Bill and Mary was a fine young couple who were very much in love with each other. Mary talked to her mother about Bill all the times. Her mother also liked Bill very much. He was a fine young man with all the qualities a woman would love to see in a man. Then one day Mary came home sad and confused. She told her mother, "Mom, I don't know what to do. Bill loves me. I love him. We want to marry each other. But the problem is, "He does not believe in God, and he insists that he does not want to have a Church wedding. He says, it's doesn't mean anything to him."
"Oh, honey! Do not worry about it. Bill is a fine young man. He said that because he did not know about our religion and how much it means to you. Why don't you do this? You are in the sale business. Use your skills. Tell him all the good things about the Catholic faith. Explain to him how wonderful it is. How much it means to you. Invite him to go to church with you and introduce him to our priest."
Mary followed her mother's advice. And surprisingly Bill agreed. They went to see the priest. Everything went so well. Bill began to go to church with Mary regularly. He and the priest became good friends. So good that he came over to see father regularly. They went out to dinner and to movies together. Mary was so pleased to see Bill that way.
Then several months latter, she came home very upset; she did not want to talk to any body, but went to her room, shut the door and cried. Her mother came in and asked, "What's the matter honey? Why are you so upset?"
"It's Bill." Mary said, "He isn't going to marry me!"
"Why?" her mother asked, "Doesn't he love you anymore?"
"That's not it," sniffed Mary. "We oversold him! Now he wants to become a priest."
Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. What vocations are we talking about or praying for today? According to the secular understanding, vocation means "A type of work that you feel you are suited to doing and to which you should give all your time and energy, or the feeling of suitability itself." According to the Church's understanding, vocation is a state of life that a person is called to live his or her life in following Christ. This state of life might be in the priesthood or in religious life. It might be in marriage or being single. Priests, sisters or brothers, married or single, we are called to be followers of Christ. Jesus came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly in him. Today is more than ever before, we need to pray and ask God to purify and strengthen all members of the Church so that we can live our Christian vocations faithfully. Reports of scandals in the Church keep popping up everyday. Divorce rate among Catholic marriages and families is not difference from the general population. The Diocesan Tribunal Office keeps receiving petitions for annulment everyday. Many single people are still wondering about the meaning of their lives. But our focus today is to pray for the vocation to the priesthood and religious life.
The numbers of Catholic population are increasing every year, but the numbers of priests and religious sisters and brothers are declining significantly. We need to pray for the increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Church. We ask you to pray for us, priests of the Church, to be dedicated and committed priests in our ministries, for religious brothers and sisters to be dedicated and committed brothers and sisters to their apostolic works. Today, the image of priesthood in the Church has been tarnished. The morale among the priests is trembling.
And it seems that the Scriptural image of sheep and shepherd is no longer appealing. Living in a democratic society, the image of sheep following shepherd is not appealing to us at all. Being a sheep means being weak, not very smart, needy, dependent and constantly in need of guidance and protection. People of our time are well educated, smart, better off and independent. We do not want to be followers. We do not want to be led or misled by anyone. We want to make decision for ourselves. We want freedom. We want our voices heard. The image of the shepherd is also not very convincing. We have seen so many leaders who turn out to be thieves. Many of our political leaders are working and making policies, not for the interests of the people or for the common good, but for the interests of their own parties based on their bi-partisan principles. Lobbyists of big companies and self-interest groups influence their policies. In the business world, for example, the Enron and Arthur Anderson companies, people on the top were acting for their personal gain that hurt so many of their employees. In the Church, we have been scandalized by sins and crimes committed by priests and bishops. Many people have been suffered by the bad and imprudent decisions of some of the Church's leaders because their primary concern is the reputation of the institution rather than the well being of the people.
So the image of the sheep is not appealing; and the image of the shepherd has been tarnished and damaged. What should we do? How can we reclaim the Scriptural image of the relationship between shepherd and sheep? We need to be prudent but not losing our trust. We need to discern but not become so suspicious. We need to be patient when we suffer for doing what is good. We need to hold on to our faith but not so blindly. Parents are often recommended to teach their children not to talk to strangers; run away from them if they act suspiciously. Do not take anything offered by a stranger. Do not get into the car with a stranger. These are good advices. There are so many shepherds out there. How can we tell who is good shepherd and who is not? There are so many voices constantly speaking to us and manipulating us every day, the voice from the right and the voice from the left, the voice of the liberals and the voice of the conservatives, the voice of commercials and the voice of the media, the voice of politicians and the voice of religious leaders. Which one is the voice of the good shepherd?
Jesus gives us some light in the Gospel's reading today. He says, "Whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep." And he is this gate. He says, "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly." We pray that all of our leaders in the Church enter through this Gate. There is no other gate. There is no other voice. If any leader, pope, cardinal, bishop, priest, parent, teacher, coach... does not enter through the Gate of Jesus Christ, does not echo the voice of Jesus Christ, does not reflect the gentle caring and loving attitude and behaviour of Jesus Christ, he or she is not a good shepherd.
St. Peter reaffirms this, "Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." And Peter emphasizes, "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins... Save yourself from this corrupt generation." Those who heard Peter realize they can no longer believe and act as they once did. In accepting Peter's message today, we too must make the changes in our lives that reflect the One whose rule we follow. We must let go of our former ways if we want to live out our Christian vocations. The credibility and the moral authority of the Church have been questioned not because the Church is bad or evil, but because leaders of the Church have overlooked their needs to repent and to conform their lives to their teaching and to the teaching of Christ. Out of concern for the well being of the people of God, Pope John Paul II has called the American Cardinals to Rome to discuss the problem of sexual abuses, which the American Catholic Church is facing. Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has unveiled plan to deal with sex abuse cases. The Cardinal says, "We have learned a lot and we apologize for the mistakes we've made."
Ultimately we pray that all members of the Church, especially the leaders of the Church have a firm conviction to confess, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want." We pray that more young men and women be inspired to give their lives in following Jesus and able to say, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want."