Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday because in today's Gospel Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd who looks after his sheep.
How important it is for us to remember this truth! Our God is not the clockmaker of the post-enlightenment philosophers who winds up the world and then leaves it to its own devices. Nor is he the capricious despot of the ancient Greek and Roman gods. No, he is a shepherd ' someone who knows us and cares personally about us, someone who guides us with an unfailing hand, if we are willing to follow Him.
Today I ask you to pray particularly for vocations to the priesthood ' for men who will become images of the Good Shepherd for us in our parishes. We pray for men who will be willing to look after the flock of God. Not for their own gain, nor for their own convenience, but selflessly, with the love of the Master himself.
That is a tall order! And that is why we need to pray ' to pray for our twelve seminarians, our future priests; for those who are discerning a call to be a priest, for those who are perhaps afraid to follow that call, for those who have not yet heard the call. Our prayer is essential.
S John Vianney, a saintly French parish priest who lived two hundred years ago, said these beautiful words:
A good shepherd, a pastor after God's own heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.
Yes, the priest is a precious gift for the people of God. It is the priest who is the Lord's instrument in bringing his Presence to us in the Eucharist. It is the priest who brings the Lord's loving mercy and forgiveness into the messes we so often make of our lives. It is the priest who helps us to find purpose and meaning and direction in our lives as they guide us in God's teachings. It is the priest who cares for us at all the special moments of our lives and who shares in all our joys and sorrows.
As your Bishop, I am concerned about the future pastoral care and mission of our Diocese. I thank God for the priests who serve in our parishes now and have given up their whole lives in the faithful service of the people of God in East Anglia, many of them having done so above and beyond the years expected. Cherish them, encourage them and pray for them as we pray that future generations of Catholics may also be served and loved and guided by true shepherds.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday we also remember the women and men who serve the Church through their Religious Orders and Congregations. We are blessed in our Diocese. We have a contemplative Community who offers its life in prayer and worship on behalf of the whole world. We also have active communities who lovingly serve God and the community through their many gifts. Please pray for them and pray that they may continue to be blessed with vocations.
Finally, whatever our state in life, each one of us, as members of the Body of Christ, has been called by God to serve him. We were given that vocation at our Baptism and it was strengthened at our Confirmation by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray for the ability to abandon our own carefully laid plans and to learn to ask of the Lord:
What are your plans for me? What do you desire for me and my life?
We should be ready with a generous and open heart to respond to whatever God replies.
Then, like those who heard the Gospel preached by Saint Peter in the first reading today, we need to ask God:
What then must we do?
May you continue to joy in the Risen Christ this Eastertide! May the Holy Spirit of Pentecost renew and strengthen us all in the Lord's service.
With all good wishes and an assurance of my prayers,
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Bishop of East Anglia