Commentaries on the Readings: Acts 13:14,43-52, Revelation 7:9,14-17, John 10:27-30
[This Sunday, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” and “Vocations Sunday”, is normally devoted to praying that people may answer the call to dedicate their lives in a special way to the ministry of the Church community. The Gospel is always chosen from John chapter 10 where Jesus speaks of himself as the “good shepherd”.]
“I have made you a light for the nations, so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”
THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER IS COMMONLY KNOWN as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel is taken from Jesus’ teaching in John’s gospel about himself as the Good Shepherd. It is also known as Vocation Sunday because on this day we pray especially that more may answer the call to serve the Church in a special way, particularly as pastors and religious.
In his letters Paul speaks strongly of the unity of faith and love that binds all Christians together. Jesus at his Last Supper also prayed that all his followers be one.
This would be the most potent sign of his presence among us. “See those Christians, how much love they have for one another.”
But Paul also emphasises another important characteristic. Unity does not mean uniformity; it does not mean that all are exactly the same. We are not clones. Quite the opposite, in fact. He speaks of a huge variety in the Christian community. It is this variety that makes the unity so striking. This variety is based on the special gifts that each one has received. These gifts are called “charisms”. “Charism” comes from the Greek word charis () which means a gift or grace.
Like the human body
Paul compares the Christian community to the human body. The body consists of a large number of separate organs, external and internal. Each one has its own particular functions, which are totally different from others. So he says, “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?… As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’…” And “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now, you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.
The parts of the Christian body
But, in the body that is the Christian community, what are these parts? They are the charisms, they are the special gifts and abilities which have been given to each one by the Holy Spirit. There are no exceptions! And these gifts are given for just one purpose: to build up the whole body of the Christian community, the Church. They are not just for me, they are not even just to help me become a holy person.
Paul in his first letter to the Christians of Corinth lists some of the main charisms:
“In the Church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing?” (1 Cor 12:28-30).
What is my charism?
In our parish we might ask, “Are all priests? Are all sisters? Are all Scripture readers? Are all choir directors or choir members?” But we can also ask each one here: “What is your charism? What have you been given so that you can make a personal contribution to the life of this community?” Maybe it is as a parent forming children; maybe it is as a teacher educating young people not just to know mathematics and geography but to become constructive members of our society and Church; maybe it is as a civil servant, a policeman, a fireman, or a businessman, an engineer, or architect… The question is: how do you express your Christian faith through your daily work? How do you serve the Christian community by what you do?
All are called
Today is Vocation Sunday. The first thing we need to say on this day is that every single person here has a vocation, every single person here has been and is being called by God through the Holy Spirit to offer their special gifts to the rest of the community. What is your vocation? What is your special gift? What contribution are you making to the life of this parish – inside the Church and outside it?
Of course, today we are being asked to pray in a special way for particular types of vocations which are very necessary for the life of the Church. We need pastoral shepherds for our parish communities and we do not have enough. We need the special witness that religious give through lives of celibacy, poverty and obedience.
What we are praying for is not so much more vocations, because the Holy Spirit is surely calling those who are needed for the service of the Church. Rather we are praying that those who are being called will answer the call.
Praying for other people
At the same time, while we pray fervently for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and give generously to the collection for the seminary, there is a real danger that we are praying for other people’s vocations, for other parents generously to allow their children to enter the seminary of the convent.
No, Vocation Sunday is for all of us here. On the one hand, each one needs to reflect on what my particular calling is and how I can respond to it for the wellbeing of the whole parish community. Secondly, I need to help and not be an obstacle to others in responding to the particular calling or grace that God through his Spirit is giving them.
We sometimes talk about a “vocation crisis”. There is no vocation crisis in the sense that everyone has a vocation. There is no vocation crisis in that far more lay people are now being formed for pastoral service in the Church than was the case in even the relatively recent past. There is a crisis in that too many are not aware of their vocation or, if they are, they are not responding to it. Let us pray today that every one of us here will be sensitive to the guidance of the Spirit in our lives and that we may respond generously to the calls which he is making on us.
If we all actively responded to that call what a wonderful community we would be!