06 MAY 2001

Bringing Us Closer to God

       Since we have been celebrating the first communion of our young people the last two weekends, and this weekend as well, I thought back to my own first communion, way back in 1981. I donít remember too much about my first communion, to tell you the truth. I remember getting dressed for the occasion, and I remember the teacher giving us instructions before the mass, but thatís it. So I thought Iíd jog my memory a little, and I dug up my first communion picture. I was struck at first by how fashion has changed; none of our young people are wearing baby blue or chocolate brown polyester suits. Nor are any of them wearing the poofy hair-dos of the early 80ís. But, kids will be kids, no matter what decade they are from. Everyone in the picture has a demure smile on their face, including myself. That is everyone except one kid. He, very purposefully, is wearing a face that looks something like this: [makes a funny face].

       All of us probably remember something about our First Communion, whether it is our white dress or the grown up tie. It is good for us to reflect on this event, a very important one in each of our lives. Indeed, First Communion is the second of the Sacraments of Initiation. Baptism is what got things going for us. In this life-changing and transformative event, we were adopted a Godís own sons and daughters. The Original Sin of our first parents was wiped away, and we were made part of Godís family on earth, the Church. First Communion made us a fuller part of the Church. We took for the first time the body and blood of the Lord as food for our journey. We allowed Jesus to become part of us so that we might be more like him, bearing his presence to all the world. Finally, we were sealed in the Spirit at our Confirmation, for many of us, this was a sacrament we received by our own choice as a sign of our commitment to our Catholic faith. The Sacraments of Initiation lead us in our journey, and helps us to follow Jesus, who likens himself to a shepherd in the gospel today.

       One of the most delightful movies I have seen in recent years is the movie "Babe." (How many of you have seen Babe?) In this film, a pig tries to become like a shepherding sheep dog. At first, he has little success. He tries following the tactics of the dogs: he tries to bully the sheep into doing what he wants them to do. But, the sheep just laugh at him. Then Babe realizes that bossing other animals around is not his style. So he tries something different. He tries to shepherd the sheep by showing kindness and love. Babe politely asks them to do what he wants. The sheep respond favorably to Babe because he is kind and loving. And, he has great success, success that leads him to a great reward.

       When considering Jesus as the Good Shepherd, it is important to remember that he shepherds in a style that resembles the style of Babe. Rather than ordering us around in the style of sheepdogs, he gently guides us with kindness. I have no doubt that Jesus, in his great love for us, is asking us to do certain things with our lives. But, he does not bark out the orders and expect us to follow. Jesus shepherds us by whispering into our hearts, with words of love and patience. As the sheep of his flock, we hear his voice, Jesus says, and we follow him. He goes on to say that he will lead us to eternal life, where we will never perish. Hereís the tough part though: just how are we to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd? How are we to know just what he wants us to do?

       Years ago in high school, I heard a talk given by a Benedictine sister about her vocation to religious life. Sister shared with us that when she was preparing to receive her first communion as a child, that her teacher encouraged them to say a special prayer to Jesus each time they received his body and blood. They were to ask Jesus to show them the path for their life. They were to ask him about their vocation. I thought this was a pretty good idea as a young person, so I started to ask Jesus about my vocation each time I received communion. And I tell you what, he answered me loud and clear. My desire to pursue priesthood grew by leaps and bounds as I said this prayer, and I was confident, and remain confident, that I have listened to the voice of the Good Shepherd in becoming a priest. And, do you know what? That works for each one of us. I encourage all of you who are receiving your first communion to ask Jesus in your heart about your vocation. Maybe you are called to be a mommy or daddy in married life, maybe a teacher, maybe a doctor or scientist. And maybe Jesus is calling you to priesthood, or to religious life as Sister or a Brother. This prayer is a good one for the rest of us as well. But the question changes a little as we ask, "Lord, how do you want me to live my vocation faithfully?" Jesus will answer us in his kind and gentle voice through our feelings, through our gifts, and through the words of others around us.

       Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, the Universal Church joins together in a World Day of Prayer for Vocations. As we receive communion today, letís ask our Good Shepherd about our own vocation, and pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This Holy Food strengthens us to follow the will of the Good Shepherd, and the reward is great after all: Jesus promises eternal life to each one of us who follows him. +

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