On the 4th Sunday of Easter, the Gospel is always drawn from John 10, which is where Jesus speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd. This Sunday has therefore become known as Good Shepherd Sunday. 60 years ago, the Church decided that on this Sunday, it would be an opportune time for the faithful throughout the world to pray for vocations, especially for vocations to the priesthood in which the Lord provides shepherds for the Church.
As I consider this day this year, I note that yesterday (or today if you read this on Saturday) marked the 44th anniversary of my baptism. Why is this important? Because on the day of my baptism, the seed of my vocation was planted, as it is in each one of us. In its most basic form, we are all called to a vocation of holiness, to become saints one day. In His perfect plan for us, God has designed the unique way for that holiness to be lived out, which we call our particular vocation, the awareness of which continues to grow as we journey with the Lord. The discovery of one’s vocation, though, is not an isolated experience. It involves the entire Church supporting and praying for vocations, thus the command of the Lord: “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2) The prayers of the people of God directly assist in the discovery of how the Lord is calling us to follow Him.
It dawns on me this year that my discerning my vocation to the priesthood was assisted by you (and the entire Church) before you ever knew me, and before I ever thought about the possibility of responding to the invitation of the Lord to follow Him as a priest. The same can be said for all of us who have been ordained and are privileged to serve you here at the Cathedral. So I extend my deepest gratitude for those prayers! I think it also highlights the power of our prayers when we unite them with those of the rest of the Church. We never know how and when our prayers will be answered, but the Lord uses all of them in His perfect Providence to accomplish His holy will.
During this Eucharistic Year, and as I have committed to reflecting on the gift of the Eucharist more specifically during this Easter Season, there is an obvious connection to the Eucharist on Good Shepherd Sunday. Without the shepherds of the Church (bishops and priests) we do not have the Eucharist. Only a priest is able to celebrate Mass and feed us with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Add to that the sacraments of Penance, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and conferring Holy Orders. As a result, gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist and all of the sacraments necessarily requires gratitude for the priesthood. That gratitude is for the institution of the priesthood in general, but also gratitude for the individual priests who have been shepherds to us. I would therefore encourage you to spend some time today calling to mind those priests who have impacted your life. One of the great blessings of the priesthood is that despite the holiness of the individual priest, Christ still works through them. Not every priest we have known has always been a reflection of Christ, the Good Shepherd. Nevertheless, we can still thank God for using those priests to serve us. Just for your awareness, I share a partial list of the priests for whom I am praying in a particular way today for their role in my life.
Father Joseph Dineen – priest who baptized me; Father Don Knuffman – priest who heard my first confession; Father Pat Jakel – priest who distributed Holy Communion to me for the first time; Bishop Daniel Ryan – bishop who confirmed me; Archbishop George Lucas – bishop who ordained me a deacon; Bishop Thomas John Paprocki – bishop who ordained me (and who has been a good father and friend to me my entire priesthood); and Monsignor David Hoefler – my Pastor for two summers as a seminarian, my first Pastor as a new priest, and my closest friend in the priesthood who has been an example and support to me in so many ways.
May we all give thanks to God this day for those Good Shepherds in our lives, praying that the Lord will continue to bless those who are still living, and that through the mercy of God, those who have passed may rest in eternal peace.