At the age of 14, I was going to music school in San Francisco on the weekends and was barely getting into my faith as a young teenager in Vallejo. Yet, the Good Shepherd leads his people. I remember the moment when a friend invited me to join the youth choir at Saint Vincent Ferrer Parish. A few weeks later, I joined a Catholic renewal retreat with the largest youth group in Solano County. Here’s a clip from the days of long ago being part of this ministry:
The Good Shepherd not only leads, he also feeds. A treasured moment in my life was when my grandmother encouraged me to be an altar boy in her downtown parish in San Francisco. She didn’t want to dress me up every weekend to only sit down at church and be a spectator. The Good Shepherd fed me as my grandmother played the organ and sang in the choir on one side of the sanctuary and I joined the boys in serving Christ at the altar. In the early years, I knew I wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, but priests and the older altar boys were patient with me and their patience is a virtue I have never forgotten.
The Good Shepherd not only leads and feeds. The Good Shepherd protects. Like the majority of most college students, my faith wavered as I entered San Francisco State University as a Music Major. Life was throwing many options into my face, pulling me in all sorts of directions, explorations, and ideas. Life was pulling me to reconsider God and even at points proposed that I abandon him for the world. Even in the darkest moments of my relationship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd gave me Cecilia Flores at the college dorms. College dorms are filled with a lot of partying, loud music, and college students being college students. Walking down the hall, I saw something that struck me like lighting, it was a flyer on the door of Cecilia Flores who posted, “Come here and pray the rosary.” I thought it was such a bold thing for a college student to post something so publicly.
Cecilia not only knew her faith, she loved her faith and lived it in joy! My friendship with her saved me from being completely lost. She encouraged me to accompany her to daily Mass at the uncivilized hour of 6:30 am every morning. By her joy, I re-discovered the liturgy, I re-discovered the beauty and reality of the Eucharist, I re-discovered that it’s possible to live for Jesus in a world that has dismissed him. I learned this all from a college girl who once lived life on the East Bay with all the wrong crowds, boys, and parties. I learned how to fall in love with Christ from the college girl who allowed Jesus to be her savior.
Jesus leads, feeds, and protects. The modern culture has redirected our hearts to push the Good Shepherd off to the sidelines for we have made him a God who has become irrelevant to our political and social discourses. He is the very Savior whom society and social circles crucify again.
I am not discouraged by such a reality. This is nothing new! Paul and Barnabas preached the word to the people of Antioch who were not ready to listen. The apostles continued their ministry and preached to the Gentiles and were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
I am not discouraged because Christ lives and dies no more! And by virtue of our baptism, we belong to the Good Shepherd who not only lives, he continues to lead, feed, and protect us. And if that is not enough, the Risen One calls the extraordinary in the ordinary. What do I mean? Vocation.
The vocation to Marriage: Your spouse, your matrimony may seem ordinary to the eyes of the world. Yet, your love as husband and wife in Christ is an extraordinary love. It is a love that witnesses to the world, a love that builds a home for children. It is a love where children first encounter the Jesus who lives. Marriage is a vocation which heralds the domestic Church.
The vocation of the Young: Those whom the Good Shepherd calls as young people are called to the extraordinary. Yours is an extraordinary life because you may be the only scripture which people in your schools will ever read. Your life is precious in the eyes of Jesus, and according to today’s Gospel, no one can take you out of the Good Shepherd’s grip. You belong to him and the very purpose of why you exist is to bring others to know the joy of loving him in return.
The vocation to Religious Life: Those whom God calls to the Religious Life as Sisters are called to the extraordinary as you take on a union with Christ that is specifically yours. You take on the veil of his bride, the heart of his spouse, to love the world with intensity, devotion, and commitment.
The vocation of the Deacon: Then there are the Deacons and their wives. Deacons are always called to the extraordinary because according to scripture and tradition they are the ones who are stoned first and burned at the stake. With their wives, they give witness to the poor and service to the Church that is specifically theirs.
All of these extraordinary: marriage, the young, religious life, deacons and their wives, bind us to a specific bond to Jesus. These are only a few of the ways in which we all share in Jesus’ priesthood which calls us to holiness to echo into the world that Christ is the joy whom every human person longs to possess.
If you would allow me, there is one more specific vocation worth mentioning. That is the ministerial priesthood of Christ. The priests of Jesus. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, summons the most imperfect of gentlemen to a particular life. They are gentlemen called to anoint you and prepare the soul to stand before God. They are gentlemen called to absolve sin, they are gentlemen called to witness marriages, bury the dead, and celebrate the heart of the Christian faith in the Eucharist. They are called to a specific and intimate relationship in the hospital field of sinners. They are called to be the very face of God’s mercy and compassion.
I have this personal theory of why people leave early for Church. Putting aside the practical reason of helping a disabled family member to the car, being cultural Catholics, beating the rush to hospitality tables, or beating the long lines in the parking lot. Here’s my personal theological theory. I believe people leave early because the final words of the Mass given by the deacon or priest are utterly terrifying. “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!” This command given by the Church makes us realize that Jesus means business. Jesus charges us to bring his Risen life to our workplace, homes, and communities. Sometimes that may terrify us because it means that our faith has to be lived out, explored, studied, and announce and Jesus, the one who lives, charges us personally to this command.
I am asking every person to reconsider who Jesus is. He is the Good Shepherd who leads, feeds, and protects you. He is the Good Shepherd who does not need our permission for him to love us or to seek us out when we are lost!
Alleluia! Jesus lives and calls each and every one of us in our ordinary lives to be extraordinary! The miracle in life is when we recognize it. Come, let us go to the altar and recognize him today in the breaking of the bread and in the command, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!”