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Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”.  In the Gospel we hear Jesus describing Himself as the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep.  It’s also a day when we remember that He has always promised that He will give us shepherds to lead us so that we will never be separated us from His care and guidance, and that’s why Good Shepherd Sunday is always a day when we pay special attention to vocations.

Every Christian has a vocation, a particular path by which our lives are meant to glorify God.  For most people, this vocation is as a member of the laity, whether in marriage and family or through a committed single life.  Indeed, laity are the ones who do the most to spread the Gospel to every corner of the world – in your daily lives, you can reach so many places and people that priests, brothers and sisters can’t, and that’s why the lay vocation is so critically important.

But today we pray in a special way for vocations to the priesthood, that God will send shepherd to care for His flock.  (The word “pastor” comes from the word for “shepherd”, and that’s a pretty good summary of the priestly vocation.)  We also pray that more young men and women will respond to God’s call to serve the Church as brothers and sisters, and that any young men or women He’s calling to priesthood or religious life will respond joyfully and courageously.  It’s not that one vocation is “better” than another; we just recognize that we need every Christian living their God-given vocation in order to build up the Kingdom as Christ commanded us to do.

When many people think about a religious vocation – whether for themselves or for their children or grandchildren – they often focus on the sacrifices involved.  It’s true that priesthood and religious life involve sacrifice, but that’s true for any Christian vocation.  (Just ask anyone who’s married with children!)  And I think we certainly live in a culture that doesn’t seem too excited about making sacrifices.  But I can tell you firsthand – and I think I can speak for Fr. Michael and Fr. Mike here, too – that any sacrifices that we are asked to make are absolutely worth it.  It’s a great life, filled with so many joys and blessings that we don’t deserve!  When we forgo an exclusive relationship in marriage, God allows us to have a special and unique relationship with our entire flock.  And when we forgo having a family of our own, we’re allowed to have a spiritual fatherhood that is awesome and humbling.  I can’t imagine a better life, and I think/hope that anyone who has found their God-given vocation could say the same thing, no matter what that vocation is.

I was privileged to spend five years as rector of our college seminary, where I got to play a role in forming our next generation of Holy Cross priests and brothers.  It was a great experience, but one of the best parts was that it helped me see that the future of the Church looks pretty good.  We have some great, holy, intelligent, joyful men in formation for Holy Cross.  The Holy Spirit provides, and your prayers for vocations are working!  I simply ask that you keep those prayers coming, and that you not be afraid to encourage young men and women in your life to consider a religious vocation if you see that potential within them.  Sometimes a little encouragement and affirmation is exactly what a young person needs to believe that God might really be calling them to such a countercultural – but extraordinary – life.