When Jesus scanned the countryside looking for an image to help people understand God, he spotted sheep and lambs in their pastures. Among them stood men with staffs in their hands and with folded-up tents nearby.
Care of the sheep was the single focus of the shepherds’ days and nights. Finding more pasture with grass and herbs, finding a reliable source of clean water, watching out for stray wolves and wild dogs, disentangling the lamb that gets caught in the fences and shrubs or picking out the one that falls into a hole in the ground — these are the concerns of a shepherd.
It’s understandable, then, that on the Sunday when the Gospel is all about the “Good Shepherd” that the Church asks us to put priesthood and religious life at the heart of our thoughts and prayers.
Life as a priest or religious sister or brother has two dimensions that are inseparable. First, like a shepherd, a priest or religious puts the people in their care first and above their own needs. Secondly, it is through this very commitment of service and prayer that the priest or religious finds Christ for themselves and are themselves shepherded by the Lord to eternal happiness with him.
Writing about Vocations Sunday in 2020, Pope Francis writes:
‘Taking the right course is not something we do on our own, nor does it depend solely on the road we choose to travel. How we find fulfilment in life is more than a decision we make as isolated individuals; above all else, it is a response to a call from on high.’Full text here of Pope Francis Message for World Day for Vocations, 2020
A priest is entrusted with the spiritual and pastoral care of people and communities, with helping people come to know Jesus as a true shepherd, with leading people in the way of truth and eternal life. All the while, he deepens his own relationship with the Lord on whom he also depends.
Prayer of those discerning their path in life
God, I know you know me and care for me.
Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the thoughts of my future.
Help me to listen to you, in all the ways you speak to me:
through prayer and the scriptures,
through the Church and the circumstances of my life,
through those who love and care for me,
and through my own hopes and desires.
Guide me to search openly and learn about life’s choices,
so that I may respond generously to your call,
and choose the vocation and career
that will enable me to love wholeheartedly,
and serve others with the special gifts you have given me.
God, today, I thank you for your love
and for all things, Amen.