By Father Clement “Clem” Olukunle Oyafemi
JACKSON – There was a man named “Kokumo,” who lived for 99 years and died. He was not able to receive the “Last Sacrament” because the only priest serving his 4,500 member parish was in the hospital for a surgery at the time of his death. “Kokumo” gets to heaven and complains to God saying, “God, there are so many problems in the world; sickness, conflicts, catastrophes, and even in the church, there are so many believers with no priest to serve them. What are you doing about that?” God smiles and says to him, “My son, I did something.” What did you do?” the man says. God responds to him, “I created you!”
April 25 was been designated as “World Day of Prayer for the priesthood and religious life.” In many parts of the world today is also called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The Universal Church encourages us to “pray to the Lord of the “harvest” to send laborers into his harvest.” (cf Matthew 9:38) In today’s gospel passage Jesus presents to us a teaching about himself using the image of shepherd, “I am the good shepherd and I know mine, and mine know me” (John 10:14). The whole Gospel of St. John gives us a summary of the Paschal Mystery, which we celebrate at this holy season. It alludes to the suffering servant of God sacrificing his life for others (cf Isaiah 53:1-12). What is the significance of this message? What challenge does it give us today?
The image of the shepherd manifests the various aspects of the person of Jesus. The role of a shepherd is multiple; the shepherd seeks out the lost sheep, cares tenderly the wounded sheep, protects the sheep at the cost of his/her own life and feeds them. What does that mean for us as a church?
Jesus is the real, authentic, ideal, perfect, or Good Shepherd, and we are his flock, or sheep. He teaches, sanctifies, and governs us. He cares for us and guides us always. There is a hierarchy of “shepherds.” In the family, parents are the shepherds; in the Church, priests; and in the diocese, the bishop: in the Universal Church, the pope is the shepherd. Every family is a “domestic church” and the parents have the duty to teach, sanctify, and govern their children. If parents, who are shepherds in the family, fail in their Christian duties, it will have an adverse effect on the entire church and society.
Today’s gospel passage challenges us, especially parents, to see ourselves as shepherds for our families. We need to pay more attention, not only to the material, but more seriously to the spiritual and moral needs of our children. We as parents need to sacrifice whatever it takes to care for our children. In carrying out the task of shepherding/parenting, Jesus is the only ideal and model for us to follow. Shepherding is a calling (vocation) but not a job. It is a vocation, which demands nothing less than the sacrifice of one’s life for others. Today’s world however does not seem to celebrate a life of sacrifice. And that is why we have very few shepherds both in the domestic and the community churches.
Hence, today’s liturgy enjoins us to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Let us all also pray for those who have already been called as shepherds on domestic and community levels that they may serve faithfully, following the example of Jesus who is the perfect, ideal and Good Shepherd. Today’s church needs shepherds just like Jesus, who lay down his life for his flock. Preaching on the pulpit alone would not do it. We need to start talking about vocation to the priesthood and religious life at dinner tables. We need to pray that God may choose from our families to answer this special calling. I have been to some parishes where people complain so much about not having enough attention from the priest. But this priest is only one person and has 3,500 or 4,000 members to shepherd! At times, the question is about shortage of priests. We need three priests in this parish, but the bishop only gave us one. My question is “What are you doing about it?” complaining, criticizing, etc.? That would not help the church at all. We need to pray for vocations, and also encourage our kids to consider giving their lives to God to serve as priests.
There is no substitute for parents in the family. Similarly, there is no substitute for the priesthood in the church. Let us pray that parents may sacrifice whatever it takes to raise their children in a way that is pleasing to the living God. Let us also pray that the Lord may inspire young men and women of our time to answer the call to sacrifice their lives to serve the church as priests and religious.
(Excerpt from the book Theological Reflections for Sundays and Solemnities of Liturgical Year B, 2011 by Father Clem-alias Clemente de Dios, Coordinator of the Intercultural Ministry of the Diocese since 2020. Father Clem has two master’s degrees, one in theology and the other in religious education, and a BA in Philosophy. Sharing with Sister Thea a passion for the Lord and music, Father Clem founded the Rejoice Ministry of African Worship Songs -AFRAWOS- in 2002.)