Acts 4:8-12 / 1 John 3:1-2 / John 10:11-18
We may recall that this year, Ash Wednesday fell on a particular day – 14th Feb – which is also popularly known as Valentine’s Day. So for Catholics who have to observe that obligatory day of fasting and yet wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their loved ones, they could have a special romantic candle-light dinner with bread and water. Well, it’s not that often that Ash Wed falls on Valentine’s Day.
Also we may recall that Easter Sunday fell on the 1st April, which for the secular world is a day of jokes and pranks as they call it April’s Fool’s Day.
So it seems like for this year, God had a sense of humour – Ash Wed falls on Valentine’s Day and Easter Sunday on April Fool’s Day.
But for the Church in Singapore, 14th Feb is a significant day because it is the anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral. So this year, the Cathedral did not celebrate the anniversary of its dedication because of Ash Wed. But because the Cathedral is dedicated to the Good Shepherd, then it would be celebrating its feast-day today, since this Sunday is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday.
The Cathedral was dedicated to the Good Shepherd because in the early days after Singapore was founded, a priest, Fr. Laurent Imbert, stopped over in Singapore and he could well be the first priest to celebrate Mass on this island.
Later, he secretly joined the other missionaries in Korea, which at that time was persecuting Christians. When the persecutors were closing him on him, he wrote that famous letter to his fellow missionaries, saying that “the good shepherd is the one who lays down his life for his sheep”. He hoped that by surrendering himself, the authorities would spare the lives of the other Catholics. Subsequently, he was tortured and beheaded.
Back in Singapore, when the building of the Cathedral was completed and to be dedicated, news of Fr. Imbert’s death was known, and so were the contents of his letter. It was then decided that the Cathedral was to be dedicated to the Good Shepherd, in memory of Fr. Laurent Imbert.
Last year, when the Cathedral was re-dedicated after extensive renovations, the relic of St. Laurent Imbert was also interred into the altar of the Cathedral. And with that, the connection between the Cathedral and the man whose letter inspired the name of the Cathedral came to a full circle. St. Laurent Imbert not only knew the Good Shepherd, but like the Good Shepherd, he also laid down his life for his sheep.
Today, as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear once again what Jesus says of Himself – I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
And on Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church also highlights the promotion of vocations to the priesthood. The Church echoes the voice of her Good Shepherd in calling out to those who hear His voice to follow Him and to lay down their lives in service for God and for His people.
But with the drastic drop of the number of vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life as well, we may wonder if the Good Shepherd has stopped calling. So has Jesus stopped calling? Or have we stopped listening?
The fact that the Church is called to be the sign of salvation means that God will always provide for the Church. In every age and from one generation to the next, God will always call out to those whom He has chosen to be priests to serve as shepherds of God’s flock.
But to lay down one’s life in service of others calls for sacrifice. When it comes to making the sacrifice, the tendency is that we expect others to make the sacrifice, but not us.
The voice of the world says that sacrifice is for losers. The world wants to be served and not to serve.
But the voice of Jesus tells us that He came to serve and not to be served and to even lay down His life as a ransom for many.
So it can be said that the salvation of many depends on the sacrifices of a few, those few that are called and chosen.
And we have seen these few, and we may even know some of these few.
Bro. Simon Ho, who is one of our parishioners, is now in his 4th year of formation in the Major Seminary. He gave up a promising teaching profession to answer the call of the Good Shepherd. We pray that he will persevere and that one day we will be able to see his ordination.
Fr. Michaelraj left his native diocese in India to serve in Singapore, which is a new and challenging environment for him. But he has done well and we pray that he will be blessed for answering the call of the Good Shepherd and that he will be a blessing for us too.
And Fr. Paul Tong, at 91 years-old, is still actually in active service and not retired, as some might think he is. For him there is no retirement or finishing line when it comes to laying down his life in service of God and His people.
So we priests and seminarians ask for your prayers that we will continue to serve you with the love of the Good Shepherd.
And we pray for you too, that if God calls you, or calls your son to serve in the priesthood, you too will make that sacrifice.
Only a few are called and chosen, and when those few make the sacrifice to lay down their lives in love and service, then many will be blessed, and many will be saved.