Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Preparing for World Day of Prayer for Vocations: Good Shepherd Sunday

Be present to your family, O Lord, we pray, and graciously ensure those you have endowed with the grace of faith an eternal share in the Resurrection of your Only Begotten Son. Who lives and reigns with you.

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World Day of Prayer for Vocations

JESUS, SHEPHERD AND GUARDIAN OF SOULS [Texts: Acts 2:14, 36-41 [Psalm 23]; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10] Fourth Sunday of Easter ("A") – May 15, 2011

This Sunday is the Church's annual day to highlight the importance of prayer for vocations to the priesthood. As Catholics ponder Scriptures which tell of the rich sacramental life begun by Jesus, they offer prayers that God will abundantly bless them with priests to further His shepherding ministry in today's parishes.

In fostering vocations, the role of family—especially parents—is crucial. Speaking positively to their sons about the priesthood, encouraging children to be open to whatever God might ask of them in life and explicitly praying for priestly vocations in the church are some of the ways parents can help create the family climate in which seeds of priestly vocations might be nurtured.

In his first epistle, Peter tried to encourage his flock by explaining that suffering is the lot of Christians. “If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval”. In explaining this, he described Christ as an example for Christians to follow.

The Greek word for “example” literally means the pattern that a child traces over when learning to write. The notion of “following in His steps” develops this same motif. Christ's passion is the model. Christians trace His pattern, walk in His steps.

Drawing on the portrait of God's suffering servant in Isaiah 53, Peter developed an image of Jesus as the doctor whose wounds paradoxically bring healing (“by his wounds you have been healed”). In the sinful conduct of their former way of life, disciples had been “going astray like sheep”.

In the Christian community's preaching, both Jews and Greeks had been moved to repentance and to seeking a new direction for their lives. Peter's Pentecost sermon in Acts, which sums up the great themes of the fledgling church's belief system, stirred up self-reflection among the people (“what should we do?”)

The variety of answers offered may be summarized as a call for a total change of life-style. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Or put another way, the apostles pleaded with their hearers, “save yourselves from this corrupt generation”.

The Christian message was welcomed widely, first in Jerusalem, then in the countries surrounding the Holy Land and, ultimately, as far away as Asia Minor, to which First Peter was addressed.

Now Peter can declare that, in clinging to Christ and His ways, Christian disciples have discovered a wholesome and happier way of life than they had been living in the past. “You have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls”.

In speaking of Jesus Christ as shepherd and guardian, Peter indicated that this was the fulfilment of God's promise to shepherd Israel. Jesus Himself made similar claims in His controversial dialogues with the Pharisees after healing the man born blind (John 9:1-41).

We are told Jesus used a figure of speech to speak of himself as the “shepherd of the sheep” who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” to safe pasture. The Greek word translated as “figure of speech” renders a Hebrew word that can also mean “proverb” or “parable,” the word more commonly used of Jesus' teaching in images.

The general language and images found in proverbs suggest a multitude of meanings. So by telling his readers that Jesus used a figure of speech, the evangelist was inviting them to go below the surface level to find Jesus' meaning. For in claiming to fulfil God's promise to be the Good Shepherd of Israel, Jesus was also warning His followers not to trust the religious leaders. Though they thought of themselves as shepherds, they fit better the description of the thief, bandit and stranger.

Earlier, the gate was depicted as the means of authorized access to the sheepfold. Now the gate imagery, as Jesus applies it to Himself, stresses the effect of the gate on the sheep themselves. Serving as gate for the sheep, Jesus says that one's identity in God's sheepfold comes from a relationship with Him. Believers enter the fold and find life through Jesus. For, as Jesus noted, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly”.

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