Christ’s sheep are marked by some specific characteristics.
“The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.
In his message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (which is celebrated each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter), Pope Benedict XVI observed, “Hope is the expectation of something positive in the future, yet at the same time it must sustain our present existence, which is often marked by dissatisfaction and failures … To have hope, therefore, is the equivalent of trusting in God who is faithful, who keeps the promises of the covenant.”
This sense of hope is at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel, which gives us the image of the Good Shepherd. John uses the image to illustrate the intimate way Christ knows each of us and how, like a faithful shepherd, he constantly watches over us and lifts us up.
Eternal life is the Good Shepherd’s gift. Through Jesus and because he has given his life for “his flock,” we have an abundance of life.
But this Gospel also includes an unspoken invitation for us: listen to the Shepherd’s voice.
Accepting the gift of “abundant life” means that we listen to and follow the direction of our Shepherd.
We can see this lived out in the preaching and witness of Peter and the other Apostles (in the First Reading and elsewhere) as they remind the people that God is calling them to do and be more in Christ Jesus.
It was through their service that the Holy Spirit blessed the Church with many new members. If we want to see the Church continue to grow in our time, we have to have the same obedience the Apostles did.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we ask God to bless the Church with an increase in men and women willing to serve the Kingdom as priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters.
But the Readings also remind us that each of us (and not only our pastors and religious) has a vocation to follow the example of the Shepherd and listen to his commands by building up the Church as we promote what Henri Nouwen has called the “three spiritual qualities of the resurrected life”: unity, intimacy, and integrity. “We are called to break through the boundaries of nationality, race, sexual orientation, age, and mental capacities and create a unity of love that allows the weakest among us to live well” (from The Road to Daybreak).
While we can (and should) take comfort in the Shepherd’s provident care and protection—and the gift of abundant life that he offers us—we can only say we truly know this Good Shepherd if we are willing to listen to his voice and follow his commands in our daily lives.
As we continue our Easter celebrations we would do well to remember the words of St Cyril of Alexandria: “The mark of Christ’s sheep is their willingness to hear and obey … People who hear God’s voice are known by him.”
How is the Good Shepherd calling you to share in his work of caring for the “flock” of the Church?
What do you do to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life? How often do you pray for priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters?
As we continue to celebrate this Easter Season, how are you living “the resurrected life”?
Words of Wisdom: “Commitment to mission is not something added on to the Christian life as a kind of decoration, but is instead an essential element of faith itself. A relationship with the Lord entails being sent out into the world as prophets of his word and witnesses of his love.”—Pope Francis, Message for the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, May 7, 2017.
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