A blessed Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as’ Good Shepherd’ Sunday after the Gospel reading, upon which Father Callam offers an insightful meditation. As an extension of this, in turn, is the focus of this Sunday on vocations, especially to the priesthood as the ‘spiritual shepherds’ of the faithful, who nurture us with the sacraments and right teaching, sources of grace and orthodoxy.
This year, we also celebrate – in which the world in general joins us – Mother’s Day, whose formal secular origins can be traced back to 1908, when Anna Jarvis began the American tradition at St. Andrew’s Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.
There is a Catholic tradition of celebrating mothers, of course, going right back to the dawn of the Church, with a more formal celebration beginning in the 16th century on Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, still called in many countries ‘mothering Sunday’.
My own father would often say that each day should be ‘Mother’s Day’, even if we set a special day aside, we should always appreciate our own mothers, the heart of our families and those around the world, who gave us life, nurtured us to adulthood, and, really ‘laid down’ their own lives for us.
So the two celebrations coincide: Mothers nurture shepherds, the future vocations to the priesthood, and priests feed and nourish good mothers and their families. As society should be: A virtuous and resonant circle, unto the end of the age.
We are all – or should be – shepherds of others in some way, leading each to heaven not only by what we say, and do, by the ‘witness of our lives’, as the Council taught, evoking that charity and love of truth without which holiness is impossible.
Here is the 2006 sermon of Pope Benedict XVI for this Sunday, which develops this theme in his own inimitable way:
Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 7 May 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, “Good Shepherd” Sunday, on which the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated, I had the joy of ordaining in St Peter’s Basilica 15 new priests for the Diocese of Rome. We are grateful to the Lord! With them, I am thinking of all those in every part of the world who are receiving priestly ordination in this period.
As we thank the Lord for the gift of these new priests at the service of the Church, let us entrust them all to Mary, at the same time invoking her intercession so that the number of those who accept Christ’s invitation to follow him on the way of the priesthood and the consecrated life will increase.
This year the theme of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is: Vocation in the mystery of the Church.
In the Message that I addressed to the entire Ecclesial Community for this event, I recalled the experience of the first disciples of Jesus, who, after meeting him by the lake and in the villages of Galilee, were won over by his appeal and his love.
The Christian vocation is always a renewal of this personal friendship with Jesus Christ, which gives full meaning to our lives and makes us open to the Kingdom of God.
God continues to call priests
The Church lives on this friendship, nourished by the Word and by the Sacraments, holy realities entrusted especially to the ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, consecrated by the Sacrament of Orders.
For this reason – as I stressed in the same Message – the priest’s mission is irreplaceable, and even if in some regions a scarcity of clergy is being recorded, we must never doubt that God continues to call boys, young men and adults to leave everything to dedicate themselves totally to preaching the Gospel and to the pastoral ministry (see Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2006, L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 5).
Another special form of the following of Christ is the vocation to the consecrated life, which is expressed in living a poor, chaste and obedient existence totally dedicated to God in contemplation and in prayer and at the service of others, especially the lowly and poor.
Moreover, let us not forget that Christian marriage is in all respects a vocation to holiness, and that the example of holy parents is the first favourable condition for the flourishing of priestly and religious vocations.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, for priests and men and women Religious; let us pray too that the seeds of a vocation that God sows in the hearts of the faithful may reach full maturity and bear fruits of holiness in the Church and in the world.