THE GOOD SHEPHERD IN THE FAMILY
“I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep … I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.”
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called The Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also celebrated as Vocations Sunday in the Western Catholic or the Roman Catholic Liturgy. It is called “The Good Shepherd Sunday” because every year, in all the Cycles of the Church (A, B, C), the Gospel of this day is always from the Gospel of John Chapter Ten, where Jesus introduces and presents Himself as The Good Shepherd. Also, on this Sunday, the Church specifically prays for vocations, not just to the priesthood and religious life, but vocation in a broader sense that embraces every aspect of life and living in the world. For the Church has always taught that every person is uniquely called in his/her own way to “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1: 28).
The Church in her wisdom weaves these two special Sundays together like an exotic tapestry adorning the celestial walls because of the sublime connections between the role of the Good Shepherd and responding to our vocation. For what else is vocation but a loving response to the salvific invitation of God, Who created us in His image and willed that we live in obedience to Him. The whole idea of vocation is therefore a life of developing a personal answer to the question of our purpose in this world. Each one of us is created and intended for a purpose and a mission. Pope Francis captures this very lucidly in his Message on World Day of Vocations 2018 in these words: “We are not victims of chance or swept up in a series of unconnected events; on the contrary, our life and our presence in this world are the fruits of a divine vocation!” Jesus gives us an example by identifying Himself today as The Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life of His sheep, as this was His own peculiar way of living out His vocation. For it was the will of the Father that The Good Shepherd should suffer and die for His sheep. This was His purpose and mission on earth. Similarly, each of us is called to live out our calling in obedience to the will of God for us.
Within the context of these two Sundays, the family offers a perfect space for us to live out our life in imitation of the Good Shepherd and to respond to our vocation, whatever it may be. The family is the nursery, where vocations are nurtured. Or put differently, the family is the grazing field where vocations are nourished. Therefore, parents, who have themselves responded to the vocation to married life and have been blessed with children, have the duty to live out their calling as responsible parents after the example of the Good Shepherd by making the family a home by their exemplary “shepherdship” so members could respond to God’s call in less burdensome ways.
The first challenge that the image of the Good Shepherd poses to families is the challenge of love. The family has to be a sanctuary of love; for there can be no genuine vocation to the priestly, religious or married life without a solid love-foundation. This love expresses itself in obedience. Just as The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep in obedience to the Father, so too in the family, actions must flow from obedience to the one who is the head. True vocation is realised through a life of voluntary obedience to the superiors. The third element here is that of sacrifice. There is a nuance of humility and self-emptying whenever sacrifice is involved. St. Paul speaks of The Good Shepherd as one who emptied Himself … humbled Himself by being obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2: 7, 8). In a family there should be the readiness to go out of one’s way to do something for the other; to seek and offer forgiveness readily; and to always consider the needs of others in all actions. As bedrock of vocation, the family must be a home where friendship is nurtured. Jesus says: I am The Good Shepherd, I know My own and My own know Me. Friendship in a family creates the conducive atmosphere for healthy and mutual relationships, interactions, sharing of needs and concerns. These in themselves are opportunities for good parental guidance, which could directly nurture vocation in the minds of the children.