“I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
I have heard many vocation stories and the story line is usually much the same. It goes something like this, “I had fame, success, power, money, boyfriend, girlfriend, great career, etc. and then Jesus came into my life and now I am living a life of poverty, chastity and obedience and serving God in the needy and less fortunate.” Thanks be to God for the grace to make such radical changes in our lives but are we not missing the point when the focus of our vocation story is on what we have to give up for the sake of Christ?
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” should impress on our hearts the deeper truth that He has not come to take what is ours but to give us what is truly His and His alone – eternal life – and all the good that this life brings. We experience the goodness of God in our vocations when we focus more on God’s offer to us of participation in divine goodness rather than on the sacrifices that Jesus is asking from us.
The focus of the Psalmist is not on what he does or gives up for the Lord-Shepherd but on what the Lord-Shepherd offers to him, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures He gives me repose; beside restful waters He leads me; He refreshes my soul.”
If Jesus Christ truly comes to give us eternal life and all that we need to embrace and grow in this life along with all the goodness found in this life, how then can we dispose ourselves to receive and experience the goodness of the Good Shepherd in our respective vocations?
First, we must begin to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd with the intention of obeying His words to us at any cost. The First Reading shows how the risen Christ speaks through St. Peter and empowers the words of this weak Apostle to sting the conscience of his audience and bring about their conversion, “They were cut to the heart… and asked, “What are we to do brothers?”
Jesus continues to speak to us today through His words in Scriptures, through the teaching Church and through our individual conscience, “The shepherd calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.” By listening to Jesus and the many ways that He speaks to us, we begin to recognize His voice and style of acting in all circumstances of our lives. How good our lives would be if we could recognize Jesus’ presence and His constant offer of abundant life to us in all moments of our lives?
Secondly, we must trust the Good Shepherd completely because He knows us very well and knows what is best for us and most satisfying to us, “The shepherd calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.” Jesus knows our past, present, and the future that He is leading us into. He is leading us to a place where He heals our past wounds, give us grace for the moment and hope for the future. By trusting in Jesus and surrendering our plans to Him, we open our hearts to experience the goodness of the Good Shepherd.
Thirdly, we must follow and imitate the Good Shepherd. St. Peter says in today’s Second Reading, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps.” In addition to His personal sanctity, the evil deeds of others never diminished the goodness of Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth…When He was insulted, He returned no insult. When He suffered, He did not threaten.” Nothing stops Jesus from offering Himself to the Father, “He handed Himself over to the one who judges justly.” Divine goodness floods our souls when our striving for holiness is so resolute that we do not let the evil of others lead us astray or distract us from offering ourselves completely to God.
Lastly, we must return constantly to the Good Shepherd when we fall into sin. The repentant crowd in today’s First Reading ask, “What are we to do brothers?” and Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” If we fall into sin, we return to Jesus Christ immediately in the Sacrament of Reconciliation without shame or pretense and allow Him to forgive us for ours sins, heal our wounded hearts, and strengthen our union with Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same St. Peter says in today’s Second Reading, “Return to the Shepherd and guardian of your soul.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate Vocations Sunday today, let us remind ourselves that we all have a vocation by virtue of baptism. Whatever our vocations in life, our fundamental Christian vocation is to unite ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, more completely and to participate in what is only Christ’s to give i.e. His divine life, holiness, virtues, worship of the Father, service to others, prayer, union with the Father by the Holy Spirit, life of complete surrender to the Father, mission and glory.
The focus of our Christian vocation cannot just be on what we do or sacrifice out of love for Christ. Jesus is not a “thief who has come to steal, slaughter and destroy.” But He has come to fill us with the goodness of His own divine life and to help us respond to it. In short, it is Jesus Christ and His fidelity to His vocation that makes our own vocation possible. We can only give ourselves to God and others simply because Jesus Christ has first given Himself to us and has come to us that we might have life and have it abundantly as we respond to His call to sacrifice.
We look to imitate Mother Mary who did not focus on what sacrifices that her vocation demanded but on the participation in divine goodness that Jesus offered to her. She shared her vocation story with her relative Elizabeth in these words, “He who is mighty has done great things for me… He has mercy on those who fear Him.” The goodness of the Good Shepherd was more than enough to strengthen her in the moments when the sacrifices were overwhelming.
In the Eucharist that we celebrate today, Jesus comes to us not to take from us what is ours but to give us what is truly His and His alone to give – eternal life and all the goodness contained therein. In the Eucharist He gives us an opportunity to unite with His own self-offering to the Father along with the sacrifices of our vocations. We thank Jesus for the grace to make the many sacrifices that He is calling us to make out of love for Him. But we cannot focus on these things that we give up for Him or hope to find our joy in them.
If we rather listen more attentively to Him, trust Him completely, follow and imitate Him more closely and return to Him always in our sins and struggles, we shall surely experience the goodness of the Good Shepherd in our lives no matter the sacrifices that He is demanding from us today in our vocations.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!