My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Each year, the 4th Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday since the Gospel always portrays in some way the theme of the Good Shepherd. For the past 56 years, the Holy Father has chosen this day as World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The theme for this year is “The courage to take a risk for God’s promise.” The promise of God for each and every one of us is eternal life. It is for this promise that the Lord Jesus died.
The incident of the rich young man who encountered Jesus along the way and asked Him what he must do to gain eternal life illustrates this promise. This is a story of a vocation that is refused. The young man was a good man, but he had too much. He was not willing and ready to give up what he had, give it to the poor and follow Jesus.
This same story has repeated itself throughout history. Young people, not that they are rich in materials goods, hold on to the values of the society in which they live; the value of personal freedom and self-fulfillment. It is never easy for someone to go against the grain, to give everything up and to follow a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
In this year’s message, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said, “The Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God in our freedom; it is not a ‘cage’ or a burden to be borne. On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking. He opens before our eyes the horizon of a greater sea and an abundant catch.”
Yes, the work of evangelization needs to be undertaken in complete freedom with the great desire to be fishers of men and women. The Apostles themselves for the most part were fishermen, and they clearly understood what Jesus told them. They immediately left their nets and followed Him because He called them. He would give them the greater catch, a more abundant catch than they have ever imagined. This is what awaits the Church today; an abundance of labor which will be rewarded if only the laborers, who are constantly few, put their minds to the task before them.
The vocational apostolate in our own diocese in Brooklyn and Queens is very much alive and has borne fruit over the years. It is so important, however, that all be involved in this apostolate. This is why several years ago I asked that each parish form a vocation committee because it was the Lord, Himself, who told us that we needed to pray for an abundance of vocations.
It is also important that we invite young people to consider discerning a priestly vocation. In his message, Pope Francis continues by saying, “Dear friends, it is not always easy to discern our vocation and to steer our life in the right direction. For this reason, there needs to be a renewed commitment on the part of the whole Church – priests, religious, pastoral workers and educators – to provide young people in particular with opportunities for listening and discernment.”
Discerning a vocation means to truly consider a vocation, taking time and making an effort to make sure that a desire that comes is not a false message. Rather, that the desire is one that comes from God, Himself, and one to which the person must respond to in a positive way. Otherwise, we can see a repetition of the rich young man who refuses the invitation of Jesus to “follow me.”
I ask you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to join me as we put out into the deep of the vocational apostolate to truly join in prayer dedicated to the Good Shepherd. The shepherd guides and guards his sheep. We too must guide and guard our young people, giving them the opportunity to hear the Lord’s call and respond to that call freely. It is so important in today’s world that we can reflect the courage and the strength of our young people to be the future of the Church that Christ has handed down to us.