By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
THE WORDS OF the second reading at Mass today are some of the most bittersweet in all of St. John’s writings. How beautifully he reminds us to “see what love the Father has bestowed on us in letting us be called ‘children of God.’”
What a wonderful reminder of God’s love! And yet, he cautions too, that the world does not always believe in God’s love, nor acknowledge our status as His children. How bittersweet it is to think that there is such a love in which some choose not to participate.
The well-known poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” tells precisely of someone talking with the Lord and wondering why there were times of such loneliness. It had to be pointed out that at those moments when there were only one set of footprints in the sand, they were the prints of the Lord carrying him. How much easier the journey would have been had he known all along he was not alone. A Good Shepherd never leaves His sheep unattended.
In the somewhat controversial film, “Brokeback Mountain,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger as sheep herders hired by a rancher to care for his flock, there is a powerful scene where they wake and realize that they have been derelict in their duties and that the flock has suffered. Coyotes have killed at least one sheep and the rest have been scattered and mixed with other flocks.
As they are trying to sort things out, the rancher who hired them, played by Randy Quaid, is able to identify which sheep are his and which are not. To be able to look at all those sheep and not only distinguish one from the other, but also to know each as his own is a powerful metaphor for God’s love. God’s love, however, is only one part of the relationship; the sheep, to remain safe and cared for, have to follow the shepherd.
Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. A vocation, by definition (as per Dictionary.com) is “a divine call to God’s service or the Christian life; a function or station in life to which one is called by God.”
If that definition is true, then we all have a vocation. To deny that would be to see ourselves as other than God’s children, or to presume that the occasionally lone set of footprints were ours. If we accept the notion that the sheep’s willingness to obediently follow the shepherd is part of the whole picture, then what we are praying for is actually that we – all men and women – will open our hearts to God’s call, to hear what He is asking of us and discern how to respond.
Vocations are not only to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life, as important as they are in the Church. Marriage and the single life well lived are also responses to God’s call to demonstrate faith in action. The shortage we experience is not a shortage in vocations, but in response to the vocation that each of us has – the failure to see ourselves as children of God, living each day under His protection and care.
The sense of purposelessness which plagues so many in our world today, those who lead “lives of quiet desperation” as Henry David Thoreau called them, is not the byproduct of a meaningless life, but of the failure to reflect upon the meaning God’s love gives to all life.
The Good Shepherd calls all of His sheep because He loves them and wants to keep them safe, here and hereafter. To be happy and fulfilled, the sheep, for their part, must listen to the Shepherd’s voice and follow, not in blind obedience, but in trust of the Shepherd’s love.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday
Acts 4: 8-12
Psalm 118: 1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
1 John 3: 1-2
John 10: 11-18
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.