity and ability we are able to commit, to embrace a good Christian vocation in life. And we must not think or misunderstand that vocation means only vocations to priesthood only.
That is because there are many vocations for us as Christians in the Church. Most prominent indeed are those whom God had called to serve Him wholeheartedly and completely as those who embrace the call to the priesthood as well as religious life. They have been called to serve the Lord and His people, following in the footsteps of the Apostles, in continuing their works of evangelisation and in ministering to the people of God. However, this does not mean that all the others who have not followed this same path then do not have any role to play in the works of the evangelisation or as part in the Lord’s mission entrusted to His Church.
On the contrary, as members of God’s Church, each and every one of us have very important roles to play, and the laity have immense role that all of them have to play and take part in faithfully and with commitment in order to make sure that the Church’s efforts and its missions will be successful. The responsibility for evangelisation and spreading the Good News of God is not that of the priests and religious, or missionaries alone. All the faithful people of God share in the same mission, inspired by the Good Shepherd, Our Lord’s own examples, His love and dedication for us, His lost sheep, in gathering all of them to His loving embrace.
That is why, all of us have to live our lives worthily of the Lord and doing whatever we can to contribute to the mission of the Church in reaching out to the lost sheep of the Lord’s flock, all those who have not yet known the Lord and His salvation, and all those who have fallen astray in the path towards God. Each one of us can help one another, and even the priests and missionaries need the constant support from every members of the Church so that they may be able to do their works effectively. It is indeed not easy to be priests, especially in our world today, and we need to support the priests, our shepherds, that they may be inspired to follow the path of their predecessors, the Apostles and their successors, and the Lord Himself, the Good Shepherd.
That is why all of us have to pray for our priests, for more vocations to the priesthood. But at the same time, should any of us are called to the priesthood, then we should not ignore that call either. A most common thing in the Church is that we do not mind if others are called to the priesthood, but when some parents encounter the fact that it is their own children who are called to the priesthood, or religious life, or other vocations that are not according to what they wanted, they became defensive or even putting objections to that vocation or desire of their own children. It is truly hypocritical if we want others to embrace their vocation but not those in our own families. Yet, sadly, this is one of the main reason why it is truly difficult for some to embrace their vocation to priesthood and religious life.
Now, at the same time, we must also not forget to reflect on our vocation as married people, as those who have been called to a life in matrimonial bond and in growing up faithful Christian families. As mentioned, that is also a very important vocation, and one that cannot be ignored. For faithful and committed Christian families are truly the bedrock of the Church, and the first places where our children will learn about the faith. If our Christian families are not founded upon firm faith and the strong desire to serve and follow God, then sooner or later, not only that we may lose a lot of our children to indifference to their faith, to apostasy and more, but the whole entire Church community will also be negatively affected.
There are also of course those among us called to other purposes in life, even those who are called to remain single and devote themselves to the Lord. Many of them are not even members of any religious orders, but they dedicated themselves to a particular purpose or some missions to do things for the good of others, and to advance the cause of the Lord, to proclaim His Good News and more. Those are also wonderful vocations that each one of us, should we be called, have to embrace as well. We are all called to different purposes in life and we really should do our best to follow Him, and commit ourselves to God as best as we can.
Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Good Shepherd and Vocation Sunday, let us ask the Lord, our Good Shepherd, to guide us all and to give us the strength and courage so that we all can be faithful shepherds, role models and examples for one another in faith. Let our actions, words and deeds be inspiration at all times, and let more and more people come to believe in God through us. May each one of us devote more of our time and effort to follow our vocations in life, and may God, our loving Good Shepherd be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.