Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. The image of the shepherd as the one who shepherds the flock, the people of Israel, is one of the themes of the Old Testament. In the gospel Jesus says that he is the good shepherd. Hired hands might do a good job when things are going well, they will look after the sheep and take them to fresh pastures, but they do not own the sheep, and so will run away when life becomes difficult.
As the Good Shepherd, the one who really loves his sheep and does his best to look after them, will be ready to even lay down his own life for his sheep. This is certainly an image of Jesus who is ready to die on the cross in order to continue in his mission of revealing the Father to us, his flock.
The shepherd invites us into a personal relationship with him. For the shepherd, we are not simply a flock of sheep running around, he knows each one of his sheep by name. He gently invites his sheep to follow him into new feeding grounds, and the sheep recognise him and follow him. The Good Shepherd is the model for all those who have a role to shepherd others as parents, teachers or as spiritual leaders. The challenge for us all, regardless of our call in life, is to be ready to lay down our lives for those under our care, in the example of the Shepherd.
This Sunday the Church celebrates Vocation Sunday. In the 1925 almanac Joseph De Piro published an article, talking about parents and vocations.
Parents and Vocations
This article is not meant for parents who think that it is shameful for one of their sons or daughters to become a missionary. Rather, I address parents who lead a life rooted in faith and full of evangelical love. These parents sanctify the days of the week with work and with living out the Christian virtues, and imbue the childhood years of their children with faith, to obtain every blessing from heaven. Often they are blessed with one of their sons or daughters being called to follow the Divine Master more closely.
These parents consider it a great honour that God, in his mercy, chooses a member of their family for his service. This is true because the privilege to serve God and to live in his abode, is much greater than any service in the king’s court or in his army. It is more glorious to serve God than to serve one’s own country. St Jerome says that the service of God gives rise to an intimate union between the family and Jesus Christ himself.
People who become members of God’s household, become like channels of grace between the family and God. God gives a supernatural value to any type of bond that they have with other persons. Although missionaries live far from their parents and siblings, their love towards them is kept alive and pure. Missionaries often think of their loved ones and pray that they may receive many heavenly blessings.
We ought to see this from a faith perspective. The call to follow Jesus Christ, especially in the mission field, rather than being solely beneficial to the individual, is also of benefit to the whole family. The one chosen by God represents the whole family in God’s house. The family, in a way, shares in the missionary’s ministry and prayers and in all the good that he or she does.
This a common reality in the lives of saints. Our experience is that families, especially those that have a son or daughter in Religious Life, receive many more graces. God gives them the gift to be faithful to him, to serve and love him, to pray and to yearn for holiness. We often see that, through love, the families too become ‘religious,’ even though they do not wear a religious habit. They too share in the hundredfold promised to their son or daughter. True Christians and sincere Catholics are proud that their son, brother or sister, cousin, uncle or aunt, have been chosen by God for higher and better things, and have thus disappeared from the worldly scene.
If the call to follow Jesus Christ is a gift that belongs to the whole family, the latter, and not just one person, has the duty to safeguard it. It is a shared duty. The response to a vocation requires sacrifice from both sides. When a young man or woman leaves his or her parents and siblings to become a religious, the loved ones too have to be generous in their separation. They may be comforted to know that just as they share the merit of total detachment, they will also one day share in the prize promised to the missionary. (tr. C Sciberras mssp)