I remember going to my parents as a little boy to ask for a new thing like a shoe or bag. I always received the same answer, “What happened to your old shoe or bag?” I learned that I had to show that the old items had been carefully and well used before I could hope to get a new one.
I thought about this a few days ago as we celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday and prayed for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. As we beg God to send us many shepherds in His Church, we also need to pause and reflect on how faithful we have all been in our God-given vocation as shepherds who care for others and lead them to Christ. Are we even aware that, irrespective of our state of life, by virtue of the Holy Spirit within us, we are all called and gifted to be shepherds in the Good Shepherd?
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the one and only Good Shepherd, “lays down His life for His sheep.” We have the life of His Spirit in us too only because of Christ’s self-sacrifice, making us also shepherds to our other brothers and sisters in His name. This means we are constantly called to sacrifice something to provide their legitimate needs while leading them and pointing them to Jesus Christ alone as He Himself pointed to the Father alone as the source of His saving actions, “This is why my Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again…This command I have received from my Father.”(Jn 10:11,17-18)
By the power of this same Spirit, we have also become children of God, “Beloved: see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” “Children of God” is not just a name or a title, but it is a present reality that demands our growth into Christlikeness through Christ-like loving, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”(1Jn 3:1-2) So, we are indeed empowered and moved by the Spirit of the Good Shepherd in us to become more and more like the Good Shepherd in thought, word and action.
In Acts 4:8-12, St. Peter shows us what it means to be a true shepherd in the Good Shepherd.
First, Peter is “filed with the Holy Spirit.” He is thus divinely enlightened and equipped for the specific purpose of healing a particular crippled beggar. The Spirit reveals to him this particular man and inspires him to speak the right words for his healing. Notice that Peter did not heal all the crippled people in Jerusalem but only this particular beggar!
Second, Peter gave the beggar the healing that he needed more than any amount of money. He also did not heal by his own power but as a living instrument of the living Christ, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”(Acts 3:7)
Thirdly, Peter proclaimed Christ to all persons. He did not exalt himself but pointed to Jesus Christ and proclaimed Him as the Healer and only Savior, “It was in the name of Jesus Christ…In His name this man stands before you healed…There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
Wouldn’t we be dishonest to claim that we are faithful to our vocation to be shepherds in the Good Shepherd for our brothers and sisters? An unbridled individualism prevails today in all the states of life, i.e. a certain Its-all-about-me mentality that seeks self-fulfillment and security at all cost and ignores both the glory of God and the temporal and eternal good of souls in our charge.
Our marriages break up so easily without any regard to how the children are impacted. The faith is not being properly passed on from parents to children, partly because it has not been fully taught and presented in Church. Religious men and women abandon their commitments because they give into secular ideals and attitudes. Gravely scandalous examples abound unabetted in the priesthood. Clergy are more interested in being politically correct, accepted and relevant than on nourishing their flock with saving truth of Jesus Christ alone.
The hierarchy allows the spread of serious moral and doctrinal errors that confuse the faithful and leave them as easy prey to the devil, the flesh, and the world. Do we really care for the spiritual needs of others when we quickly close our Churches because of a pandemic but open them only to serve as centers for vaccination? In short, we have failed woefully in supporting and caring for each other as shepherds in Christ.
The list of our failures to be Christ-like shepherds to others is endless. The bottom line is this: we cannot get more priestly vocations simply by praying for them. In addition to our prayers for vocations, we must also rediscover and embrace our vocations to be shepherds in the Good Shepherd. How can we be praying for more priestly vocations when we are not fulfilling our vocation to be shepherds to one another in our homes, parishes, communities, workplace and Church? When He said, “To everyone who has more, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away,”(Lk 19:26) wasn’t Jesus warning us that we have to be faithful to the little things before we can hope for more better things?
No matter how far or how long we have abandoned our vocation to be shepherds in the Good Shepherd, today is a good day to begin again. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep very well and He knows our weakness, sinfulness and selfishness. He will surely forgive us and renew us in this vocation by the power of His Spirit if only we come to Him with truly humble and contrite hearts.
Jesus comes to us at ever Eucharist to communicate to us His own Spirit. Because “God does not ration His gift of the Spirit,”(Jn 3:34) this is the time for us to renew our calling as shepherds to all in the Good Shepherd. We can begin by allowing this Spirit of Jesus to fill us with His love and power and move us to grow in love for Jesus and for others by concrete acts of selfless love.
We can also allow this Spirit to reveal to us our gifts from God and the real needs in our families, communities, Church and world that we can attend to. We can attend to those needs as best as we can as instruments of the living Christ whom we encounter in this Eucharist.
Lastly, we can point to Jesus Christ alone as the Savior of the world and healer of our hearts. When we do all these and also pray fervently for vocations, God will surely hear and answer our prayers, sending us many vibrant and holy vocations.
But if we possess the Spirit of the Good Shepherd and still continue to ignore and reject our calling to be shepherds in the Good Shepherd, then we have no right to pray to God for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!