Jesus the Good Shepherd, St Joseph the Worker and Us

3 May 2020 is the Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A. It is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday and Vocation Sunday. The Gospel Reading of this Sunday is taken from John 10:1-10.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” (NRSV John 10:11, 14)

“The sheep hear his (the shepherd’s) voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (of the sheepfold). When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (NRSV John 10:3-4) Each of us follows Jesus, the Good Shepherd closely because we know his voice of love.

But we, in our different capacities as teachers, parents and elder siblings, are also called to be shepherds following the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd par excellence.

At the same time, Good Shepherd Sunday is also called Vocation Sunday, a day when the Church prays for pastors who lead the Christian communities. The pastors include priests, religious men and women in the Catholic Church.

The word, “pastor” comes from the Latin verb “pascere” – “to lead to pasture to eat grass.” A pastor (Latin noun for shepherd) is the shepherd who leads the sheep.

The word, “vocation” comes from the Latin word, “vocare” – “to call.” A vocation is a call from God to a state of life, namely, the overarching call of marriage (including parenthood), ministerial priesthood (to serve God and people in the sacraments) or consecrated life (life of perpetual vows). A vocation can also be a call from God to a particular work in life, for example teaching, nursing, etc.

Whether we look at vocation as a state of life or a work in life, whether as teachers, parents or students, we can benefit the following salient points.

1) Vocation is a call from God. Every vocation is born of that gaze of love with which the Lord comes to meet us in our particular self. And we respond to this call from God and remain steadfast, dedicated and committed to this call.

2) From Pope Francis’ message for Vocation Sunday 2020 – Words of Vocation, he shares these four words:

a) Gratitude

He says, “How we find fulfilment in life is more than a decision we make as isolated individuals; above all else, it is a response to a call from on high.” “We will succeed in discovering and embracing our vocation once we open our hearts in gratitude and perceive the passage of God in our lives.”

In this time of MCO and online classes, we must remember to be grateful to God for the many blessings we have received thus far. If we have gratitude in our hearts, we will find fulfilment in our vocation as teachers and parents. Gratitude is the door to positivity in life and infinite goodness.

b) Courage

He also says, “The toss and turns of life call for courage.” Yes, life is not always smooth sailing like now during MCO. We must face it with courage; and be resilient.

Educators have always gone beyond teaching the “three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic, and today we seek to instill in our students that fourth “R” of resilience. The phrase “the three Rs” is used because each word in the phrase has a strong R sound at the beginning.

Resilience is not about not changing. It may require evolving as a result of all that is learned and experienced through a disturbance. We are not all born resilient, but we are all born with the capacity to acquire resilience. To be resilient we need courage.

We can instill resilience by teaching the students the “three Ws”: worth, will, wonder. We can say that ultimately, all these struggles we go through are going to be worth it. When there is a will, there is a way. Wonder is the beginning of learning.

c) Fatigue

Pope Francis also acknowledges the many heavy responsibilities we have as shepherds that can lead to fatigue. Every vocation brings with it a responsibility. It is a fact to be embraced and accepted. But he continues to say, “If we let ourselves be daunted by the responsibilities that we carry or by the hardships we encounter, then we will soon turn away from the gaze of Jesus.”

The Lord calls us because he wants to enable us, that is, to make us able to do the things God has called us to.

Despite our frailty, faith enables us to continue to gaze upon Jesus for strength. Whenever fatigue or fear makes us feel discouraged, let us keep focusing on Jesus. He gives us the enthusiasm we need to live our vocation with joy and fervour.

d) Praise

In his fourth word, Pope Francis says, “Even amid the toss and turns of our lives, we must become open to praise God.” This attitude of praise is more importantly the openness to cultivate the interior disposition of:

i) being grateful that God gazes upon me with love,

ii) remaining faithful when I am fatigue,

iii) having courage to embrace my vocation and

iv) making my life an eternal song of praise to the Lord.

In connection with the vocation theme, we have the worker theme as below:

1 May 2020 is Labour Day and Memorial of St Joseph the Worker (Scripture Readings – Genesis 1:26-2:3; Matthew 13:54-58).

Pope Pius XII instituted the memorial (at that time a feast) of St Joseph the Worker in 1955 to counter the Communist-initiated May Day (Labour Day on 1 May) as a way to remember the contribution of workers. It is a response to the increasingly Communist climate of that time that highlights work as a merely human endeavour, neglecting the dignity of work as commanded by God.

All the more today, in our highly secularised world, we need to look at work as being imbued with God’s grace rather than just human effort.

If we look at Scripture, before the fall into the first sin by Adam and Eve, work is mentioned as being commanded with great care by God. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (NRSV Gen 2:15)

After the sin of Adam, however, work is mentioned as difficult. “In toil you shall eat of it (the fruits of human labour) all the days of your life … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” (NRSV Gen 2:18-19)

Therefore, we can come to this summary about work – by work, humankind fulfills the divine command found in Genesis:

a) to care for the earth,

b) to be productive in their labour,

c) while acknowledging that work is also difficult and energy-sapping,

d) and there is dignity in any kind of work (including studying for students!).

St Joseph is chosen as a model of the dignity of human work because he was a carpenter. “Is not this (Jesus) the carpenter’s son?” (Mat 13:55; Mk 6:3) Through his vocation called by God to care for Mary and Jesus, he served them with all his heart and strength. But it is also his humility and loving diligence as a hardworking yet poor provider that serves as an example to all who work to fulfill a vocation or to provide for a family.

St Joseph followed his vocation to be a carpenter and provider for the Holy Family. I hope and pray that my message today will sow encouragement for you in following Jesus the Good Shepherd and take St Joseph the Worker as your example in your own vocation as teachers, parents and students, and your work in teaching or studying.

Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (NRSV John 10:10) Continue to gaze with love upon Jesus and live life to the full despite many things in life that can pull us down.

We also remember to pray for all frontliners during this time of Movement Control Order (MCO) – those who have the vocation to work in the medical line, security personnel in maintaining order and the common good, cleaners for a clean and hygienic environment, providers of essential services, other carers of human well-being – for their good health and happiness.

Fr Francis Lim, SJ