HOMILY OF ARCHBISHOP DERMOT FARRELL
GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
4th Sunday Easter 2022, Sandyford, 11.00 am
Good Shepherd Sunday is the day when we pray for an increase in vocations to priesthood and religious life. I am blessed to know, and have known, so many priests who are what they do and do what they are. These priests know the “smell of the sheep” from prolonged accompaniment of people of all ages, especially those who are vulnerable, sick or suffering. They fostered communion, harmony and solidarity in the diversity of vocations to be found among the laity, be they husband or wife, father or mother, religious or single. Vocation is not a matter of brilliance or giftedness; vocation is a matter of dedication and love. Some are not great public speakers, others are not the most brilliant administrators, but they live lives of love and speak a language of love. Their hearts belong to Lord, and the parishioners instinctively recognise this.
People hunger for the Word, for its truth, its reliability, and its sure hope (Heb 11:1). We therefore need and pray for credible proclaimers of the Word of Life. At the same time, the disappointments and darkness that have been visited upon us can manifest themselves in a suspicion of institutions and their attempt to actualise worthy dreams for the good of all. Proclaiming the word in a culture that is frequently at odds with itself, is a call to humble service. Ultimately, every priest is called to respond to that call, and to be inspired by that vision. In serving others, priests are loving Christ our Lord, who is, for all ages, the embodiment of the God we cannot see.
In humility and simplicity, the Church offers a gift to the world. That gift is a treasure which the Church has itself received: the good news of God’s love proclaimed in the Gospel that the apostles were charged to preach to the world (see Matt 28:19-20). This precious treasure, however, is carried in the fragile vessels of the proclaimers’ humanity. Here is a mystery that St Paul so wonderfully expressed in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “We are only the earthenware vessels that hold this treasure to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us” (2 Cor 4:7). In common with all believers, priests carry the good news of Christ within the earthenware vessels of their own fragile humanity. The gift of priestly identity and mission is no different: it also is embodied in lives that are human and fragile. We have been given the immense privilege of carrying in the ‘earthenware vessels’ that we are, and communicating to the world, the Lord whom we have come to know (see John 21:7), the good news of God’s love, and the hope that his life, death, and resurrection brings into the world. (see St John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Redemptor Hominis, 7 and 18.)
In recent decades some have been concerned about the small number of candidates coming forward to offer themselves for priesthood, and to serve the sacramental and pastoral needs of our Church. Since a vocation to the priesthood and religious life is sustained by the wider faith community, there is need for all the baptised to pray that the Lord will open hearts to hear and respond to his call (see Matt 9:38): as today’s gospel says “hear my voice” (John 10:27). Not just any voice, but the voice of Jesus. And his, like every voice, is unique, and it takes time to hear it, to recognise it, to know it, and indeed to love the one whose voice it is. God must be found in voice of Jesus. “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). The voice of Jesus is not only the words that come out of his mouth. The voice of Jesus is everything about him, everything he does, his way of life, his teaching, his suffering and death and his rising from the death. This is the voice of Jesus, because the voice—and we all know this—is the expression of the person, it is the expression of a life. He knows us as we follow him. Will we trust that voice to lead us through temporary difficulties, deprivations, and dangers to the unending joy of eternal life?
We must come to know, love and trust the one who calls us. That too takes time, and is a dynamic, living reality. So with vocation, it is alive, it is dynamic, it is not static: a true vocation is a vocation that grows constantly. A fossilised, encrusted ‘vocation’ is no longer fully alive, and risks being tied to what it was, and not anchored in the one who is radically alive, and who brings his flock to life. Those who have answered the Lord’s call know this. Indeed, our call is constantly unfolding. Part of the challenge of being a priest or a religious today is the ongoing responsibility to discern the vocation within our vocation, the call within our call, as it were. The ongoing discernment of our unfolding vocation is vital for the development of the Church’s mission. Good shepherds ae open to new ways, and responsive to changing terrain. The land is the gift of the Creator. How the sheep are minded within that terrain is partly the responsibility of the shepherd. It demands not only dedication, but also openness, resilience, and flexibility. This is both exciting and disconcerting, but we are not alone: the Good Shepherd is faithful to his flock and to those who tend it.
For young people to hear the call of the Lord, and to respond to it generously, a love of the Lord Jesus (see John 21:15–19), a welcome for the mysteries of life and of faith (see Col 3:16), a seeking of God for God’s own sake (see Ps 27:9, Mark 12:19; cf. Deut 6:5), as well as a passion for the poor (Matt 25:34–40), for justice, and for all who share our common home (see Fratelli Tutti, 115-116 and Laudato Sí, 25, 137-162, 190 and Evangelii gaudium, 183 ) must be nurtured in the home, particularly in families which are active in the life of the Church (see Familiaris consortio, 53). In the meantime, our call is not to lose heart, but to trust in the Lord’s invitation extended to his first disciples “to come follow me” (Matthew 4:19). As disciples whom the Lord loves, we are held close to him (see John 13:23); we are always in the Father’s providential embrace (see Ps 131:2). He is the one who guides our feet on the way of discipleship and peace (see Luke 1:79). And so, although we may be concerned, we lose neither hope nor trust God’s faithful love for us and for his Church.
A vocation to priesthood and religious life has a communal as well as a personal dimension. The profoundly personal nature and interpersonal nature of vocation is brought out in the opening line of today’s gospel: “my sheep hear my voice…” It is “my sheep…” Christ has invested in us. This is part of the significance of the incarnation. That is part of Christ’s vocation. For us, part of discerning our vocation, is to ask and discover what we will invest in. Will we invest only in ourselves and our projects, or in others and their possibilities, or in God and in God’s kingdom—God’s dream for us.
“Let us pray, brothers and sisters, that the People of God, amid the dramatic events of history, may increasingly respond to this call. Let us implore the light of the Holy Spirit, so that all of us may find our proper place and give the very best of ourselves in this great divine plan!” (Pope Francis, World Day of Prayer Vocations, 2022).
Archbishop of Dublin