Homily of Bishop Donal McKeown for Vocations Sunday
“Ireland needs to hear a lot of good news – about human dignity and the fact that we called not just to rock today and to rot tomorrow; about a God who has faith in this world and who desires its healing; about a people of God who acknowledge the mistakes of the past and who can create communities which make credible the hope and healing that Jesus offers.” – Bishop McKeown
It is now three weeks since we celebrated the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Christians everywhere still seek to be disciples of that Jesus and to make sense of their lives in the context of the strange events of Jesus’ life. Each Sunday we have gathered to celebrate different aspects of his risen life. So I welcome you here this morning as we celebrate Mass on the 4th Sunday of the Easter Season. We are united with Christians everywhere who gather to be nourished by the Word of God and by the sacramental presence among us of his saving sacrifice. Today’s readings take the theme of Jesus the Good Shepherd and, not surprisingly, for many years it has been the day of prayer for Vocations.
Jesus invites us all to listen to his voice and to be led by him into union with God the Father. We begin our Mass by acknowledging some of those things that block our hearts to hearing Christ’s voice. We open ourselves and our past to the loving and healing forgiveness of the God who has come that we may have life to the full.
Back in 2005, on the death of Pope John Paul II, I remember hearing the late Cardinal Daly being interviewed on radio. He indicated how the ministry of Pope John Paul had been an enormous blessing. When he was pushed about the huge challenges that had faced the church in those 28 years, the Cardinal had a simple reply, “My only regret is that I am not a young priest again.” I was really struck by the energy of the Cardinal who was then 87 years old. Similarly, over the last five weeks, like many people I have felt excited by Pope Francis’ simple enthusiasm for ministry in the name of Je
So what do I – 45 years after I entered seminary as an enthusiastic teenager – hear from what we call the ‘Word of God’ about discipleship of this Jesus who says that he is a Good Shepherd to you and to me?
Firstly, our first two readings put the Gospel in context. Sometimes artistic representations of the Good Shepherd show a rather sweet and simpering version of Jesus with a little lamb. But the wisdom of the liturgy balances that temptation with other New Testament texts that speak of challenge, opposition and rejection as well as of victory.
The Acts of the Apostles was written to give confidence to the early church that God was working with and through them, despite opposition, death, internal divisions and failure by some of their members.
The second reading was from the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse. We heard reference to persecution and the victory of the Lamb over sin and pain, despite the reality of human weakness.
And then in the Gospel we heard Jesus saying that those who belong to him listen to his voice. That implies that there are others, who either cannot or will nor hear that voice.
Life can be very difficult. Hope can be hard to find in church and outside it. These writings from the first decades of the early church tell us that the need for trust in the midst of human failure is not a new thing. However, since the death and resurrection of Jesus, we believe that even the worst that human beings can do each other cannot destroy God’s dream for the world. The love of the Good Shepherd is revealed in his gift of hope in the face of crises.
Secondly, in the midst of the pain of being human, the New Testament tells us not merely to be passively hopeful but to be active people of courage. We live in a difficult time for church and for civic society. Our young people have never been so well educated. But too many of them struggle with mental health issues, addiction problems and lack of confidence in the future.
In that frightening context, the scriptures energise us with the image of Jesus is a shepherd
– Caring for each one for he knows them by name
– Seeking especially the lost and rejoicing – rather than being angry – when they are found.
– Prepared to give his life’s blood for the healing of all, whatever our past may have been.
In communion with the Good Shepherd and with one another, we are encouraged to face out into the pain of our society and to do so with the courage of Jesus.
Thirdly, the history of the Church shows that Jesus has always called shepherds to work in his name and in his image. Jesus still calls individuals to dedicate their lives, not to a doing a job but to being a living sacrament, an effective sign of Jesus. He did not protect his own time or close his heart to people because it was late or he was tired. Jesus prayed even when he was exhausted from the previous day’s work. The Good Shepherd did not merely stay with the pious, the uncomplicated and the socially acceptable. Speaking on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis used strong words. He said that priests should be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”…. as shepherds among your flock. He added that the so called vocations crisis would be overcome when there are shepherds who put out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus. That is the only model for pastoral ministry in Jesus’ name.
Ireland needs to hear a lot of good news
– about human dignity and the fact that we called not just to rock today and to rot tomorrow;
– about a God who has faith in this world and who desires its healing;
– about a people of God who acknowledge the mistakes of the past and who can create communities which make credible the hope and healing that Jesus offers.
Jesus still invites people to lay down their nets and become fishers of people. I am eternally grateful for those who lovingly shepherded me in discerning and living my own call. The real communities of disciples are those who help all the baptised to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd – and to respond with Jesus’ generosity, courage and fire in their heart.
Notes for Editors:
- This homily was delivered by Bishop Donal McKeown during broadcast of Mass for Vocations Sunday on RTÉ 1 Television on Sunday 21 April 2013.
- See www.vocations.ie for more information on vocations to diocesan priesthood in Ireland.
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