When I was little, there were many children living near our house, and we spent lots of time playing together outside.
When it was time to eat, my dad would whistle for us to come home. My friends’ parents called their names, but my dad whistled for us, which I liked a lot. It was a very distinctive whistle, and we knew right away who was calling and what he wanted. Of course, the other kids would just keep on playing. We all knew that my dad was calling us, not them. They responded to their own parents’ call.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says it’s the same with his followers. He is the Good Shepherd, and we are sheep. When he calls his sheep, “the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” The sheep that don’t respond to his call apparently belong to someone else. And who we belong to matters. My dad didn’t just whistle for us, he and my mother provided for us and protected us and were there for us always, especially in times of adversity. Our home was a place of love where we felt safe and knew we belonged. Others might live in more expensive houses, but no one had a better home.
Have you heard Jesus’ call in your life? Today is Vocations Awareness Day, a day when the whole Church prays for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life. And then this happens also to be the weekend when we pray especially for hope and healing for those who have been impacted by the clergy sexual abuse scandals of the past. We pray for vocations, we pray for those who have been harmed by priests and ask for forgiveness from those who are victims, who hopefully can see how sincere we are about making sure these crimes never happen again. God calls us in many different ways, and he can use even bad things for his purposes — that is the mystery of the cross. He is certainly using this scandal to make the Church more humble and more transparent.
As for vocations, some prophets heard God call them by name, but most of us hear him more with the heart than with the ears, feeling a growing conviction and attraction to him, and finding healing in him.
Like I said, today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations when we ask God to show us what he wants each one of us to do with our lives and then give us the courage to respond. And while we focus on religious vocations, we remember that there would be no priests or religious if there were not also many people — indeed most people — called to the vocation of marriage and parenthood, which is so desperately needed in our world today.
Many of our social problems stem from the reality of absent fathers and poor parenting. My dad was always there for us, as was my mom, but that is not the case for many young people today — with the result that we have lots of young people who lack a solid foundation on which to build their lives. We see this whenever people try to figure out what to do with their lives without first asking, “What does God want me to do with my life?” There are perhaps some here today who have never really asked the Lord what their role is in his plan.
If so, you need to ask whether your heart belongs to someone or something other than Jesus. Who you belong to matters — now and in eternity. And Jesus doesn’t just call us, he provides for us and protects us and is there for us always, especially in times of adversity.
So in this Mass of Hope and Healing, we don’t only ask for forgiveness from those who have been hurt, we also commit ourselves to making sure that all are protected and provided for in the future, especially the most vulnerable among us. We need to continue to be vigilant. Good Shepherd Sunday is not just about praying for vocations. It is also about committing ourselves to protecting the innocent lambs in God’s flock.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily April 30.
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