Jesus, the Good Shepherd
Take a moment of silence
by Archbishop Timothy Dolan
IT WAS July 1992, and I was on a three-week study tour-pilgrimage in the Holy Land. In the middle of a long hike on a scorching day, we came across two shepherds, smoking and chatting in a patch of shade. Their two flocks were all mixed together, hundreds of sheep, lazily rambling the hillsides. The two shepherds were happy to see us, and we began to visit. We asked, through our guide, how the sheep, all jumbled together, would know their rightful shepherd when the time came to move on. The two herdsmen chuckled and rose to take the dare: Each one went to an opposite side of the path, shouted out an indecipherable yell, and began to walk away. Immediately, the sheep ran behind their proper shepherd. And the few stragglers were spotted right away by their vigilant leader and summoned to follow. It was clear: The sheep knew their shepherd, and the shepherd knew his sheep.
Ah, but the show was not over. Charged up by the attention of their audience, the shepherds said, "Watch this." They then exchanged their outer apparel. Once again, they each went to opposite sides of the path, gave their familiar call, and began to walk away. Without a pause, the sheep followed their proper shepherd, even though he had completely changed his outward appearance! The sheep knew their shepherd so well--his voice, his command, his walk--that they could not be deceived by a disguise.
Jesus said: ". . . The sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . . . he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice."
WE RECOGNIZE that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, continues to tend to his flock in a variety of very effective and tender ways. As Catholics, we also acknowledge that a unique way he shepherds his people is through his priests. In fact, we call our parish priests pastors, which is simply the Latin word for shepherd. For the past 30 years we have been praying ceaselessly for "an increase in vocations to the priesthood." Yet, at times it seems the Lord is ignoring our plea, as the data would indicate far too few are responding. The problem, of course, is hardly that Jesus is not calling; the problem is that we have wax in our ears. The problem is that we are not listening to his voice!
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, like those I met on the hillside of Galilee, gives us the most effective strategy in promoting vocations: We must come to know our shepherd so intimately, his voice so unmistakably, that we sense his call in our gut and follow him.
And I would propose that we best hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in silence. The Bible tells us that the language God prefers is silence, and the atmosphere God best works in is silence. "Be still and know that I am God," God whispers. "In quiet and confidence shall be thy strength," God encourages Isaiah.
Each of the seven years I was rector of the North American College in Rome, I had the pleasure of reading 50 or so autobiographies of the men entering. I soon discovered a common thread: Almost all of the men discerned the call to the priesthood in silence. It was often during quiet prayer before the Eucharist; sometimes during a retreat or another period of stillness; maybe during a time of quiet reflection after a pivotal experience or encounter. For some of them, it came in silence on a life-changing episode such as a pilgrimage, service project, or World Youth Day. Never did it come as a shout, as a yell, in a panic, or in a crowd. No, it came gently, softly, quietly, the voice of the Shepherd only to be discerned in silence.
And it came from a person to a person. These young candidates knew their shepherd so well they recognized his soft voice. They had come to know him through wonderful parents and families, vibrant parishes and communities, careful catechesis and uplifting liturgy, service to his neglected, and immersion in his Word, the support of friends and the joy of fellowship, and his Real Presence in the Eucharist and merciful forgiveness in penance. They had come to know this shepherd so well that when, in silence, he whispered, "Come, follow me as a priest," they recognized him and heard him.
Does it seem too simple? To promote vocations we best promote silence. To hear his voice we must be quiet. To let him talk, we stop talking. Our first vocation, then, is not to priesthood, marriage, religious life, lay ecclesial ministry, deaconate, the single state. No. Our primary vocation is to know Jesus, the Good Shepherd, so well, that when he whispers to us in silence, we will hear his voice and follow his call. Then, we'll have all the vocations we need.
--Most Rev. Timothy M. Dolan is the archbishop of New York.
Courtesy of Prepare the Word: Complete Preacher's Toolkit, © Prepare the Word
The biblical notion of call
By Father Donald Senior, C.P.
THE NOTION OF “CALL” is not peripheral to scripture but fundamental to the Bible’s understanding of human existence before God. Who can forget in the opening chapters of Mark and Matthew’s gospels those encounters by the Sea of Galilee? Fishermen, Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the sea; James, son of Zebedee and John his brother, sitting in their boat mending their nets—they have no inkling of what is about to happen to them, something that will change their lives forever. Jesus, walking by the water, calls to them, “Come, follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:16-20). They drop their nets and leave their father and his workers behind in the boat where they’d been sitting.
The Bible offers many other stories, like the story of Peter’s call renewed, which appears at the end of John’s gospel. It is perhaps the most exquisite story of all the New Testament. Deflated disciples fish listlessly. On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a figure appears with a charcoal fire burning—it is someone unknown but hauntingly familiar. He issues directions on where to fish, and the fishermen haul in an abundant catch, which prompts a heart-pounding recognition. Peter, knowing who awaits him, plunges into the sea and swims ashore.
Sharing a breakfast of bread and fish by the sea, the strain of joy and shame is about to burst within Peter. And then comes the moment of reconciliation: “Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?” Peter undergoes the threefold question in order to heal the breach of his threefold betrayal. Then Jesus invites him, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” Peter’s discipleship is restored; his call renewed.
In these and many other biblical stories where Jesus calls disciples we find certain fundamental qualities:
• They make abundantly clear that the life of discipleship begins not with a choice but with a call. Jesus’ authority and his alone is the source of that call. It comes unexpectedly and without warning.
• Most of the stories also make clear that the call is first and foremost a call to follow after Jesus. The focal point is the person of Christ. The disciples follow after Jesus, surely not ahead of him and not even alongside him. Jesus is out in front of his community; the disciples follow behind, often in confusion and fear.
• But there is something more in the content of the call. Jesus says, “I will make you fish for people.” The disciples who are called to follow Jesus will be plunged into the work of transforming Israel, of renewing the covenant community, of establishing the kingdom, of healing and exorcism and teaching just as Jesus was. And their destiny would be to encounter the withering power of alienation and death in Jerusalem just as he would.
• Most of all, the stories make clear, the disciples’ lives would never be the same. They leave their boats and their families and new allegiances would be required.
VOCATION in its most fundamental meaning is not defined by any specific role or function but is something far greater, something written on a vast canvas. It is pure gift, with God as its author and life as its subject. This call is not first and foremost to a particular role in life but more fundamentally to seek the face of God, a call to holiness and the fullness of life itself. This is the endpoint of the biblical quest: to see the face of God and live. It is for this that we are called, all of us as part of the human family and surely all of us as part of the church.
The biblical call stories remind us that responding to God’s vocation requires conversion and lifelong personal transformation. It is not by accident that the most pervasive biblical symbol for describing the life of faith is that of the journey. All of Israel’s history is cast as a long and often tortuous journey of faith: from the first stirrings of Abraham’s trek into the pastures of Canaan through the exodus from Egypt and the journey to the promised land and from the wrenching experience of exile to a muted and hope-filled return to the land of Judah.
And so, too, is the life and mission of Jesus cast as a long journey, beginning in the bursting energy of his ministry in Galilee and then the ominous and purposeful journey to Jerusalem where he would meet his destiny in death and resurrection. Response to God’s call is not an instantaneous or static reality but one that unfolds over time and one that must endure the rigors of the march to Jerusalem, a journey that often involves challenge, fatigue, and failure. Each one of us has received a call. Our biblical heritage gives us the means to understand that call and to respond in faith.
--Father Donald Senior, C.P. is president of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago,
a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and author of a number of books on scripture.
Courtesy of Prepare the Word: Complete Preacher's Toolkit, © Prepare the Word
Prayer for Discernment
God our Father,
You have a plan for each one of us,
You hold out to us a future full of hope.
Give us the wisdom of your Spirit
so that we can see the shape of your plan
in the gifts you have given us,
and in the circumstances of our daily lives.
Give us the freedom of your Spirit,
to seek you with all our hearts,
and to choose your will above all else.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.
DVC- Based on Jeremiah 29:11-13
Prayer of Thomas Merton
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
Nor do I really know myself.
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death
I will not fear for you are ever with me.
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
Prayer of St. Ignatius
Dearest Jesus teach me to be generous
Teach me to love and serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and to look for no reward,
Except that of knowing that I do your Holy Will.
Prayer to Our Lady for Vocations
Most holy Virgin, who without hesitation
offered yourself to the Almighty
for the carrying out of his plan of salvation,
pour trust into the hearts of young people
so that there may always be zealous pastors
who are able to guide the Christian people on the way of life,
and consecrated souls who may know how to witness,
in chastity, poverty, and obedience,
to the freeing presence of your risen Son.
Pope John Paul II, Message for Vocations Sunday 2001
Prayer for a Generous Heart
Father in Heaven, you have blessed us with many gifts.
You chose us before the world began,
To be your adopted sons and daughters,
And to live through love in your presence.
Give us wisdom and insight to know your purpose;
Give us courage to follow where your Spirit leads us,
Give us generosity to serve you in our brothers and sisters.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.
DVC - Based on Ephesians 1:3 ff.
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