The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called the Sunday of the Good Shepherd, and it is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Our Lord the shepherd who wants to lead us to green pastures if we respond to his call.
St. Peter in today’s First Reading explains to his astounded listeners how they can approach and enter into Jesus’s flock: through faith in Christ and Baptism. Peter has just concluded his discourse at Pentecost and given testimony to the Risen Christ as Savior to those who believe in him. Baptism is rightly called the “door which gives access to the other sacraments,” because it makes us members of Christ, incorporates us into the Church, and makes us share in his mission (cf. Catechism, 1213). It is thanks to Baptism that the Good Shepherd transforms us into his sheep makes us a part of his flock. Peter describes this invitation as a call by God to whomever the Lord wishes. The most fundamental call is to holiness, to repent and believe in Christ, in order to be forgiven and to receive the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the first step in leading a holy life. In this sense everyone has a vocation, and some, like Peter, the Apostles, and our pastors, are called to help us discover and answer the call as well.
In today’s Second Reading St. Peter reminds us that Christ is the shepherd and guardian of our souls and that we are called to follow him by imitating him as well as accepting his guidance and protection. As at Pentecost, Peter speaks of a call by our Lord, and in this reading he explains what we are called to do: to be patient in suffering for doing what is good, knowing that it is a source of grace and an imitation of Christ. The Lord doesn’t call us to do something that he hasn’t done himself. The Shepherd laid down his life for us, his sheep, and he gathers us back into his flock, no matter how we’ve gone astray. He didn’t hand himself over to evil men alone; he surrendered to His Heavenly Father and the Father did justice for him by raising him from the dead and opening the way to our salvation. Like the Apostles that fateful night of his betrayal, we too were scattered like sheep, but the shepherd and guardian of our souls has gathered together all those who seek his protection and care.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that the only way to satisfy the call to holiness in our souls is through him. The call to holiness is a call to recognize Our Lord as the path and source of holiness. Our Lord uses the image of sheep who are accustomed to the voice of its shepherd and frightened by the voice of anyone else. The call to holiness strikes a chord in us, and that chord will clash with anything not in tune with Our Lord. Temptation also makes an appeal in our hearts, and Our Lord teaches us today that it will rob us of something if we let it. It is the voice of a stranger and, as our parents always taught us, we don’t talk to strangers. However, in his teaching today Our Lord doesn’t identify with the shepherd or the gatekeeper of the sheepfold. He describes himself as the “gate” to the sheepfold. Our Lord is not the only one who wants his sheep; he’s just the one who has their best interests in mind. The flock in today’s Gospel is already gathered. It is only through Christ that they can be safe in the sheepfold or led to green pastures. Our pastors are charged to shepherd the sheep, but they can only do that through Christ. If they don’t remain united to Christ, part of his flock, they will lead their sheep astray.
Everyone is called to holiness, and Our Lord has put people in our lives who want to help us live up to that calling and fulfill it. He also teaches us to pray for workers to be sent to an abundant harvest. There is more work than there are workers. When we pray “for vocations” we pray especially for those discerning a vocation to the priesthood or the consecrated life. When we pray “for vocations” we also pray for the perseverance and holiness of those who have already undertaken the path to priesthood or consecrated life. The need for prayers doesn’t end at ordination or solemn consecration. Let’s pray for those who have responded to Our Lord’s call to work in his harvest. Lastly, let’s pray for everyone to simply seek and do the will of God in their lives. We all have a vocation to holiness, and holiness grows to the degree that we follow God’s will.
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36–41; Psalm 23:1–6; 1 Peter 2:20b–25; John 10:1–10.