Homily for Good Shepherd – Vocation Sunday

My dear people of God, this Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is a Sunday in which we reflect on Christ as a good shepherd who does not abandon his sheep. On this Sunday too, we reflect on and promote the vocations to the consecrated life, (nuns and brothers who take the vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience), and to the priesthood, following the words of Jesus that, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest” (Lk 10:2).

In the Gospel of today, (Jn 10:27-30), Jesus Christ described himself as the Good Shepherd whose voice is recognised by his flock. He knows his flock and they follow him to eternal life. Characteristics of a good shepherd include that the flock can decipher his voice and that he is able to protect them. A story is told of raiders who raided some property and made away with lots of flock. When the police, through their investigations, uncovered the paddock where the stolen flock were hidden, they invited shepherds from the area who had reported their stolen flock. Each shepherd could separate his flock from the fold because each flock was able to identify the voice of their shepherd.

Jesus is our good shepherd and we are his flock; he loved us and cared for us to the point of shedding his blood for our justification. For “no greater love than this, that one lays down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jon 15:13). We are all invited to listen to Christ’s voice, and he will lead us to greener pastures.

As we reflect on vocations today, I wish to give a succinct account of my vocation to the religious – priestly life. The letter to the Hebrews had advised that no one should take the priestly honour upon oneself, “except one who has been chosen and called as Aaron was” (Heb 5:4). May I state that to me, a call to the religious and priestly life has been a privilege. I grew up as any other child of my time. I applied to join the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, (Spiritans), after my secondary education.

This journey to the religious – priestly life included nine years of seminary training which included a novitiate, studying philosophy and theology and a pastoral year. The novitiate was a year of prayer in which I learnt more about the life and work of the Spiritan Fathers and Brothers. What attracted me to the Spiritans was their simplicity of life, their ministry among the poor and marginalised people all over the world, and that they live in community. Like the community of the early Christians, their motto is “one heart and one soul”. During my formation years through spiritual direction, studies, pastoral experiences and advices from my formators, I was enabled to discern my call to the religious – missionary life. There were moments of doubt and struggle because we are merely the earthly wares that God has allowed to hold the treasure – “the surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2Cor 4:7).

Since my perpetual consecration as a religious in August 1993 and my ordination to the priesthood in July 1994, I have served in various ministries in Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and now Australia. I have found the ministry at times challenging but always fulfilling. It is the ordinary men and women who have been called and equipped by Christ to do extra-ordinary things. For our youths, may I propose to you that, as you discern a possible career for yourselves, let the vocation to the religious or priestly life also be on your cards. The Church needs you! The Archdiocese of Melbourne needs you! The Spiritans needs you!

Today too, we acknowledge the vocation to motherhood as we celebrate Mother’s Day. We Congratulate and salute our mothers for their unflinching love and care for their families. Scripture underscored the unconditional love mothers have for their children and families when it rhetorically asked, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast, and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” (Is 49:15). We know that mothers willingly give the last drop of their blood for the good of their families. They willingly sacrifice everything for their families.

Mothers are agents of unity and peace in the family. Dad is the head of the family, but mum is like the soul of the family. The book of Proverbs delineated the worth of a wife and mother when it declared, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family.… She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy, (Prob 31:10 – 30).

Wives and mothers, the above passage is about you! Do not lose hope when your demanding work is not reciprocated.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we thank our Mums, both living and dead, for their immense contributions to our society. We thank them for being there for us. We pray that the Good Lord will bless all Mums and grant eternal rest to the Mums who are resting in peace.

Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp

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