My brothers and sisters, each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter with its beautiful gospel of the “Good Shepherd”, the universal Church celebrates “World Day of Prayer for Vocations”. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has continued this important tradition of calling on Catholics throughout the world to pray on this day for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Because of our gospel theme of the “good shepherd”, it is natural for us to focus on the important role of priests and religious in the life of the community of believers.
On May 25th of this year, I will celebrate my 44thAnniversary as a priest. I am often asked the question, “Why did you become a priest!” My response down through the years has always begun with sharing the story of how I first sensed the call from God to serve in the priesthood through the example of the good religious sisters that taught me in grammar school. I remember as a young child admiring the joy and happiness that these wonderful women reflected in their lives. They were excellent educators but far more important they were women who obviously loved the Lord and felt called to do his work of bringing the good news of Jesus to their students.
My friends, at the heart of every vocation to the priesthood and religious life, is the call to bring the “good news” of Jesus to the world in which we live. Our gospel today presents us with the wonderful image of the good shepherd who was especially concerned about reaching out to find the lost sheep so that they could be brought safely back to the sheepfold.
In the gospels, Jesus reminds us that it is not those who are well who need a doctor but rather those who are in need of the healing art of a physician. And so it is for every priest and religious. While we are called to make sure that God’s Holy people are nourished by the Lord’s unfailing love and mercy in the sacraments of the Church, we are especially called to be attentive to those who are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. A priest or religious in our Church today is particularly attentive to those have wandered far from the love of Christ and are in need of hearing, through us, the Lord calling them back to friendship with him.
One of the greatest joys in my life is to experience renewed hope and joy in those who have been far from the Lord and perhaps through a good confession, or return to the active practice of their faith when their marriages have been blessed, once again experience the living presence of Christ in their lives.
Jesus reminds us in the gospels that “the harvest is rich but laborers are few…” We are all aware that as our Catholic communities continue to grow in numbers we often have an insufficient number of priests and religious to serve the many needs of God’s holy people. This is particularly true within our own ever-growing Diocese of Orange. It is said that the first seminary is the family. For it is within the family that a young person first comes to know the presence of God through the gift of loving parents and comes to understand the Lord’s call to service of our sisters and brothers. It is for this reason that I especially appeal to all families to nurture a positive environment in your homes for a possible vocation to the priesthood and religious life to grow. Do you speak positively about priests and religious in your homes? If you see that you son or daughter is serious about growing in their friendship with Jesus, have you ever mentioned the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood or Religious life to them? In your daily prayer at home, do you add a frequent intention for an increase of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life?
My sisters and brothers, St. John in his first letter, that we have heard today, speaks of the love that the Father has bestowed on us in being called children of God. The family of the Church needs good and holy priests and religious to guide and shepherd the flock of Christ. May we continue to pray for an increase of vocations as well as offer sincere prayer for all those who labor, particularly in challenging circumstances, to bring the good news of Christ to our world. Who knows, there could very well be a future priest, religious or even bishop reading these reflections today who could benefit from our encouragement, love and prayers!