Good Shepherd Sunday is on the fourth Sunday in the Easter Season; this year Sunday 3 May. The fourth Sunday of Easter is also Vocations Sunday. Good Shepherd Sunday derives its name from the gospel reading for the day; the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, in which Christ is described as the ‘Good Shepherd’ who lays down his life for his sheep.
“I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” – The Good Shepherd, John 10: 9
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” – John 10: 14,15
Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm
At our baptism we all are anointed as ‘priest, prophet and king’. We are all called to holiness: that is, called to proclaim and witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus wherever
we are. We can live out this call in four different but equally valid ways: single life, priesthood, marriage and religious life.
On the fourth Sunday of Easter – this year Sunday 3 May – we reflect on the call to priesthood and the need for authentic leaders. It is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday because the Gospel reading each year comes from John 10, in which Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd (see Gospel reflection p 17).
Obviously, the Covid-19 lockdown period has meant much questioning of a priest’s role. Ordained to be a minister of Word and Sacrament but today without physical access to a community and deemed by government officials as ‘non-essential’, many priests have found creative ways to explore the ‘foothills’* with their parishioners, for example, Frs Ron Bennett, Patrick Bridgman, James Lyons and others. They have experienced eucharistic hunger but are being nourished by and are nourishing others with the Word. Taking on the ‘smell of the sheep’ with Cardinal John Dew, priests here are exercising their pastoral role, for example, Fr Maurice Carmody, in helping people find meaning in their current situation and engaging in the works of mercy.
Sadly, many priests in other parts of the world, perhaps confusing their identity with their role, have rushed to the ‘summit’ [Eucharist] alone [without the Eucharist as a community experience] and had a picnic at the top for all the world to see!
A reflection of priesthood
Fr James Lyons
To give and not to count the cost! St Francis of Assisi put these words as part of his beautiful prayer and I have pondered this as I’ve reflected on my own situation. St Francis quite literally stripped himself of everything to let his dream of following Christ become a reality. Has my dream cost me as much?
Yes, I said goodbye to my family when I entered the seminary and I put aside the possibility of marrying and becoming a parent. I denied myself a career that likely would bring financial security and the independence of adulthood to make my own decisions and mostly please myself.
The cost of all that did not register at first. The dream of priesthood was very appealing. I didn’t look back. What I had left behind struck me one day not long before my ordination. I started to reconsider my choice.
But the wonderful example of the priests who had served in my hometown – their presence and their love of the people, their availability and friendliness – told me they were happy and that the road they had taken was worthwhile.
That example alone is what spurred me on and I’m deeply grateful for it.
After more than 50 years as a priest, I readily admit my giving has cost me very little. I bought a great bargain! I remain close to my blood-family, yet enjoy the love, confidence and support of a much bigger family through lives grafted to mine through the people I have lived amongst. Joy and contentment far outweigh any sense of loss or disappointment.
My ability to love has not been compromised through lack of a family of my own; it has been expanded and enhanced. My mistakes have taught me and personal failures, while troubling, remind me that, no less than those I serve, I need understanding, compassion and forgiveness.
As a way through life, priesthood and the pastoral ministry that defines it, has fulfilled every need.
So, if you’re thinking of being a priest, just give yourself. Don’t worry about the cost. It’s minimal. In fact, as St Francis of Assisi discovered, it gets refunded over and over!
Fr James Lyons is a Wellington priest. His reflection on priesthood is one of several vocation stories and reflections on the vocations’ website: www.wellingtonpriests.org
Pope Francis Message World Day of Vocations
3 May 2020
Words of Vocation – excerpts from the Pope’s message
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On 4 August last year, the 160th anniversary of the death of the Curé of Ars, I wrote a letter to all those priests who daily devote their lives to the service of God’s people in response to the Lord’s call. On that occasion, I chose four key words – pain, gratitude, encouragement and praise – as a way of thanking priests and supporting their ministry.
I believe that today, on this 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, those words can be addressed to the whole people of God, against the backdrop of the Gospel passage that recounts for us the remarkable experience of Jesus and Peter during a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 14: 22-33).
Something similar takes place in the hearts of those who, called to follow the Teacher of Nazareth, have to undertake a crossing and abandon their own security to become the Lord’s disciples. The risk involved is real.
The Gospel, however, tells us that in the midst of this challenging journey we are not alone. Like the first ray of dawn in the heart of the night, the Lord comes walking on the troubled waters to join the disciples; he invites Peter to come to him on the waves, saves him when he sees him sinking and, once in the boat, makes the winds die down.
Taking the right course is not something we do on our own, nor does it depend solely on the road we choose to travel. How we find fulfilment in life is more than a decision we make as isolated individuals; above all else, it is a response to a call from on high.
Every vocation is born of that gaze of love with which the Lord came to meet us, perhaps even at a time when our boat was being battered by the storm. ‘Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call’ (Letter to Priests, 4 August 2019). We will succeed in discovering and embracing our vocation once we open our hearts in gratitude and perceive the passage of God in our lives.
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.