Sunday, 30 April 2023 : Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday and Vocation Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in the season of Easter, the Church celebrates together the occasion known as the Good Shepherd Sunday, or also known as Vocation Sunday, due to the readings today, which highlighted the Lord as our Good Shepherd, and all of us being the sheep of His flock. The Lord is indeed our Good Shepherd, as the One Who has come into our midst, embracing us all with His most generous love and compassion, to gather all of us into His one flock so that none of us will be lost again to damnation because of our many sins and wickedness. As our Good Shepherd, the Lord has always loved each and every one of us, and we are reminded today of this great love that He has always given us, even when we have constantly disobeyed Him and disregarded His love and kindness.

In our first reading this Sunday, all of us heard from the Acts of the Apostles of the works of the Apostles and disciples of the Lord led by St. Peter the Apostle in their first ever evangelising mission as the Church, right on the day of the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended down upon the disciples of the Lord gathered in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit strengthened and invigorated the Lord’s disciples, all of whom had been hiding before that in fear of persecution and oppression by the chief priests and all those who opposed the Lord and His teachings. They went forth out from their hiding places and began to proclaim about the Risen Lord, the Crucified Messiah, through Whom everyone had received the sure hope and assurance of eternal life because of everything that He had done, in obeying perfectly the will of His heavenly Father, and in offering Himself as the perfect and worthy offering for the salvation of everyone’s souls.

Those Apostles and disciples of the Lord spoke courageously, without fear and with determination, reaching out to all the people who were then assembled in Jerusalem for the Pentecost, explaining about the Lord and His teachings to them, and thanks to the great courage and the wisdom that the Lord had passed to them, as we heard in our first reading today, a total of three thousand people at least gave themselves to be baptised and henceforth became the earliest members of the Christian Church, together with the Lord’s Apostles and disciples. This was why Pentecost Sunday is also celebrated as the ‘birthday’ of the Church as it was on that day, that the Church began to manifest itself to the whole world, as the tangible Body of Christ, the Communion of all those who believe in God and follow Him wholeheartedly, belonging to this same community, and this same flock that the Lord has assembled.

The Apostles and the other disciples were indeed shepherds, called and chosen, and made to be shepherds in the image of the Good Shepherd, the Lord Himself. They were called to follow in the examples of the Good Shepherd, in caring for the well-being of the Lord’s flock, all of the sheep that has been lost and scattered away from the Shepherd and His flock. Those three thousand who were baptised that day at Pentecost were the lost sheep that had been found, and had been led to return to the one flock of the Lord. This is what we are all reminded of this day, of the Church which we are part of, being the flock of the Lord and all of us His beloved sheep, whom He had called and gathered from among the nations, through His servants, His disciples and their successors, especially all those who have been appointed as shepherds responsible in taking care of the sheep of the Lord’s flock.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard then of the reading which gave this Sunday its name, as the Good Shepherd Sunday. We heard the Lord telling the people about the sheep in a flock and their shepherd. He told them about how the shepherd knew his sheep and vice versa, and the sheep will not respond to a robber or thief. This means that all those who have kept their faith and belonged to the Lord, they will not respond to the falsehoods and the wayward things of this world, and they will only respond to the Lord, their one and only Shepherd. The Lord also told the people and His disciples that He is the Gate of the sheep, and therefore the only way for one to enter into the flock is through Him and not through others. This in fact is a revelation and premonition of what He Himself would do as our Good Shepherd, in enduring the sufferings of the world so that by His suffering and death, He might rescue us from our own destruction.

This is related to another passage regarding the Good Shepherd which the Lord Himself told His disciples, in which He said that ‘The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep’ and this is a reminder that all of us, the sheep of the Lord’s flock, has been gathered by Him from all over the whole world, called by Him and He has willingly embraced us with His great love because all of us are precious to Him, without exception. All of us have been separated from the Lord because of our disobedience which led us into sin, and because of sin, we have been sundered from God and His love and grace. Yet, our Lord, as our Good Shepherd cares for each one of us, and to that extent, He went all the way to look out for us, finding us amongst the dark crannies and nooks of this world, especially those among us who have been ostracised and rejected, cast aside and lost in the darkest corners and parts of the world.

He went forth looking for all of His lost sheep, and went between us and the Enemy, who have waited and was ever ready to strike us down through our sins and wickedness, dragging us with him into the eternal darkness and damnation. Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Good Shepherd therefore suffered for us, just as St. Peter had mentioned in one of his Epistles that we heard as our second reading today. We are reminded of everything that the Lord had experienced and endured because of His love for us and His desire to see us freed and liberated from the bondage and tyranny of sin and death. He took up His Cross, was tortured and endured the worst of humiliations and punishments, all so that we do not have to suffer all those punishments due for our own mistakes and faults, and through His wounds and pain, we have been healed of our own wounds and stripes.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we focus our attention on the Lord, our Good Shepherd this Sunday, on everything that He has done for us, remembering the sacrifice and the hardships that He had gone through in order to reach out to us and find us, His lost sheep, let us all therefore do our part as members of the Christian faithful, the flock of the Lord, first of all to remain truly faithful to our Lord, to His Law and commandments. Though all of us have been saved and brought together by the Lord into His Church, to become part of His flock, but it does not mean that we can be idle and ignorant of our calling as Christians to be missionary and evangelising in our lives, and to always be vigilant and careful in our lives so that we do not end up falling again and again into the path of sin.

That is because although we have indeed become part of the Church and become a member of God’s flock, but as long as we still remain in this world, we are still susceptible to the temptations and pressures to commit sin against God. The devil is still busy trying to lure us away from the Lord, through his various temptations and efforts, through various means such that we end up falling deeper and deeper into the wrong paths. That is why, all of us are reminded to keep our faith in the Lord strongly and resist the many temptations and coercions all around us, trying to lead us astray and pull us away from the salvation in God through His Church, His one flock of the faithful. That is why, as we recall our identity as Christians, each one of us are reminded that we have to do our part in maintaining the unity in the Church, in doing the will of God and in living our lives worthily of the Lord.

Each and every one of us should also help and take part in the works of the Church, and pray for all those whom God had called to be shepherds like Him, those whom He has entrusted with the daily care of His flock, namely our priests, bishops and all others who have been entrusted with the role of shepherds in our community. That is why this Sunday is also known as the Vocation Sunday, in reminding us in particular of those who have been called especially to the vocation of priesthood and dedicated themselves fully to the Lord, to the care of the Church and the Lord’s flock. Being a priest requires not just a lot of dedication and efforts, but also a great perseverance and courage, and the constant ability to resist the many temptations and things that are always threatening to pull them away from their path.

The devil, our great Enemy and all those who seek our destruction know this all too well, and that is why, the harder they have tried, are trying and will try to destroy our shepherds. That is because if they strike at the shepherd, and manage to destroy the shepherd, the sheep may end up getting scattered and lost, and it is then easier for the enemies of the faithful to strike at them and leading us into our downfall with them. On the other hand, if we remain strong in our solidarity and support for our priests and all the shepherds that the Lord had given us, then as one strong and committed body of disciples and followers of the Lord, there will barely be any means or avenue for those wicked ones to come and strike at us. Our Pope, bishops and priests all need our support and prayers, as their roles as our shepherds and guides are truly a very challenging one.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, first of all we pray for more vocations among us all for those who are called to the priesthood, that those who have been called may grow more discerning to consider and discern carefully the Lord’s calling for them. However, not only that, we also pray for those whose family members and relatives have been called as well, as it is often that the biggest obstacles to the vocation of priesthood and also consecrated life, is the opposition from our family members and those who are close to us. Let us all pray that each one of us can understand better what it means for each and every one of us to have our own vocations in life, and that some among us can indeed be called to serve the Lord in the way of being priests and religious, dedicating their lives wholly to the Lord and to the service of the people of God.

But let us also not forget that each and every one of us amongst the laity, all of us also have our own responsibilities and obligations as members of the Church, and it does not mean that the laity is any less important than the members of the clergy. Each and every parts of the Church are important as without the laity or those in the presbyterate, the works of the Church cannot be fully completed and carried out. All of us have our own calling and vocation in life, and that is why, although we focus our attention and prayer to support our priests and those who have dedicated their lives to the Lord, at the same time we cannot ignore or put aside the role that the laity has in the works and mission of the Church. This Vocation Sunday is a reminder for all of us to embrace our various respective vocations and mission in life, to do what the Lord has called on us to do with the gifts and blessings that He has granted us.

May the Risen Lord, Our Good Shepherd and guide, continue to be with us and guide us all, strengthen and encourage us with the power and strength needed for us to endure through the challenges and trials that we may have to face amidst our lives as Christians in this world today. Let us all be good role models for one another, and be good sources of inspiration that through our role model and examples, many more people may come to believe in the Lord through us. Let us all do our part, in our respective vocation and calling in life, to glorify the Lord by our lives, in each and every one of our works and dealings. Amen.

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