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Sunday:       Fourth Sunday of Easter
Date:         May 7, 2017.
Year:         A
The readings: [Acts 2:14a, 36b-41; 1 Pet. 2:20b-25; Jn. 10:1-10]
The message:  I am the gate for the sheep.
Prepared by:  Catholic Doors Ministry
Total words:  2035

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** The readings follow the sermon.

Welcome my brothers and sisters in Christ to today's celebration of the Holy Mass on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, this Sunday is very special. It has been set aside in the Liturgical Calendar as the "World Day of Prayer for Vocations." By "vocations," it is meant priestly, diaconal and religious vocations. This is not a denial of the importance of the Sacrament of Marriage. Rather, it is a time that has been set aside by the Holy Catholic Church to emphasize:

(1) Firstly, the importance of the Sacrament of the Holy Orders. Without holy priests in all parts of the world, the faithful in some regions would be denied access to some of the Sacraments. They would be denied the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist until such time as a priest passes by and consecrates some hosts during the celebration of the Holy Mass. Also, the believers would be left without the Sacraments of Confession and of the Sick (Last Rites), consequently being unable to maintain their souls in a state of righteousness until their last breath.

(2) Secondly, the Church seeks to emphasize the beauty of the religious life through the consecration of one's mind, heart, body and soul as a religious brother or sister. While these dedicated individuals are not always in the forefront of the Church, they are the backbone of the Body of Christ. They assist the priests in secondary functions to free them so they can preach and administer the Sacraments. In some faith communities, they serve as teachers, nurses, servants of the poor, publishers of Catholic material, etc... Most important of all, day after day, these consecrated souls raise their voices heavenly, praying for the needs of the Church, for your needs, for my needs, for all those who otherwise might be forgotten.

Today, the Church calls us to reflect on the meaning of God's call and to pray for vocations. It reminds us that the entire Christian community shares the responsibility for fostering vocations. One may ask, "What exactly is the responsibility of the Christian community to foster vocations?" To answer that question, we must review the words of Saint Paul in the Letter to the Romans.

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him? How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" [Rom. 10:13-5]

From this passage, it is summarized that if someone does not hear the Word of God, he cannot believe, nor be saved. Equally, unless one is exposed to the calling grace of God, how can he or she know that there is a calling? It cannot be known!

For the grace of God to work, Christians must share in the responsibility of fostering vocations. How do they do that? I perceive four most important steps involved in this process:

(1) First of all, prayer is necessary. The faith community must continuously pray for vocations, day and night. Prayers should not be limited to when there is a shortage of religious vocations. The faithful should continue to raise their prayers toward the Throne of Heaven even when there is an abundant crop of priests, religious brothers and sisters. For you can never have too many consecrated lives in a diocese. If there are more vocations than needed, these can be sent forth to work as missionaries in regions where there are few or no vocations. The blessings of God should be shared with the less fortunate to ensure that the Word of God will be heard in all four corners of the earth.

(2) Secondly, there is the responsibility of the Christian family. To foster vocations, the family must foster the Christian life. The family must live its faith in Christ on a daily basis. It must pray together, this including the children. It must go to Church together, this including the children. It must participate in the Church events, this including the children. The Body of Christ must not be divided within the family. When it comes to Sunday obligations, it is not a matter of choice for the children; it is a matter of obligation towards God, towards the Church, towards the family and towards oneself. It is insufficient to claim to be Catholic. One must practice the Catholic faith. One must be a living Catholic, not a dead Catholic. One must let his light shine before others, so that they may see his good works and give glory to his Father in Heaven. [Mt. 5:16]

(3) Thirdly, parents must respect and encourage the religious life. If one of their children shows an interest towards becoming a priest, a religious brother or sister, this must not be discouraged. Parents have no right to obstruct the grace of God that is working through the Holy Spirit. Humbly, the parents must be thankful to God for having chosen their family. They must foster the grace of God to ensure that the Divine Will of the Lord shall be manifested in their family.

(4) Finally, to foster vocations, parents must encourage their children, including their teenagers and young adults to be exposed to the religious life. If the children, the teens and the young adults are never exposed to the religious life, how can they know what it is all about? They cannot! How can they see Jesus administering the Sacraments in the priest if they have never met or spoken to a priest? They cannot! How can they see the richness of the religious calling if they do not encounter religious vocations? They cannot! It is through seeing and hearing that the grace of God touches the heart of the person.

Nowadays, you can go to many Churches on Sunday and you will meet altar servants, eucharistic ministers, gift bearers, lectors and ministers of hospitality. In some Churches, all of these positions are filled by females. It is as if the Church has been taken over by the female gender. It is as if Church involvement has become a women's thing! This is wrong! This does not foster religious vocations, especially to the priesthood or as religious brothers.

For the grace of God to work in the sons of our faith community and our Diocese, we must at least have an equal involvement of males in the Church. We must foster Church involvement on the part of our male children, teenagers and young men. It is through Church involvement that the grace of God is able to manifest itself more freely in the boys of the parish.

Many parishes cry that they have no priests. For years, they have been promoting lay liturgies, slowly doing away with the need of their priests. For years, they have been gradually pushing the males out of their Churches, cutting off the grace of God from touching priestly vocations. Now they ask, "Why is God punishing us? Why is God not providing us with vocations?" God did not punish them! God did not stop giving them vocations! They punished themselves! Through their own ways, they cut off the grace of God from manifesting itself in their parishes! What they enjoy today is the fruit of their labour.

Today's First Reading [Acts 2:14, 36-41] was a call to penance and conversion. When Pentecost had come, Peter stood before the crowd and told them to repent. He told them to turn away from their sins. What were their sins? The people of God had rejected Jesus as their Messiah and the Gentiles continued to worship idols. Both greatly displeased God.

Peter also told the crowd that each and everyone of them should be baptized in the Name of Jesus. The new Baptism of Jesus was superior to the Baptism of John the Baptist. Why? Because it involved two things. It involved receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then it allowed the pronouncing of the saving Name of Jesus. Until that time, it was forbidden to ever say the Name of God.

Finally, Peter informed those who were present that through the Sacrament of Baptism, they would receive the forgiveness of sins. Through penance and Baptism, the new converts were added to the number of the elects, this providing them with the assurance of the promised salvation.

It is sad that nowadays there are Catholic families that no longer see the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism. As such, they omit having their children baptized. They have forgotten the words of the Council of Trent and the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam's sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the "death of the soul". [Council of Trent: DS 1512] Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin. [Council of Trent: DS 1514]" (C.C.C. # 403)

And then there are the non-practicing families that want their children baptized but they refuse to participate in the Baptism preparation program. These persons want to be baptized in the Church, married in the Church and die in the Church. But they never practice their faith, neither in the Church, nor at home. They are Christians by name only.

Now, facing the fact that the priests are denying the Sacrament of Baptism to they children because they are not practicing their faith in Christ, these parents have abandoned the Catholic faith and turned to the Evangelical Movement in the hope that their children will not experience "the death of the soul." Is this the answer? Is it sufficient to be baptized if one will never learn about Jesus in the home environment? Is it sufficient to be baptized if one will never live his faith in Christ? Is this fostering vocations? Certainly not!

During today's Gospel Reading, [Jn. 10:1-10] we heard that Jesus said, "I am the gate for the sheep." [Jn. 10:7, 9] "Whoever enters by Me will be saved." [Jn. 10:9] In other words, He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." [Jn. 14:6] The way to Jesus is Jesus' way, not mankind's way! The way to Jesus is through the Church, the Church that has been established by Jesus Himself, the same Church that has handed down the apostolic tradition to us since the days of Saint Peter. The Church of Jesus fosters a living faith in the Christian family. Through such families, the grace of God is manifested and vocations flourish to ensure that the needs of the Church are all met.

During today's Gospel Reading, Jesus gave two comparisons. He compared Himself to the Shepherd and to the Gate. The first title represents His ownership. The Shepherd is the true owner of the sheep. The second title represents His leadership. Jesus is the Gate, the way. He is the one Mediator between God and mankind. All must go through Him, through His Church, in order to arrive to Heaven.

These are the Words of the Lord Jesus. These are the Words that our future vocations, our sons and daughters of the parish, of the diocese, are called to preach to the world. Jesus calls His own sheep by name and leads them. When He has brought out of the world all His own, He goes ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice. [Jn. 10:3-4]

This week, let us reflect upon today's homily and remember our obligation to foster vocations in our home. Let us remember Jesus' Words to Peter, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." [Mt. 4:19] Let us also remember that He said, "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour." [Jn. 12:26]

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The readings...

[The readings were taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (C) 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the United States of America.]

* * * * * * * * * *

First Reading...

"When the day of Pentecost had come, Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd. "Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Now when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other Apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."

And he testified with many other arguments, and exhorted them, saying, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day were added about three thousand souls." [Acts 2:14a, 36b-41]

* * * * * * * * * *

Second Reading...

"Brothers: If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

Christ Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." [1 Peter 2:20b-25]

* * * * * * * * * *

Gospel Reading...

"Jesus said: 'Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.' The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.

Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." [Jn. 10:1-10]

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