Acts 4: 8-12, 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas lay underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

Jesus said: I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.

Whenever I read this text of the Good Shepherd I recall the numerous stained glass windows I have come across depicting Jesus carrying a lamb upon his shoulders; nevertheless, I am still waiting to stumble upon a beautifully crafted stained glass window of Jesus as the thief who breaks in during the night at an unexpected hour (Luke 12:39-40). I would think that this would be a dream project of any stained glass artisan -- Jesus, masked, with a bag over his shoulder climbing out of the window of an upper class, 1st Century, Palestine home. Anyway, what does this little musing of mine have to do with the Gospel this week? Nothing. Moving right along . . .

In the United States this coming Sunday is Mothers Day -- and in the Catholic Church it is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

In light of these commemorations, my thoughts have centered upon the sheep hearing and recognizing the voice of the shepherd; the call from God to pursue religious life and priestly life; the unmistakable recognition from a child of the voice of his mother; and the great influence mothers have in encouraging (or discouraging) their sons and daughters to consider religious vocations. These thoughts could all nicely segway into a plea to encourage and support religious vocations -- and this is what I intend to do this Sunday.

I once read of the common occurrence of shepherds who would pool their resources to safeguard and patrol their flocks at night against predators such as the wolf. They would agree to shepherd their flocks to a large, common pasture before sunset and then they would set up their shared campsite upon a hillside overlooking the combined flocks -- which could total hundreds of sheep. Each shepherd would take a shift canvassing the flock, its perimeter, and watching for any sudden commotions. The shepherd would stand ready to charge into the large, combined flock armed with a staff, a sling and stones in order to rescue any one of the sheep from danger. At sunrise the Shepherds would ready themselves for another day of work and journey their separate ways.

What amazes me is how the shepherds would separate the sheep in the morning; that is, they would simultaneously call out to them with their voices and hundreds of sheep would instantaneously separate themselves by shuffling in the direction of their own shepherd. The sheep truly did know the voice of their shepherd. The shepherd knew his sheep, and they knew him.

The same kind of instant recognition can be observed when a child hears the voice of his mother. For example, picture three young mothers sitting side by side on a park bench on a sunny, weekday afternoon with their toddlers enjoying the adventurous activities found in a playground. The variety of sounds whipping around and through the playground can be many and varied; however nothing cuts through the air to the ear of a toddler who is climbing a bit too high on the jungle gym like the voice of his own mother. It is instantly recognizable. Although the toddler may not exactly obey what the voice is communicating, he hears it above all other competing sounds.

If you have ever traveled through the crowded, narrow streets of the old, walled city of Jerusalem you have experienced the competing calls for your attention by the vendors lined along the way. The voices call out to you from every direction hoping to attract your attention by saying just the right thing, in just the right tone, in your own, native language -- which they try to guess by the clothes you wear, by your hair style and by the way you walk and carry yourself. However, in the end, it all sounds like babble; for they are not recognizable in a personal way.

This is what life can feel like. Sometimes we hear a lot of noise -- a lot of calls -- and we are not sure which way to turn or look. At other times, we hear the voice of our shepherd -- or of our mother -- and our response is instantaneous and trusting.

God knows that we need a world filled with good husband and fathers and good wives and mothers. Vocations to these lives are sacred and beautiful and God calls most of the world to embrace this work.

However, today we pray that the young people who are being called by God to religious life will, indeed, hear that call and respond to it. I wish we lived in a world that mirrored the early morning departures of the shepherds: Where all those being called to religious life would immediately follow the shepherd who calls them in that direction. I wish we lived in a world where mothers, who were once the #1 recruiters for religious vocations, would once again make their voices heard loud and clear when it comes to nourishing and supporting religious vocations. Instead, it seems like we are oftentimes funneled and pushed down the vender-lined streets of Jerusalem with no hope of recognizing a personal call.

Let us pray today on this day honoring mothers and on this day of World pray for Vocations, that we will help God do His work in calling young people to religious life by being his shepherds here on earth -- by supporting all who may be discerning a call to religious life.

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