I was in Cookstown for Confirmation yesterday. I was very moved to hear one of the newly confirmed children pray for all those who suffered because of the Foot and Mouth crisis. It is just one more sign of the sympathy and support which people feel at the present time.

You have been in my thoughts and prayers often over the past month. I come here this morning to express to you my sympathy and the sympathy of very many people at the trouble you have suffered over these past weeks. I was brought up on a farm myself and I have a fair idea of the part which livestock play in the life of a farming family and of a farming community. I come to pray with you – to ask God to heal the hurt and to ease the pain of loss. We come to thank God for the help which people have given each other in the present difficulties. We thank God for the understanding and the willingness of so many to make sacrifices, which other sections of the community have shown in recent times.

Above all, we come together to pray for hope. We ask the God of all consolation to give fresh heart and courage to His people at this trying time. We know well that God can draw good out of every situation, no matter how dismal or discouraging it may seem. The all-powerful and generous God, who creates all life – animal, mineral and vegetable – can restore and replace the flocks that have been lost, in His own good time and according to His own good purpose.

Jesus compared himself to a shepherd. He said he was a good shepherd who was prepared to lay down his life for his sheep. It shows that he understood rural life. He realised that the life of the flock was constantly under threat – not only from words but also from plagues and from disease. Jesus said that he knew his own people – the shepherd knows his sheep. They listen to his voice and he leads them out into fresh and green pastures. I think all of that is worth thinking about at this time. In fact I would recommend that you take up the Gospel of St. John and read all of Chapter 10. Why not talk to the Lord about what he says there. Ask him questions.

St. Gregory the Great says that when Jesus says, “I know my sheep”, he is also saying, “I love them”. When he says, “My sheep know me”, he means, “those who love me, obey me”. “I know them” Jesus says, “and they follow me. I give them eternal life. They will never be lost”. That is at once a great consolation. It is at once a source of deep happiness and deep joy, that promise of Jesus, and no misfortune should distract us from this happiness. If anyone is anxious to reach a certain destination, the roughness of the road will not make him change his mind. “The charms of prosperity must not lead us astray, for only a foolish traveller”, says St. Gregory, “when he sees the pleasant fields on his way, forgets to go on towards his destination”.

This is Good Shepherd Sunday; it is also Vocations Sunday. The theme for this World Day of Prayer for Vocations is: Every Life is a Vocation. Each one of us is called, by God, to enter into a relationship with God, a relationship of love. We do so by listening to the voice of Jesus, who was sent by God, by getting to know him and by following him. We follow him when we keep his commandments. That is the one and only way to eternal life, the one and only way to everlasting happiness.

Writing for today – Vocations Sunday – Pope John Paul II says “The great temptation of our western culture today is to put God on the sidelines of daily life, to relegate Him to the margins, to keep Him in a very small box indeed”. So the Holy Father calls the whole Christian community to re-evangelise life. He says, “so many young people are hungry and thirsting for values today. They are often incapable of finding the way, which leads to those values. Christ and Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life”. They must be helped to meet the Lord and to build up a deep friendship with him.

My prayer is this, that you will be able to come together to meet the Saviour, Jesus Christ, and to establish a deep relationship with him. Jesus must enter into the world of each one of us, become part of our history. We must open our hearts to him and learn to know him each day more deeply so that we can follow him more faithfully and more lovingly. May each one of you come to know Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd more fully.

The Message of Jesus Christ – the message of Eternal Life, is that each one of us is called to enter into a relationship with God, a relationship of love. We do so by listening to the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who was sent by God to save us. We are to get to know him. We follow him when we keep his commandments. That is the only way to eternal life, the one and only route to everlasting happiness. Yes, you are God’s building; Jesus Christ is the foundation. The temple of God is sacred and you are that temple.