This Fourth Sunday of Easter we always read the Good Shepherd. The Latin word for shepherd is pastor, and so, in the Catholic Church today we pray for vocations, particularly to the priesthood. We pray that more people will hear and answer the call.
In his book, the Road to Character, David Brooks writes, "A person does not choose a vocation. A vocation is a calling. People generally feel they have no choice in the matter. Their life would be unrecognizable unless they pursued this line of activity."
And I can say without a doubt that is true in my life. It began with my parents who modeled the faith. My cousin Rev. R. J. Barbour, Jr. used to say that he knew from the time I was a child that I was called to the ministry. And I have no doubt that it was the hand of God that, after being steeped in the Bible at the Baptist Tabnernacle, led to the home of Roberto and Chepita Reyes in Managua, Nicaragua where I could discover the richness of the Catholic Church under the guidance of Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo. Returning to Danville, it was then Fr. Michael Duffy who filled in whatever was lacking in my instruction and at the Easter Vigil 1981 received me into full communion with the Catholic Church.
When I was finishing college I could feel the call, the vocation, and guided by Sr. Claire Prenteau, a Franciscan Sister, I was among the first group of Franciscan Volunteers in Baltimore. It was during this year that the inevitability of which Brooks writes became clear. I could do no other than to say yes to the call.
Many have asked why I did not become a Jesuit or a Franciscan. The simple answer is that I am a proud son of Virginia. I have been blessed to travel the world and there is much we can learn from other cultures, but Virginia is my home and the place that, at least to date, I feel called to proclaim the gospel.
These 26 years have not always been easy, but a vocation is not something you can abandon. From the moment you are ordained a priest is who you are. At a particular low point, it was Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington who providentially called to remind me of that.
As I look back over the history of my own vocation one thing is clear. Vocation is not a private matter. The voice of God calls us through the church. In this brief description I have listed only a handful of the many people God used to nourish and sustain my vocation.
Every member of every church want a good pastor, a good shepherd. Few are shy about critiquing the one the bishop sends. But how many of us take seriously the obligation to nurture vocations?
I do not think that my story is unique. No one responds to a vocation in a vacuum. Yes, there is a very personal aspect to vocation. But it is also communal. From the parents whose obligation it is to be the first teachers of their children in the ways of the faith, to the Bishop whose task it is not only to ordain but to guide, to shepherd all the faithful, especially his closest collaborators, his priests, it belongs to all of us to foster vocations.
Today each of us should ask one question. What am I doing to encourage vocations?