The 4th week of Easter is called Good Shepherd Sunday as the Gospel in each of the lectionary cycles focuses on Jesus as the Good Shepherd, found in chapter 10 of John’s Gospel. The images of sheep and shepherd offer an Easter message full of hope. We think of Jesus who can guide and protect us like a shepherd who protects his sheep. Today’s Gospel highlights the gift of eternal life given to the sheep, and establishes the connection between Jesus the Good Shepherd, and God the Father.
The second theme this Sunday is that today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations declared by Pope St. John Paul II, we pray in his words, for priests who are the pastors of the church, “Do not be afraid to open the doors to Christ….”
Jesus makes three statements in today’s Gospel. Firstly, he knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice. Just like the Palestinian shepherds in the time of Jesus knew all their sheep by name and the sheep recognized the voice of their shepherd, so Jesus knows us all individually, our faults, our needs and our merits. He loves us as we are, despite our limitations and only asks us to return his love by keeping his words. Jesus speaks to us at every Mass, through our pastors, through our parents, through our children, friends and through the events in our lives.
The second statement is that he gives eternal life to us, his sheep. Through our Baptism we start our faith journey, strengthened at our Confirmation. He supplies food for our souls in the Holy Eucharist and through his Divine Words in the Holy Bible. The Sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony strengthen us in our quest for Holiness. The third statement is that Jesus protects his sheep, he places us in the loving hands of the Father and no one can snatch us away as long as we seek his protection and guidance.
It is a message of comfort and as parents we are challenged to be good shepherds to those who we are entrusted to take care of. Often it is within the context of the family where vocations are nurtured. Because of this, parents will always be the first and most important teachers of the faith to their children. Try this week to make time for family prayers, pray before meals or before going to bed, make the sign of the cross as you start a journey in the car, try to make them a regular habit. By doing this we are responding to Jesus’ declaration of the Good Shepherd and are also sowing the seeds of those vocations which are needed to minister to the spiritual needs of the next generation.