The good flock of the Good Shepherd
Acts 4:8-12; 1Jn 3:1-2, Jn 10:11-18
I recently heard the interesting vocation story of a Filipina religious sister, a professed religious for over 30 years. She was about 8 years old when she witnessed the labor pains of her elder sister. The pains and shouts of her sister in labor that day caused her to make a silent vow never to get pregnant in life. Her childhood friend convinced her that she could avoid the pains of child-bearing if she got “married” to Jesus instead as a religious sister because, in her words, “Jesus will not make you pregnant like that!” Thus began her desire to become a religious.
Still dreading the prospect of painful child-birth, she entered the religious convent in her late teens. But on entering the convent her motive for the religious life changed and she started to love the life of prayer, silence, religious habits, apostolate, community, etc. After her first profession of vows, she said that her motive for being a consecrated sister changed radically and become Christ-centered. She now wanted to live like Jesus, to belong completely to Jesus, to imitate Jesus more closely, and to follow Him to the very end in poverty, chastity and obedience. She said that this last motive, the Christ-like motive, is what has sustained her all these years as a religious sister through all the ups and downs of the past years.
What is it that moves us to embrace a particular vocation in the Church? Do these motives become more Christ-like and Christ-centered over time? Our fears, likes, or preferences alone cannot sustain us in our vocations in life. What gives life and strength to our particular vocations is our being rooted in our fundamental vocation from baptism to be children of God, filled with the life of God and determined to act and become more and more like Jesus Christ, “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”(Rom 8:29)
St. John reminds us of this in today’s Second Reading, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” Our first calling is to grow into the image of Jesus Christ more and more, “We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” If the final revelation of Jesus in glory will find us as perfectly similar to Christ, then our fundamental vocation is to become the loving and trusting children of God who are being conformed more and more to Jesus Christ in and through our given vocations in life.
Today’s Gospel tells us what we are to imitate in Christ – His willingness to lay down His life for others. In the words of Jesus, “I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus Christ knows us very well – our good, bad and ugly. He knows our past, present and future, our strengths and weaknesses, and our joys and pains. Nothing that we do can surprise Him or dissuade Him from laying down His life for us, “I know mine and mine know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.” In addition, He does not sacrifice Himself reluctantly but freely, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.” No matter our knowledge or lack of knowledge about others, we cannot make excuses to sacrifice self for others.
As children of God today, our first vocation is not to the priesthood, religious life, married life, single consecrated life or any of that. Our first vocation is to be filled with the life of Jesus and to imitate Him, the Good Shepherd, by freely laying down our own lives for others just as He did. Our marriages, priesthood, religious lives and single consecrated lives are enlivened, energized and renewed to the extent that we see in all of these vocations concrete divine invitations to imitate the self-sacrificing goodness of Jesus the Good Shepherd more closely.
We need authentic Christian vocations in our world today, a world in which the idea of self-sacrificing love is almost lost and replaced by the drive to use others for one’s selfish purpose. The poor are exploited for financial gains. The infant in the womb is murdered so that we can face our careers and live as we want. Even their body parts are sold by organizations like Planned Parenthood as we all turn a blind eye. Women and children are abused and sold as sex slaves. The contraceptive culture prods spouses to use each other for pleasure. The mutual objectification of the person in our hookup culture only leaves individuals deeply wounded.
When we choose to use any person for our selfish needs, we lack the energy to give of ourselves to the others and we become confused about our deepest identity and vocation. We are unable to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, the only voice that leads us to life-giving waters and our true identity as God’s children. In short, we become conformed to this culture of death and share in its confusion and hopelessness when we lose the sense of our identity in Christ as God’s children called first and foremost to become more like Christ Jesus.
The Shepherd is good but the sheep appears to be content with being completely different from Him. When we fail to become more and more like the Good Shepherd and sacrifice ourselves for others, we never know who we truly and our particular vocations suffer and even end in pain and shame. In the words of John Paul the Great, “Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere gift of himself.”
The journey to becoming more like Christ in and through our specific vocations is the work of divine grace and human cooperation. The Third Eucharistic Prayer ends with this prayer,
“There (kingdom of God) we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.”
In the Incarnation of the Word, the Good Shepherd has freely taken on the very nature of the flock so that He can bestow on the flock that same goodness that is found in His heart alone, that self-sacrificing goodness that alone makes His flock more and more like the Him. In Holy Eucharist, Jesus makes present and effective His “laying down His own life for us.” His self-sacrifice has the power to mold us into His own image by the power of His life in us.
On our part, we can never practice self-sacrifice for the benefit of others without our readiness to imitate Jesus Christ closely to the very end. We seek to do the Christ-like thing, allowing the example of Christ to guide us in all things. We surrender our self-seeking and self-preserving attitudes to Him and beg for His own attitudes instead. We do all these for the Christ-like motive of love that moved Him, “This command I have received from my Father.”
Let us embrace our particular vocations with the help of Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, who imitated Christ Jesus so perfectly that she even went with Him to the Cross in humble faith and loving obedience to the salvific will of God for all humanity. She never wavered in her difficult and demanding vocation as Mother of our God and Redeemer and our Mother because she never ceased to imitate Jesus more closely as God’s beloved daughter.
The love that we experience in the Eucharist is never idle but moves us to the imitate Christ’s self-sacrifice, “The love of Christ impels us.” Our particular vocations will have life and energy when we too respond to this love and become more truly the good flock of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!