4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday & World Day of Prayer for Vocations) 2023
When I was a newly ordained priest I was teaching the children in Sunday school about the 23rd Psalm. I told them that sheep weren't very smart and needed lots of guidance, and that a shepherd's job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals, and keep them from wandering off.
I then pointed to the children in the room and said that they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance. I extended my hands out in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows I said to the children, "If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?"
I was pretty sure that all the kids would point to me as the shepherd, but there was a brief moment of silence. Then a young girl spoke up and said, "Jesus! Jesus is the shepherd."
I was caught off guard and asked the girl, "Well then, who am I?" The girl thought for a moment and then replied with a shrug, "I guess you must be a sheep dog."
The Gospel today reminds us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and is willing to lay down his life for them.
As we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we are reminded of the deep love and care that God has for each one of us, and of the importance of supporting and encouraging those who are discerning a call to serve the Church.
But as we look around our diocese, we realize that we face a serious challenge. There is a serious lack of sheep dogs. Currently, there are 43 pastors serving 114 parishes in our diocese. In the next seven years, 15 pastors will reach retirement age, and we expect to have only seven new priests ordained in that time period.
This means that we will need more lay involvement in our parishes to keep them vibrant and thriving. This is where you come in. Each of you has a unique role to play in creating a vibrant and thriving faith community.
Like the sheepdogs, you can use your gifts and talents to care for and guide your fellow parishioners. You can serve as catechists, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and volunteers for various parish ministries.
You can pray for vocations and encourage young men and women to consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. You can also be an example of a living faith in your daily life, showing others the love and care of the Good Shepherd through your words and actions.
We all have a role to play to create a vibrant and thriving parish. We are all called to be shepherds and sheep dogs in our own way, caring for and guiding our fellow parishioners on the journey of faith.
May the Good Shepherd guide us all on this journey, and may we always follow his voice and trust in his loving care. Amen.