Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 2:20b-25
"… The sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." This Gospel passage echoes words I have used countless times when I baptize children. "What name do you give this child?" A simple question I ask of the parents, and yet so profound. It means that no one goes to the waters of baptism anonymously. There are no strangers in the shepherd’s flock. God calls us by name to follow him. That is our vocation, our calling.
As we do every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, today on Good Shepherd Sunday we celebrate "World Day of Prayer for Vocations." Today, the Church is asked to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
For more than a millennium, the Church has relied on a corps of priests to celebrate the sacraments and to guide the faithful. But the number of priests has plummeted dramatically in the past 40 years, while the Catholic population has increased. Yes, we must pray fervently for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. We need more pastors – more shepherds.
Indeed, when we are asked to pray for vocations, we know it means vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This has been the common understanding of the word "vocations" for a long time. Still, when we use the word so narrowly, we tend to lose sight of its fuller meaning.
Parenthetically, I recall my old Baltimore Catechism illustrating two kinds of vocations:
In one panel, were a husband and wife. The caption read something like: "This is good." The next panel showed a priest and a nun. The caption read: "This is better." Growing up, my understanding of vocation had this one meaning.
That is why Pope Francis’ Message for the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2014 is so refreshing. He reminds us that we all have a true vocation. By our baptism, we are called to holiness, our call to follow the Good Shepherd whatever our walk in life. "Both in the married life and in the forms of religious consecration, as well as the priestly life," Pope Francis writes, "we must surmount the ways of thinking and acting that do not conform to the will of God. We must be on a journey of adoration of the Lord and of service to him in our brothers and sisters."
This is a beautiful understanding of baptism. It is the universal call to holiness. Today, we urgently pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. But we also pray that those of us who may not be priests or religious, also remain faithful to our vocation – our baptismal call – by conforming ourselves to God’s will. The Good Shepherd calls each of us by name to follow him in building up the Body of Christ.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.