The Fourth Sunday of Eastertide is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday from the Gospel that is appointed for Mass. It is also day set aside to pray for vocations to the Priesthood and the Religious Life. I am however a little reluctant to ask you to pray for vocations. That might seem a strange things for a priest to say. We have been praying for vocations and there seems to be little response to our prayers or sometimes the ones that God chooses are not the most apparent. I remember saying to one of the old priests at seminary, 'Eeee Father, I bet when you were praying for vocations all those years ago I bet you never thought we would be the answer to your prayers.'
We have been praying for vocations but there is little response so either God is not listening or the people whom God is calling are not responding. I am confident that God is listening. So the problem must lie elsewhere.
There seems to be a general malaise about vocations. Why is that I wonder? Perhaps we need to look a little deeper at some current trends in order for us to answer the question.
The beginning of all vocation is baptism. Here I have to be honest with you. I have to pray especially hard at some baptism ceremonies that the grace of God will work overtime in the lives of those being baptised and their families because you know that the ceremony has very little to do with faith, very little to do with belonging to the Church, but entry into a Catholic School. Have the child baptised to get a certificate that can be stapled to an application form.
We are told that vocations come from families and therein lies another problem. Now we witness the break up of family life more than ever before. The family unit that we used to speak of is almost a thing of the past. Why is this? Could it be the lack of marriage that has something to do with it. Nowadays we have nice phrases to cover up the reality. We say people are living together, we speak of partners rather than husbands and wives. One of my seminary profs even said 'Oh yes today many people anticipate the Sacrament of Marriage.' These are nice phrases that skirt around the truth. At the risk of being lynched in the porch after Mass I will say it as it is. They are living in sin. There! I've said it!!! The truth makes us feel a little uncomfortable doesn't it. But it is only by facing up to the truth that we can hope to overcome the problem. The alcoholic will never recover until they say those words that begin every AA meeting. 'My name is xxxxx and I am an alcoholic. Facing up to the reality of the situation brings about a healing.
It is from families that vocations come. If we return to strong families then the vocations will come once again. But we also have to be generous ourselves. We need to plant the seeds of vocation within our own families. After all the son of Peter and Margaret Wadsworth is your Parish Priest. Why can't your sons be the someone else's Parish Priest or even succeed me here? We need to open ourselves up to the possibility that God may be calling a member of our own families to be a priest or a member of a religious community.
I remember one lady in my first parish being horrified when I suggested her 19 year old son might think about becoming a priest. She was even more horrified when I pointed out to her that without future vocations there may be no priest to get out of bed and celebrate the Last Sacraments with her. Or there maybe no priest to offer her Requiem Mass. Unless we seriously consider this there will be no future for the Church because the Church needs priests.Yes the Church is made up of laity and priests - but unless there are priests to celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Holy Mass then there is no Church.
A lot of what I have said today is hard hitting stuff and will make us feel uncomfortable, but they are the teachings given us by Christ our Good Shepherd and we cannot ignore them.
The image of Christ carrying a lamb on his shoulders, nursing the lost sheep, is a very comforting one. But there is also something very hard about this image. No doubt the life of a shepherd was a tough and quite dangerous one. The safety of his sheep might be brought at the risk of his own safety. And the good shepherd is the one who leads down the right pathway. There is one gate to the sheepfold, though there are many who would try and deceive the sheep.
There is something very un-modern about this. We try to be tolerant. We try to live and let live. We even try to give respect to the beliefs of others. All of this is good. But it is not good if it suggests that all beliefs are the same, all paths are just as valid, all roads lead to the same goal. Belief is not just a matter of choice or preference or taste or even upbringing. Life choices are not like preferences for food, or football teams, or holiday destinations. Some choices are right and some choices are wrong. Pray that we will have the grace to follow the path that Christ calls us to follow no matter how hard it may be at times.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday let us pray for an increase in vocations to marriage and to family life so that the future of the Church may be secured with many good and holy vocations. Amen