Everyone is seeking fullness of life, regardless who we are. We might be faith believers, atheists or freethinkers, but we all want a greater and fuller life. What, then, is the fundamental difference between faith believers, particularly Christians, and those who have faith only in themselves? The bottom line is, what is the real path to the fullness of life? In different degrees, many of us are deceived into thinking that life is sought for power, glory and self-indulgence, which people wrongly call love of self. These are the demons that control and wreck havoc in our lives. Today, more and more people are speaking of autonomy to do anything they want. If we truly believe that the way of the world, the way of autonomy and self-indulgence is the way to real happiness and freedom in life, then religion becomes an obstacle to progress and life.
But is it really true that religion, especially the Christian Faith, prevents life and robs the joy of living? On the contrary, Jesus made it clear that, “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.” Christian Faith is not a joy or a life killer. It seeks not only to give life but the fullness of life. Christ is our way to the truth and to life. Jesus has come to lead us to the greener pasture of life. By entering through Jesus, we can “go freely in and out” without fear of losing our way. In the context of the Easter season, today’s liturgy highlights that Jesus, as the Gate of the Sheepfold and the Good Shepherd, has come to give us life abundantly. How?
Firstly, Jesus is the Gate to life. Only He is the door. What is this door to life if not the passion and death and resurrection of Jesus? This gate proposes values contrary to that of the world. Such values are spelt out in today’s First letter to Peter. Instead of vengeance, Jesus promotes forgiveness as the way to heal the wounds of human conflicts; instead of self-indulgence, Christ exhorts poverty and simplicity; instead of uncontrolled desires, Christ demands self-discipline; instead of slavery to one’s passion, Christ bestows power over oneself; instead of competition, Christ promotes service which leads to love; instead of love of self, Christ teaches love of others as the only way to love oneself authentically. This, then, is the Gate to true life and freedom. “Anyone who enters through me will be safe; he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.’
Conversely, those who choose the gate of violence, self-indulgence, power, glory and self-exaltation will only destroy themselves. Those who claim to be shepherds are actually thieves and brigands since they lead people to damnation. Jesus said, “Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand.” The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock.” Those who believe in violence will only destroy themselves; those who care only for themselves will find life empty and meaningless; those who spend their time in pursuit of riches, fame and power will arrive to find that it is not power, fame or riches that can give life; rather it is love, service, humility and generosity. So the ways of the world are illusions. We must not allow them to deceive us. As the sheep of Jesus, we are warned that it would be our peril to follow the voice of strangers. We will not find real pasture if we follow them. We will only live to regret when we realize at the end of the day that we are only chasing after the wind. Truly, to listen to the world is to allow ourselves to be harmed since “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”
However, Jesus is not only the Gate, He is also the Good Shepherd because He leads the way, He goes before His sheep. Indeed, St Peter says that because Christ suffered for us, He has left an example for us to “follow the way he took.” As shepherd, He does not simply teach us how to live the fullness of life but He shows us the way by living the path Himself; the path that took Him to death on the cross, but precisely by His wounds, He heals the world and transforms the world. Just as a shepherd takes care of and feeds his flock, so Christ nourishes the spiritual life of the faithful by His body and blood and through His Body the Church. In Jesus, we see a man fully alive because He was a man totally for others and totally for God. Certainly when we look at Jesus, we do not see a man that is half-fulfilled, half-dead and depressed but a man fully alive and vibrant.
As the shepherd and the Gate, it means that it is through Jesus that we know the Father.No one except Christ is the door because He alone is the true light; others only reflect the light and are not themselves the light. So, St Peter exhorts us “You had gone astray like sheep but now you have come back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” There is no other way we can find life except through Christ. This explains why we must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins so that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only through death to self can we truly live. Only through the path of the passion, self-sacrifice, love unto death can we find life! This is the paradox of life but it is the only way to eternal life.
If indeed Jesus is the Gate and Shepherd of life, who, then, will lead all those who are seeking authentic life to find Him? After all, St Peter in the first reading tells us that the gift of eternal life is given to all, since this promise was made for us and for our children and for all those who are far away. So, it would not be fair to condemn those who are in satanic cults and those who adopt worldly means to find life when there is no one to enlighten them in the truth. It is easy to curse and condemn the situation in the world, but why not light a candle instead of cursing the darkness? That is why today, more than ever, we need people who will continue to lead others to Jesus the Gate and the Shepherd.
This task has been given to all of us. Everyone, according to his capacity and situation in life, is called to be shepherd to those under their care. Hence today is Vocation Sunday because we are all given the task to be shepherds of Jesus and to be life-givers. Every vocation is important to the Church. Christian vocation, whatever form it takes, is a gift, the purpose of which is to build up the Church and to increase the kingdom of God in the world. However, if the members of the Church are to be faithful to their vocation as shepherds, be they doctors, teachers, lawyers, businessmen or homemakers, they must first come to know Jesus the Good and only real shepherd.
Consequently, the vocation of the laity is dependent on the vocation of the priesthood. Without priests, the common priesthood would be deprived of Jesus the Good Shepherd, especially in being nurtured by Him in the Sacraments. Hence, the Church, the people of God cannot do without priests. Without them, the members of the people of God will suffer and lose their specific vocation of love and life. The ordained priesthood exists for the people of God. Priesthood cannot be considered as a call among many others, because other vocations depend on it.
That is why, if there are some young people who are truly looking for challenges, authentic living and fullness of life, then the priesthood could be for them. It is in the process of giving life to others that we actually find life ourselves. There is great joy in giving ourselves to others in love and service, a joy so different from worldly joys and pleasures. Indeed, a priest, findo himself more fully alive every time he reaches out to people in love and service. The more he gives himself as a servant to others and empties his life, time, resources and energy, the more he feels energized. He becomes alive when he lives for others. Conversely, when I live only for myself and my pleasures and comfort, I find life empty, meaningless and unfulfilled. This is the paradox of being truly alive.
Let us therefore in our own ways respond to the call of Christ. If we feel that God might be calling us, then we must have the courage to discern and respond accordingly so that we ourselves might find life to the fullest. Even if we are not called, then we must in our own ways promote priestly and religious vocation so that the Church will never be short of shepherds to build up the Church of Christ and to nurture the laity in their mission in the world of building the kingdom of God. We must take heed that where a shortage of vocation occurs in a diocese or country, the intensity of faith and spiritual fervor diminishes. Hence, it would be a mistake, therefore, to assume that an active laity would compensate for the shortage of clergy. On the contrary if our laity were to live their baptismal commitment zealously, ordained ministers are needed to help them.
Ultimately, the task of instilling more priestly vocations is for our own good and for the sake of the Church. Instead of lamenting that priests are not available and that it is so difficult to find them, we should pray for more priests. Being human and limited in many ways, it is simply impossible for our priests to cater to the needs of so many people who are like sheep without shepherds, seeking life and light to walk through the valley of darkness.
Finally, we must never forget to pray for vocations for Jesus did remind us, “The harvest is great but the labourers are few, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send us the labourers.” Indeed, the first commitment to vocation is prayer. Only when we are faith-filled people can vocations be born. We can be sure that this prayer will be answered because God wants to send shepherds after the heart of His Son.