4th Sunday Easter
21 April 2013
On the 4th Sunday of Easter, we pray very especially for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. There are, I’m sure, young men and women in our own parish who at this time in their lives are being called to service God through the priesthood or consecrated life and we each have the responsibility to encourage and nurture their vocations. For some following this vocation is a very difficult choice. It’s not easy taking vows of celibacy, obedience and perhaps poverty in a world that revolves around sensuality, self indulgence and the drive for material success, status and wealth.
But then is any vocation easy?
While we may not be called to the priesthood or religious life we are nevertheless equally called and our vocations are no less essential or good. We are called as mothers, fathers; doctors, musicians, accountants; teachers and traders, artists and artisans, lawyers and labourers; farmers, bankers and bartenders; nurses and bus drivers….. wealthy and poor, conservative and liberal, well educated and unskilled, straight and gay, young and old ….. we are all called to know, love and serve God. Not just in Sunday worship but in everything we do.
That is the very meaning and purpose of life.
If we are to find happiness in this life, then we need to find out how best to fulfil our calling from God through our gifts, talents and relationships. God has no favourite occupations, professions or pastimes. He loves each one of us the same – no matter what we do for a living.
In the first reading, we catch up with Paul and Barnabas who have arrived in Antioch of Pisidia which is in the Lakes Region of modern Turkey at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, the Aegean and central Asia Minor. In Paul’s days it was an important city for many different cultures because of the economic, military and strategic significance of the region; an excellent place to establish a church from which to evangelise.
How far Paul had come from the man who stood and watched quite happily as Stephen was stoned to death for proclaiming the Good News of the Risen Christ. Here he is now doing exactly the same. Following his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul found his true vocation and turned with zeal from killing Christians to building the Christian Church.
Paul’s compelling speech in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch got a rousing response and he was asked to speak there again the following week – and the whole town turned up at the synagogue to hear him – but the Jewish authorities were not impressed.
They told Paul and Barnabas that they were fools and talking nonsense and tried to shut them up but they replied boldly telling the officials that while the Jewish people were indeed the chosen people in God’s plan for salvation, because they refused to believe, the light would now shine through the Gentiles that salvation could be taken to the whole world.
In the second reading we get a glimpse of the success of this mission of salvation. John in the Book of Revelation writes about a vision in which he saw “a great multitude which no-one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
The message of salvation has been heard throughout the world.
Salvation is available to everyone.
Salvation is our vocation.
We can only discern our vocation if we at some level of our being confidently embrace the belief that there is a God and that God is God. In the words of the psalm “Know that he, the Lord, is God. He made us; we belong to him. We are his people, the sheep of the flock.”
Our vocation is to follow the Good Shepherd.
The gospel passage is taken from the lovely meditation in chapter 10 of John’s gospel on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It’s Jesus’ response to a demand from the Jewish authorities that he tell them plainly if he is the Messiah. He says “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.”
We have heard his voice, he knows us and he knows that we are trying to follow him. There are those who discern their true vocation from a very young age and I think that’s an amazing blessing. But for many of us, I suspect that while we have a good idea of where we want to go, the exact routing is not always clear and we’re likely to take wrong turns, encounter stormy weather, barren pastures, rough roads and pain.
The journey can be tough.
Paul’s life certainly bears witness to that.
As a missionary he was beaten with rods, pelted with stones and five times thrashed with whips. He was shipwrecked three times once spending a night and a day in the open sea. He was imprisoned, naked and cold, hungry and thirsty. And like most of us he had a sinful weakness, an angel of Satan he called it, that haunted him throughout his life.
But he persevered in his vocation to the very end; and persevered in great joy.
It is the certainty of the goal and the certainty of God’s love in which we find our joy when the going gets tough.
Whether we are called to the priesthood, religious life, family life or single life; butcher, baker or candlestick maker, there will be times when the pastures are parched and dry. It is in those difficult times most especially when we draw strength, taking hope and courage from the grace of the sacraments, from each other, from prayer and from the discipline of loving until it hurts.