At a parish called Christ the Good Shepherd, a permanent deacon was in his office one Saturday evening, working on his homily for Sunday. Because it was getting late, he tried calling his wife on the office phone, wanting to tell her it would be awhile before he got home. The phone rang and rang and rang, but to his surprise, his wife didn’t answer it; when he tried again ten minutes later, however, she answered immediately. It turned out that the first time he had dialed a wrong number. On Monday morning, while working in the parish office, the deacon received an unexpected phone call from a man he didn’t know who asked, “Why did you call me on Saturday night?” It turned out this was the man whose number he had dialed by mistake. Upon realizing this, the deacon apologized for inconveniencing him, but to his shock, the man told him, “Well, it’s actually a good thing you did call. I was thinking about committing suicide, but I prayed, ‘Lord, if You don’t want me to do this, You need to help me and You need to give me a sign.” At that very moment the phone rang. I looked at the caller I.D. and it said ‘Christ the Good Shepherd,’ so I had the sign I requested—and now I just want to say thanks for saving my life” (Rev. John G. Hillier, Anecdotes & Scripture Notes, p. 157).
For those of us who believe in God’s loving care, this story is more than just an amazing coincidence; it’s a sign and a promise that the Lord is never far from us in our time of need. This story is also a reminder that Jesus can use us to reach out to those who suffer—even when we don’t realize it or directly intend it. As long as our hearts are open, Christ the Good Shepherd can make us His partners in ministering to His flock.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is unofficially known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”, because the Gospel passage on this day is always taken from chapter 10 of St. John’s Gospel, in which Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd—the One Who lays down His life for the sheep. Our Lord is uniquely deserving of this title—but Jesus, as part of God’s saving plan, graciously allows all His followers to assist Him in ministeringto the flock. St. John (1 John 3:1-2) tells us that we are God’s children—and so, those things important to our heavenly Father should also be important to us. This means, above everything else, the spread of the Gospel and the conversion of sinners, for the Lord desires that none be lost, but that everyone be saved. After receiving the Holy Spirit on the feast of Pentecost, St. Peter and the other apostles made this their highest priority; the story in the Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12) is just one example of how Peter used every opportunity he was given to preach boldly in the Name of Jesus. Every Christian should look for similar opportunities. We must not be like hired hands, who have no real commitment or love for the sheep, and who run away when the going gets tough.
Instead, we must be true disciples and followers of Jesus, willing to let God use us in whatever way He chooses for the glory of His Name and the well-being of His people.
The Church also observes today as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations—a reminder that every single one of us is called by God to minister to His people in some manner. This certainly includes being the best husband or wife, mother or father, employer or employee, teacher or student, pastor or parishioner, that we can be—praying for God’shelp and relying upon His grace in our efforts to change our world by bearing witness to Jesus. Above and beyond that, however, we must pray that all members of the Church—especially the young—seek the Lord’s guidance in discerning their vocation in life. We each have a mission in life, an essential role that no one else can fill, and doing our best to discover and fulfill it is the secret to finding a deep inner peace and happiness that this world cannot give. A major part of our unique mission, however, is using our influence and prayers to help others recognize and answer their calling from the Lord.
It’s no secret the Church is experiencing a shortage of priests, and also, to some extent, of deacons, religious brothers and sisters, and lay ministers. Is it the case that God is no longer calling sufficient numbers of people to be shepherds in His Church? No, that’s an impossibility—the Lord would never forsake us that way. Is it then the case that the people He’s calling aren’t listening or willing to respond to Him? That’s probably true, at least to some degree—but I think it’s also true many people, especially the young, simply haven’t been asked by anyone to consider a religious vocation. Our world is very loud and demanding and distracting, and with all life’s possibilities in the early 21st century, most people have a hard time hearing God’s voice, or even imagining He might be speaking to them. They need our help in hearing the Lord’s invitation; they need ourencouragement in considering the very possibility God might be calling them to serve others in His Church. Priests, deacons, and parish staff members can only do so much. You are the ones who best know your family members, relatives, friends, and fellow parishioners; you are the ones with the opportunity and credibility to say to someone, “You know, you might make a good priest or deacon or nun; you have so many talents and abilities to share—have you ever considered the possibility of a religious vocation?” Even if the particular person isn’t called in such a way, your willingness to raise the subject might be received as a compliment, and might very well be the encouragement needed for that person to begin seriously considering what the Lord is calling him or her to do.
Whether it’s helping someone first consider the possibility of some form of Church ministry by means of a simple question or compliment, or helping save someone’s life by means of a misdialed phone number, the Lord is able to use each one of us in the unfolding of His plan of salvation. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but He doesn’t intend to do all the work on His own; by virtue of our baptism, each one of us has a role to play in the mission of the Church. By being humble, prayerful, and open to God’s grace, we’ll discover our own unique calling; we’ll be given opportunities each day to answer this call, and be given the wisdom, courage, and strength we need to embrace it, while helping others do the same. The Lord wants us to live as faithful members of His flock, and our efforts to do so will please Him and prepare us for the joy of everlasting life.