Deacon Peter McDade’s Homily: Vocation? Do I Have One?
Today is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday but it is also the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. When anyone mentions “vocations”, we as traditional Catholics tend to think of priestly vocations, religious brothers and sisters, monks etc. And they certainly are vocations and we need more of them. No-one can deny that. But of recent times, there seems to be a growing awareness of the true nature of vocation being embedded in sacramental Baptism and applying to the everyday life of all baptised disciples of Jesus Christ. So, for the moment, let’s put aside that oft-expressed self-deprecating exclamation that “Vocations are for the Holy ones among us who want to be priests or religious”.
What is a vocation?
Pope Francis, in his message “Words of Vocation” for today’s world prayer says in part, “Every vocation is born of that gaze of love with which the Lord came to meet us, perhaps even at a time when our boat was being battered by the storm. Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call. We will succeed in discovering and embracing our vocation once we open our hearts in gratitude and perceive the passage of God in our lives.” The profundity, economy, and eloquence of these words cannot be overstated. They are sublime.
It is probably fair to say that any vocation, whether religious, clerical, or secular is an overwhelming commitment to a way of life. When one chooses a vocation, one voluntarily subscribes to the ethos, pathos, and morality of their choice, their way of life – even in times of great challenge, not just in times of great reward. It becomes the driving spirit of their existence, their reason to live. Discipleship is our primordial vocation. It drives what we do and amplifies our way of life no matter what we choose to do.
The “Lord’s unmerited call”, emanating from that “gaze of love” He has for us, is first heard at our baptism, the starting point of conversion to a new way of life either as an infant or an adult. A call to live and love Christian ethos, pathos, and morality. It is a profound call to discipleship of Jesus Christ by Jesus Himself, the Good Shepherd. It is “unmerited” because we do nothing to earn that merit and can do nothing to earn it to be a disciple of Christ, and so we become capable of perceiving God in our lives only through the grace of Christ.
Why is Baptism Important?
In our First Reading today from Acts, Peter exhorts those listening to him to “… repent and be baptised … in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repent from what? From sin, of course. But what sin does an infant commit before they have reached the age of reason? None – of course. But we are all born with original sin – or the propensity to commit sin stemming from original sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para 390). Through baptism, Jesus raises us above original sin into a new life guided by the Holy Spirit. It raises us to a life of discipleship in Jesus – a way of life, a vocation. Whilst Peter was referring to a specific sin of his audience, what he says applies directly to us today in baptism.
Consequently, the Sacrament of Baptism is the primordial sacrament of the Church – ahead of Reconciliation, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Ordination, & the Last Rites because without it one cannot receive or partake of any of the others. In our faith community, both infants and adults are baptised – as infants at their parents’ request and as adults after personal and communal discernment, usually at the Easter Vigil.
It is through Baptism that we are invited to become disciples of Jesus. It is a lifelong source of grace and mercy from God the Father & the Son through the Holy Spirit that aids and guides us on our way through life. But it is the vocation of parenting that brings this about in most if not all cases. As parents, we are called to be disciples to our families, friends, colleagues and strangers.
How Do I Live as a Disciple?
In today’s Second Reading from the First Letter of St Peter, and consistent with what we have prayed and reflected on over this Easter Season, sacrifice is central to the Christian vocation. “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God”. In married life, of course, there are many times we are called as parents or partners to sacrifice “for doing what is good”. When our children go astray and we have to stay the course with trust and patience, we suffer. When our partner has been hurtful, to forgive is to sacrifice part of ourselves for what is good, we suffer. When we place our children’s development, health, and education and accept the costs thereof above our desire for a nice holiday or even house, we sacrifice ourselves and suffer for what is good – the establishment, maintenance, and development of a loving home.
Peter goes on to give more examples of discipleship for us as set by Jesus Himself:
• When insulted, He did not return the insult; and
• When He suffered, He did not threaten;
• He surrendered Himself “…to the One who judges justly”.
As parents, there are many instances of these things happening to us, sometimes on a daily basis. Do we silently bear the suffering and difficulties of our families remaining, or at least trying to remain, faithful to our calling as baptised people of God – disciples of Jesus Christ? This is the core of living a vocation, whatever we may choose to do in life.
Who is the Good Shepherd?
In today’s Gospel Reading from John, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus calls Himself “the gate for the sheep” through which His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. It is a metaphor that is probably lost on some today in our largely urbanised way of life. But for Jesus, the relationship between a shepherd and his flock is so intimate, that it is analogous to His relationship with us. The sheep follow because they know & trust that voice. They know intuitively and from experience that it loves them by willing and doing good for them and taking care of them. They follow in trust. But Jesus warns that anyone who purports to get into the sheepfold by other means “is a thief and a robber” – for there is only one way in, in response to Jesus’ call. He calls us as His baptised disciples, His sheep. Do we recognise and trust His voice?
As parents, we are the good shepherds of our families. Our vocation is to love and care for our family members. Our children, particularly as littlies, know and cherish our voice and follow eagerly. Likewise, we know theirs. So too it should be in our relationship with God – we are but babies and turn to Abba Father for all our needs. Until we understand and accept this relationship, we cannot be a Disciple, baptised or otherwise!
Parents – Good Shepherds for Family
Like Baptism, parenting is primordial – a vocation to be honoured and treasured. So is the vocation of the single person, the ordained, and religious. They are all levelled with each other through discipleship made possible through baptism. Our Christian vocation gives us purpose in life and is our way of living. It is Jesus’ raison d’etre that you “Have life and have it more abundantly”. And that is the joy of living and celebrating the Christian Gospel – to have life and enjoy it to the full.
In this day and age of diminishing numbers of vocations to the consecrated state of priest and religious, parenting is resuming its prestigious place in the hierarchy of “vocation”. Without diminishing in any way the importance of consecrated leaders, such as bishops, priests, deacons, & religious, parenting is sometimes taken for granted. But at infant baptism, parents are recognised as the “first teachers of your child in the ways of faith”. They are exhorted to “be the best of teachers in what you say and do”. What can be more important than that – than to be the Good Shepherd for Christ of your precious ones?
On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us not forget the first vocation we all have to discipleship. Let us pray for more focussed and increased commitment to living out our vocation as unmerited disciples of Jesus Christ, particularly as parents.
Go! You Good News people! Celebrate your vocation!