On Sunday, April 22, nearly a thousand people from all across the diocese gathered in Washington Lake Park for our annual diocesan iRace4Vocations. This event is held each year on the World Day of Prayer for Vocations with its focus on vocations to the consecrated life and the ordained priesthood. This event attracts lots of young people, families, and individuals of all ages for an afternoon of outdoor enjoyment. There is the 5K race with awards for the runners; a leisurely mile walk for non-runners; plenty of free food; lively music provided by a priest disc jockey; line dancing; clowns; games; and face painting for the young ones — all in a beautiful park.
It is a much-needed opportunity to get the message out about vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life which are needed for the life and work of the Church. Our diocesan seminarians are there as well as many of the women religious who minister in our diocese. The event began with the Mass of the fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Contemporary Liturgical music was provided by Messenger. The faithful praising God and praying for Vocations: that’s what iRace is all about — the consecrated life and the ordained priesthood. What follows are excerpts from the homily I preached:
Today on Good Shepherd Sunday, we heard Jesus in the Gospel say “I know mine.” He knows us and loves us deeply, so deeply that He adds, “I lay down my life for my sheep.” “I am the Good Shepherd.” This image of the Shepherd tells us so much about how Jesus Christ is related to us. He knows us by name, personally and intimately, and He loves us deeply — so much that He gave His life for us. “I lay down my life for my sheep.” Not, I risk my life but I give my life for them. I am so bonded — connected to them even to the laying down of my life. This image of the Good Shepherd speaks so forcefully about the love that God has for each one of us.
Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. A day dedicated to praying for vocations to the consecrated life and to the priesthood. These vocations are necessary for the Church. We remember the Church’s need for more men and women to give themselves to the vocation of shepherding God’s people. I encourage our youth to consider vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Perhaps you are being called by God and just need someone to tell you to listen to His voice.
In October of this year, our Holy Father Pope Francis will convene a Synod, which is a meeting of representatives from the Catholic Church around the world. The theme of the Synod is “Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment,” and during the Synod among the topics to be considered will be vocations to the Priesthood and the Religious Life, which I call vocations of shepherding. On Good Shepherd Sunday we focus precisely on these two shepherding vocations. Yes, there are other vocations of shepherding, such as being a parent or a single person who serves others in some manner. All of us are called through Baptism to follow the Good Shepherd. All vocations flow from the Baptismal call. The calls to the priesthood and the consecrated life are calls to greater service to the Church and the world.
The prophet Ezekiel speaks about God as shepherd when he writes, “I myself will shepherd the sheep. I will give them rest. The lost I will bring back. The injured I will bind up and the sick I will heal.” The rugged countryside of Judea with its rocks, crags, crevasses and plenty of wolves and rustlers required that a shepherd had to be totally dedicated to the care of the sheep. A shepherd has to be dedicated to the care of the flock of sheep and to each individual sheep. Sheep are totally dependent on the shepherd for their wellbeing. The prophet sees in that relationship an image of how God is related to us.
We are the Lord’s flock and from among us must come forth vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life. We need women and men to be the shepherds of our flock. This flock of God in the six southern counties of New Jersey. We need to encourage this. We need to pray for this. In our diocese we have wonderful examples of shepherds, such as Sister Bianca Camilleri, FMIJ, who is celebrating 60 years of religious life. 60 YEARS! A Diamond Jubilee! What commitment! What dedication! What sacrifice! What happiness! As a consecrated religious, Sister has shepherded in Italy, Egypt, and here in our diocese as an educator. The Church needs many more like her, and if there is any young woman who has ever even had one thought, even one fleeting thought, about being a Sister, I urge you to speak with a Sister. The same for any young man. I urge you to speak with a priest. If you are hesitant to speak with a priest, then speak with one of our seminarians and he will tell you how it went with his life that led him to entering the seminary. Seminarians are some of the most courageous young guys that I know. It takes a lot of courage to pursue and test a vocation to the priesthood. A lot of courage.
We have wonderful priests in our diocese. Priests whose ministries have built up and continue to build up this local Church in South Jersey. Talk with them. Listen as they tell you about their priestly ministries. About how they as shepherds accompany their parishioners.
Let us pray that the Lord will send us young men and young women who are willing to give their lives. The priesthood and the consecrated life are lives of deep human satisfaction and fulfillment and lives of great happiness and joys. May our Church in Camden be blessed with young people who desire to be good shepherds.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden