Pastoral Letter for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
29/30 April 2023

My dear friends, If you are feeling a little confused after hearing the gospel reading today, then that is quite understandable. After all Jesus’s disciples didn’t get it the first time and he used another parable to throw light on the first. The talk of shepherds, sheep and sheepfolds can also be difficult for us to grasp as agricultural terms are not often used in modern urban society.

Jesus shows by his parable in the first part of the gospel his close

relationship with his sheep. The shepherd calls his sheep one by one; they

know his voice and they follow him. There is a very close intimate

relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. Since this is Vocations

Sunday the emphasis for us today is on being called (the word ‘vocation’

comes from the Latin word vocare, which means to call): the sheep follow

him because they know his voice. That call is made to every single person

but how do we know what it is, or can we even hear it all? There is so

much noise in today’s world how can we hear the voice of Jesus amid the

cacophony of voices and sounds which assault our senses?

St John Paul II often spoke of the call of the Good Shepherd as the

Universal Call to Holiness. Everyone who has been baptised has been

called to holiness. That call is unique to each of us – he calls us one by

one. Our journey through life in response to God’s loving purpose for us

is different from the person sitting next to us. Some of us live out our

vocation in a particular way such as by being married and having a family.

Others will live in a religious community. Many people respond to the call

to holiness through the work they do, perhaps as a teacher or in a caring

profession. There are as many ways of hearing God’s call and answering

it as there are people on this earth. Our responsibility as Christians is to

listen to God’s word and hear how he is calling us individually. Hearing the

call of the Jesus and responding to it is not a simple process of making a

lifestyle choice. It requires getting to know Jesus so we can recognise his

voice amongst the many other attractions and opportunities in life. Jesus

knows us but do we know him? One way to begin to know Jesus is through

prayer, giving ourselves a short time of silence each day so that he may

speak to us, and speak to us he will. Although the call is particular to each

of us the way we find holiness is through each other in the church so that

we may be one in Christ.

To make this clear Jesus goes on to say, ‘I am the gate of the sheepfold’.

So, he’s not just the shepherd but also the way into the sheepfold. That

doesn’t sound very clear at all, but what he is saying is that it is through

him that we enter an even closer relationship with him and his Father in

heaven. Any other offers which may be made to us, for our future

satisfaction and happiness can be false. The beauty of this new

relationship with Jesus is that it is safe and gives us the freedom to come

and go, to be fed with rich pastures and have the fullness of life.

Next weekend, King Charles III will be crowned as King of Great Britain and

Northern Ireland. For him it will be the fulfilment of a long vocation. For

many years we have watched as he remained faithful to his calling. In the

coronation ceremony there is a moment when he is presented to the

people and they respond in support by shouting with one voice, ‘God save

the King’. When a priest or deacon is presented for ordination the people

acclaim, ‘Thanks be to God’. These rites suggest to us that vocation

doesn’t come from the Lord alone but is complemented by his Body, the

Church. And that should give every one of us comfort because responding

to our special calling should not be lonely but supported by the whole

community of the church. St John Henry Newman, who is much admired

by King Charles, summed up vocation this way:

‘God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed
some work to me which He has not committed to another.’

So far, I have only spoken about vocation in general. Traditionally, this

Sunday is used to awaken the idea of a specific vocation to priesthood or

the religious life in the minds of the people. Of course, we will always need

priests and religious as signs of the kingdom to which we all aspire and to

be of service to the church and the world through sacraments and

ministry. I cannot envisage a church without priests and religious, so I do

ask you if you are single to discern whether the Lord is calling you in these

ways of being his disciple. It takes courage to take the first steps as it goes

against the voices which are calling you to other things, but you will not

be alone. Jesus the Good Shepherd and his flock will be with you every

step of the way.

May the joy of the Risen Lord be with you and your families as you reflect

on his call,

Most Rev Malcolm McMahon OP

Archbishop of Liverpool