In this Sunday’s gospel, Our Lord refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd, thus inviting us to consider the mystery of vocation. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that there is a universal vocation to holiness, which means that every single person is called to be a saint. For the sake of helping people respond to the universal vocation, we believe the Lord gives a special invitation, a particular vocation, to certain men and women to serve him as priests and consecrated religious. In a recent address, Pope Francis spoke about how those who are called to priesthood and consecrated life need to have hearts that are open, generous, courageous, compassionate, and steadfast. These qualities are essential, especially in an age like ours that suffers with great uncertainties and fears about the future and basic questions about life’s meaning. The witness of faithful priests and religious brothers and sisters, puts life in the world into perspective, reminding us that God loves us and that life in the world is about living in relationship with Him in preparation for eternal life with God after death. The Holy Father puts forward St. Joseph as an important model for those who the Lord is inviting to a special vocation as a priest, religious brother or sister, or anyone called to consecrated life, because St. Joseph was able to hear the Lord call him to a particular mission, and he answered the call.
Pope Francis notes that St. Joseph was always able to respond without hesitation to what the Lord was asking him to do “because his heart was directed to God; it was already inclined towards Him. A small indication was enough for his watchful ‘inner ear’ to recognize God’s voice.” This is an important lesson to all of us who are trying to figure out what God’s plan is for our lives. St. Joseph was already someone who lived a life of ordinary fidelity to the Lord, and thus he was able to recognize the voice of the Lord calling him to something extraordinary and be perfectly disposed to respond.
This is true for us as well. The pope writes: “God does not like to reveal Himself in a spectacular way, pressuring our freedom. He conveys His plans to us with gentleness. He does not overwhelm us with dazzling visions but quietly speaks in the depths of our heart, drawing near to us and speaking to us through our thoughts and feelings…. In this way He sets before us profound and unexpected horizons.” Some people discover the Lord through dramatic conversion experiences. But that needs to be followed by a “settling-in” to the ordinary day-to-day life of faithful discipleship. It’s there that we learn to hear the voice of God speaking to us.
We should keep in mind that just because a young person is serious about his or her faith doesn’t mean he or she necessarily has a particular vocation to priesthood or religious life. The fact is, every Catholic man and woman is supposed to develop the habit of regular prayer, perform works of mercy, make progress in virtue, attend Mass at least every Sunday (and maybe sometimes during the week), and make regular confession part of his or her life. These things are a response to the universal call to holiness. Such a life of ordinary fidelity is what allows us to recognize when the Lord is calling us to serve Him in an extraordinary way, and – like St. Joseph – be disposed to respond. I am convinced that the Lord is calling many young men and women to serve Him as priests and religious sisters, and we must encourage and foster those particular vocations in our midst. To do that, however, all of us must respond with greater generosity to the universal vocation to holiness, so that we might discern well the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd speaking to our hearts.