The Fourth Sunday of Easter is typically referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because of the Gospel for the day in which Jesus is portrayed as the shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him (John 10:27-30). He calls, they answer.
Because the theme of a calling (vocare in Latin) is foregrounded in this brief Gospel, this is also called “World Day for Vocations.” Often enough this commemoration is directed at those called to the ministerial priesthood and consecrated religious life, which in itself is a good thing. These are certainly significant ways of being in the world and legitimate vocations. However, the ministerial priesthood and consecrated religious life are not the only vocations that exist in the church and world.
If we take a look at the Gospel from which we get the notion that grounds this weekend’s theme, we would do well to recognize that there is only one shepherd: Jesus. He is the one who calls and the one after whom we follow. Those he calls are all sheep, are all part of the flock that has received a particular vocation from the one who knows us. The Gospel is not an invitation to think about a multi-tiered, class-based structure of vocations — as if some vocations are better than others. Instead, it’s a reminder that regardless of our state in life, regardless of whether we are called to marriage or consecrated religious life or single life or whatever, we are all equal members of the flock, each sheep known personally by the shepherd.
Today’s celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday and World Day for Vocations should not devolve into a narrowly focused elevation of ministerial priesthood and consecrated religious life, as good as those states of being nevertheless are. Instead, today should be a communal celebration of the dignity and value of every person’s call from Christ to serve the church and world in manifold ways.
May we each take time today to reflect on what the voice of the Good Shepherd has spoken to us about who we are and how we are called to live. May this also be a time for all of us sheep to celebrate the different vocations we have each received!