Every year at this time, on the 4th Sunday of Easter, we encounter readings about Jesus the Good Shepherd.  

We are reminded again that he is our guide, our support, our protection, our hope.

As we heard in the psalm:

“He made us, his we are; his people, the flock he tends.”

And every year, this Sunday we also mark the World Day of Prayer for Vocations — praying in a special way for vocations to the priesthood, but also to the diaconate and the consecrated life, for religious brothers and sisters, for men and women giving their lives to serve God and his people.

It can be tempting for us to think that vocations are something that happen to other people. Or it’s only for young people. That’s really not true — and I stand before you this morning as Exhibit A. I didn’t hear God’s call until the middle of my life. I was ordained at 48.

Just before our ordination, Bishop Frank Caggiano told my class to approach that moment with wonder and joy.

I still remember his words: “God,” he said, “has a dream for every one of you.”

I stand before you today to echo those words.

God has a dream for every one of you.

He has a dream for every one of us.

Because every person in this church this morning has a vocation.

Every person has been called by God in a way that is unique — and uniquely beautiful.

“He made us, his we are, his people…”

Whether we realize it or not, we can be more than we may imagine.

On Thursday, Pope Francis shared these thoughts on vocations:

 “Michelangelo Buonarroti is said to have maintained that every block of stone contains a statue within it, and it is up to the sculptor to uncover it. If that is true of an artist, how much more is it true of God! In the young woman of Nazareth, he saw the Mother of God. In Simon the fisherman he saw Peter, the rock on which he would build his Church. In the publican Levi he recognized the apostle and evangelist Matthew, and in Saul, a harsh persecutor of Christians, he saw Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. God’s loving gaze always meets us, touches us, sets us free and transforms us, making us into new persons.”

And the Holy Father continued:

“That is what happens in every vocation: we are met by the gaze of God, who calls us. Vocation, like holiness, is not an extraordinary experience reserved for a few. Just as there is a ‘holiness of the saints next door,’ so too there is a vocation for everyone, for God’s gaze and call is directed to every person.”

What a beautiful way of looking at life.

I would add this:

God’s gaze and call is directed to each of us before we are even born. Remember the verse from Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

This is the miracle of life. One we need to cherish and to protect. 

Easter, this season of Resurrection, is a season to rejoice in the gift of life, which is itself the gift of possibility.

The gift of hope.

“He made us, his we are, his people…”

Do we realize what a great privilege this is?

What will we do with it?

The Holy Father mentioned the “holiness of the saints next door.”

This week, we have a reminder of that in our midst.

Maybe you have heard his name: Carlo Acutis. Carlo was born into a wealthy, not very religious family in England. They moved to Italy shortly after he was born. As a child, Carlo showed a strong interest in religion. At his own request, he received his First Communion at the age of 7. In school, he became friends with kids who were disabled or bullied. Kids on the margins. He became their ally and protector.

He also developed a fascination with computers. He earned a reputation as a “computer geek.” Carlo combined his love of computers with his love of the Lord, creating a website dedicated to chronicling the world’s Eucharistic miracles.

This young life burned brightly — but briefly. When he was a teenager, Carlo was diagnosed with leukemia. “I offer to the Lord,” he said, “the sufferings that I will have to undergo for the Pope and for the Church.”

He died just days after his diagnosis, in 2006. Carlos Acutis was 15 years old.

In 2020, he was beatified.

And this Thursday evening, during Adoration and Benediction, we will have a relic of Blessed Carlo — a lock of his hair — here in this church.

Something so small can remind us of something so great — the “holiness of the saints next door,” and the vocation, the calling of God to us all.

This morning, as we receive the Eucharist, I ask you to prayerfully remember Carlo Acutis. Remember this teenager who made the Eucharist the center of his short life.

And remember the gift that is life itself.

What is God calling us to do with it?

I keep thinking of the pope’s words, echoing Michelangelo: God sees beyond the stone, to the statue within.

May we strive to see that, as well — in ourselves and those around us, embracing this as part of our vocation as Christians.

Because every life — even the imperfect, the small, the weak, the poor, the helpless — every life in the eyes of God is a beloved work of art.

On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, as we pray for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life, may we pray as well that every one of us hears God’s call in our own life — to make his dream for us come true.