“Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). The World Day of Prayer for Vocations will be observed on Sunday, May 7. While appreciating all vocations, on this day of prayer the Church concentrates its attention on the ordained ministries (priesthood and diaconate) and to the Religious Life in all its forms, to societies of apostolic life, and to secular institutes.

The World Day of Prayer is celebrated annually on the fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Of the many images painted by St. John in his Gospel, I think one of the most descriptive is Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Reflecting on the Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday it occurred to me that it gives us a glimpse of the dynamic between God’s call and a person’s response to follow Jesus. The “shepherd calls his own sheep by name . . . he leads them . . . he walks ahead of them. The sheep hear his voice . . . and follow him” (Cf. Jn 10: 1-10).

Pope Francis reminds us, “Becoming a priest or a man or woman religious is not primarily our own decision . . . Rather it is the response to a call and to a call of love” (Address to Seminarians and Novices, July 6, 2013). Is not this what we see in the parable of the Good Shepherd? The shepherd “knows” his sheep. This is not a casual recognition or a superficial acquaintance. He knows each sheep personally. In Sacred Scripture, knowledge is often akin to love. The Good Shepherd loves his sheep and calls each one by name. Every vocation begins with God’s initiative. He takes the first step.

God has a plan for each person. Cardinal Newman’s beautiful prayer tells us, “God you have created me do some definite service. You have committed some work to me that you have not committed to another. I have my mission.” I believe God continues to call some men and women to the ordained ministry and religious life. The call, however, needs to be heard and accepted.

The sheep “heard” the shepherd’s voice and followed him. On the day devoted to prayer for vocations, it is important to ask the Lord to open the ears and hearts of men and women to hear the Lord’s voice and to accept the invitation to walk with Him.

Pope Francis encourages young men and women to be attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit and go out to their brothers and sisters in order to proclaim the Gospel. He assures them that Jesus will be at their side every step of the way, walking with them and working within them (Cf. Message for World Day of Prayer, November 27, 2016).

Here in our diocese we are acutely aware that there is a diminished number of priests and religious. We are not alone. This reality is replicated throughout the United States and in many of the developed countries of the world. Let us take to heart the Holy Father’s words: “I ask parish communities, associations and the many prayer groups present in the Church, not to yield to discouragement but to continue praying that the Lord will send workers to his harvest.” May our Blessed Mother, patroness of our diocese, “grant an openness of heart and readiness to respond” to those called to the ordained ministry and religious life. (Cf. Message World Day of Prayer for Vocations, November 27, 2016)

If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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