Homily for Good Shepherd / Vocations Sunday – 25th April 2021 delivered by Bishop Martin at the 11.00am Mass in the Church of Mary Immaculate, Virginia, Co. Cavan.

We are in a fog – not knowing our way ahead – being tested, tested in faith and I believe we will come out stronger.  In our Gospel today we hear Jesus refer three (3) times to ‘laying down his life’, giving of Himself completely.  He stayed with reaching out to others in total commitment sustained by the love of God the Father.  The Good News is that we share in that loving relationship of the Father and His Son, Jesus which we are celebrating in this Easter time.  In our 2nd Rd. we hear of “the love that the Father has lavished on us” which sustains each one of us in the living out of our vocation.  Each of us has our contribution to make to the life of the Church, each one of us is called by name.

As we celebrate Vocations Sunday, we give thanks for the vocation that each one of us has which is founded upon that love of God, for each one of us.  We do not know what is ahead of us in life as individuals or as Church.  We are ‘the children of God’ (2nd Rd. – 1 Jn.) reaching out into the unknown.  “What we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed” in this life or the next life. We do have the example of Jesus who ‘laid down His life’.  We have many who have literally laid down their lives into modern times, including Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who was a Polish Catholic priest and Conventual Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in place of a man with a family in the concentration camp of Auschwitz during World War II.

In being here with you today, I am conscious of the Catholic faith tradition around the church sites in Lurgan, Maghera and Virginia, where church buildings emerged from the post Penal Law times, through Famine times with the help of good relations with the Church of Ireland to the three churches of today, most recently this Church built in 1989.  Of course, these buildings are but an expression of the strong faith of people of this area and their priests who came to serve here. 

Our particular focus today is prayer for vocations to priesthood and religious life.  We are very aware that we as Church, as the People of God, as people, priests, religious, are facing into the unknown.  Pope Francis in his message to us today for Vocations Sunday puts forward the example of St.  Joseph as we celebrate the Year of St. Joseph and the Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker, next Saturday.  St. Joseph did not know what lay ahead of him, in his role as Foster Father, during the early life of Jesus.  Pope Francis states that St. Joseph, while we do not hear a single word of his in the Gospels, “Still, through his ordinary life, he accomplished something extraordinary in the eyes of God.”

Pope Francis highlights that St Joseph, as a model for a Christian vocation and that to priesthood and religious life, was open to what God would want of him.  He recognized God’s voice in dreams and changed his plans to ensure the safety of the Infant Jesus.  St Joseph lived a life of service for others, not for himself – he was ready for the unknown – he had ‘to take an unexpected journey’ in bringing Jesus to the safety of Egypt.  St. Joseph acted with ‘quiet perseverance’ throughout the hidden life of Jesus with Mary in Nazareth and so he displayed his fidelity with a quiet ‘yes’. 

Again, while we do not hear from St. Joseph in the Gospels, we do catch a sense of his joy – ‘the joy experienced daily by those who care for what truly matters’ – that is the sign of a vocation, leaving aside our own desires to answer God’s call.  When families, friends, and a parish community ‘care for what truly matters’ it nurtures vocations to the single life, family life, community service as well as to religious life and to priesthood.  What is it ‘that truly matters’ today?

Anyone considering their vocation to priesthood and religious life – the desire to do good – will face ‘questioning’.  In our 1st Rd. (Acts) we hear how Peter and the early Church faced ‘questioning’ ‘about an act of kindness’, the healing of a man.  In working out our vocation in life, in answering the call to reach out to do good for others in God’s name, we question ourselves and we are questioned by others.  We are living in a time of uncertainty in which we are all working out our vocation – ‘of what truly matters’ – our particular role in the Church of the future.  In being tested by this pandemic we can come to a sense of ‘what truly matters’, of what our vocation in life is now.

For those of you who are in that place, of trying to work out or discern your vocation, I invite you to; –

1. be open to God’s love, as Jesus Himself was in ‘laying down His life’ for us, 

2. be open to God’s Word, in the scripture Readings, to His voice as St. Joseph was, in the dreams he received, and

3. be open to the Holy Spirit. 

In our first reading. we hear that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and he brought about healing “by the name of Jesus Christ”.  We are in the time between Easter and Pentecost, of waiting upon the Holy Spirit.

As you may be aware the Irish Church at this time has begun to set out on a pathway of listening to each other – people, priests, religious, bishops – to work out or discern a pathway ahead guided by the Holy Spirit.  In recent years, we as a people of faith, have had to face many challenges and we have questions to reflect upon.  We are beginning a walking together along on what is called a synodal pathway.  We are called to help each other listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us and then of responding, of discovering our vocations and by going on mission together.  We are facing into the unknown while relying upon the Holy Spirit to guide us into the future. 

There will always be the calling for the total life commitment of priesthood and religious life done so in the spirit of Jesus ‘laying down his life’ for us.  That invitation remains alongside that of nurturing the vocations of lay people and working together in appreciation of each other’s gifts so as to meet the pastoral and spiritual needs of today.

In conclusion, all of us are in a time of testing, testing of our faith and we are unsure of what is ahead.  We may feel we are in a fog.  However, we can be assured of Father’s love; we can rely upon the example of Jesus who reached out and was prepared to ‘lay down his life’ in response to the Father’s ‘lavish’ love.  We have the ordinary life of St. Joseph which has had an extraordinary impact and we will continue to reflect upon it in this Year of St. Joseph.  Finally, we trust in the Holy Spirit, as the early Church did, to guide us in our mission, bringing together our different vocations into the future.