Vocation Sunday and 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 13:14.43-52; Rev 7L9. 14-17; Gospel of John 10:27-30
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 12 May 2019
In today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaimed to the crowds, “The sheep that belong to Me, listen to My Voice; I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life; and they will never be lost. . .” In proclaiming this, Jesus was encountering a Jewish crowd that were impatient and exasperated, and were demanding an answer from Him of whether He indeed is the Messiah.
Let us remember that in making such demands on Jesus, the Jewish authorities were fixed and unbending on their conventional pre-conceived expectations that the Messiah is to come in great power; more like a political leader with military might to free them from the miseries of the oppressive rule of the Romans and other authoritative powers.
As such, when Jesus during His pastoral ministries presents Himself as a “Humble- Suffering Servant of all servants. . . and also as a carpenter’s son of Joseph . . . even as Jesus spoke with much wisdom and performed many miracles, and showed much compassion on the poor, the sick, the demon possessed, the dying and most of all His unconditional Mercy towards sinners like the tax collectors and prostitutes, the Jewish authorities were too blinded and prejudiced to recognise Him as the Messiah. In the end they crucified Jesus for blasphemy when He proclaimed the Truth that He is the Son of God, the Messiah.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, today, we celebrate Good Shepherd or Vocation Sunday. Vocation Sunday celebrates not only the vocation to the priesthood and religious life, but also the vocation to the consecrated life of single-blessedness, and also the married vocation.
And as such, when Jesus in today’s Gospel says to the unbelieving Jewish crowd, “The sheep that belong to Me, listen to My Voice; I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life; and they will never be lost. . .” His Words are conversely inviting and challenging all of us to reflect on the ways we are living our life and faith daily. The basic question that we are invited to reflect on is, “Are our response and relationship to Jesus like the Jewish authorities? The fact that we are here attending the Mass, we could justifiably conclude, unlike the Jewish authorities, that our minds are not as prejudiced, our eyes not as blinded and our hearts not as hardened to the Truth that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
When Jesus proclaimed, “The sheep that belong to Me, listen to My Voice; I know them and they follow Me.” It is perhaps appropriate to ask ourselves, and reflect on this personally, “How much of this Truth describes my present daily living? In other words, as we call ourselves believers and disciples of Jesus, “Do we obey God’s Will willingly and happily, or do we find ourselves obeying God’s Will grudgingly?
My sisters and brothers in Christ, I think it is good to note that even before we ask ourselves whether we are indeed discerning and living God’s Will in our daily lives, it may be appropriate to ask ourselves a more basic question, “Does our daily living witness to the Gospel of Jesus?” In other words, “In our daily living, do we show basic respect, care, concern and compassion to our family, friends and even to others in general or are our concerns in our daily living primarily self-centred, disrespectful and uncaring?”
There is story of a group of friends going for a business trip together. They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night’s dinner. Due to the heavy traffic jam, they were all very late in their arrival at the airport . . . and as they were rushing through the airport terminal to their departure gate, one of them accidentally kicked over a table which held a display of apples.
The apples scattered everywhere; they were all shocked; they paused for a moment; realised that their plane is taking off soon; took a deep sigh and then continued running to their departure gate as they did not want to miss their flight. However, one of them, Tony said to the rest; all of you go ahead; I will catch up with you. The others being frantic, waved to Tony to join them, but Tony said, “No worries, you go ahead.”
When Tony was picking up the apples, he was very glad he stayed back because he realised that the salesgirl of the store is blind. This salesgirl, Diane was softly crying as she was helplessly groping for the apples on the floor. Seeing Tony helping Diane, other passengers too joined in to help pick the apples. In no time, all the apples were placed in the display boxes. Tony then helped Diane to arrange the apples on the trays.
When everything was done, before Tony left for the ticketing counter to buy a ticket for the next flight, Tony apologised to Diane and explained what had happened and why his fellow colleagues had to rush off so as not to miss their flight. Diane was deeply touched and not being a Christian, she asked, “Sir, are you Jesus?” These words pierced Tony’s heart and brought him much consolation, and he said to himself, “Missing the flight is the right thing to do. Thank You Lord for showing me Your Way of Caring and Loving.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, even before we ponder whether you and I are truly living God’s Will, or living the vocation that God has called us to or am calling us, let us first ask ourselves, “Do we have the basic care, concern and respect for the needs of others like Diane?” If we do, then we could say that like Tony, God is inviting us to a deeper and more personal relationship with Him and a greater challenge to continue to daily discern God the Father’s Will in our lives, whatever this may be, for you and for me.
However, if sadly, we unlike Tony, live an ego-centred, disrespectful and uncaring life, then we first need to beg God for a conversion of heart, before we even consider the deeper question of how to discern and live God’s calling in our lives.
There is a story of two battleships at sea in very heavy weather for several days. Because of the fog, visibility was very poor; so the captains remained fully alert and tense; all of a sudden, captain David of one ship noticed that in front of him was another ship that was sure to collide into his. He then immediately signalled the other ship, “please change course 20 degrees! Now! The instant reply was, “No, you change course, 20 degrees now!” Captain David was furious and frantic, as he was sure the collusion would take place in no time. He immediately sent out a threatening message, “This is a battleship! Change your course immediately!” Then back came the reply. “Change course battleship. This is a lighthouse!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe David could have changed the cause of his ship. However, being a powerful battleship, his ego-centeredness made him unflinching and demanded obedience. He then had to face the truth with humility that he has to change course or face the disastrous collusion. Likewise, if our attitudes in life is like those of David the captain of the ship, then our ego-centeredness and pride will be a big hindrance towards living and discerning God’s Will in our lives.
And if we are unwilling to change, then let us note that regardless of what vocation we are in, we can be sure that there will be no peace in our hearts and lives. In fact, in all probability, we will not only be unhappy and unfulfilled, we will also be the cause of much pain and anxieties to others, and even create disillusionment of what our vocation is meant to witness; whether it is the priesthood, religious or married vocation.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, there are two basic experiences in our lives: we either live a life of peace and better still fulfilment, or we live a life of anxiety and worse still emptiness; regardless of the vocation we are called to live.
None of us and no one is perfect; every human person is a sinner, except Mary the Mother of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. And, even with Mary, every human person has to make a fundamental decision in our lives of whether we truly want to obedient to God our Father’s Will or to reject His Will in our lives. In saying this, I am aware that many have opted for the third way; they have chosen the Father’s Will, but live in a lukewarm and half-hearted manner.
The constraints of time do not allow me to reflect on this third option. But, let us note that the “lukewarm and half-hearted” faith is the type of believer that drifts with the masses, and are absorbed very much by the materialistic and secular world. In such a faith, there is little commitment and should crises inflict on the person, they become very vulnerable to losing their faith. These believers are often those who get angry with God, blame the Church and condemn all the moral rules and teaching for not allowing them to live the faith in the way they wish.
However, as for those of us who choose to live the Father’s Will and Ways as much as we can and as sincerely as possible, even though we are sinners, we can be sure that to model our lives on Jesus, we are each called to embrace the challenges of the crosses that come our way. And, in our commitment to live the “listen to Jesus the Good Shepherd’s Voice,” we would then have to trust the Lord totally and unconditionally.
Obedience to God’s Will is like hearing God say to us, “There is the door a head of you, it is My Will that you enter the door and live your vocation as fully as you can. Do not worry, I will be with you and will give you all the graces and strength you need. My Spirit will guide you and you will never be alone regardless of whatever may happen to you or however heavy your crosses may be.”
My brothers and sisters, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that there are two basic responses to this call of God. We could reject the call or we could accept the call. The consequences of living outside God’s Will would be as mentioned: a life of anxiety and worse still emptiness. But, if we accept God’s Will, we can do so: grudgingly, willingly or wholeheartedly.
And if we have the wisdom to choose to accept and live God’s Will not only willingly but, wholeheartedly, then we can be assured that the abundant blessings, peace and joy that God will give us will be as Jesus promised, thirty fold, sixty fold or a hundredfold reward and harvest. The choice and our come is ours. What is the Holy Spirit saying to us today?
Ref: Adapted from: “More Sower’s Seeds; Second Planting, by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R.; Paulist Press; New York; Mahwah; 1992; pp.71-72.
Ref: Adapted from: Inspiration Christian Stories, “Apples”
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.