Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C

Gospel - John 10:27-30
The Lord is Our Shepherd, we are the sheep
The most popular and familiar Psalm of all is of course, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ (Psalm 22). In today’ Mass readings and prayers we learn about the Good Shepherd.

‘I know them’

A priest friend of mine who loves hill-walking related to me how he was spending a couple of nights in a farmhouse Bed and Breakfast in the Dingle Peninsula. Anyone familiar with the West knows that the hills, mountains and ditches are dotted with sheep. On the first morning my friend met the farmer who tended to the sheep who told him he was setting off to find three missing sheep. The following morning they met again and the farmer had been successful in finding the strays. My friend –reared in the city – asked, ‘How did you know they were missing? You have hundreds of sheep here.’ The farmer simply replied:’ I missed their faces’.

‘No one will ever steal them from me’; ‘I know them and the follow me’

When I was in the Holy Land in 1999, our Palestinian tour guide told us of a recent event relating to this Gospel. A Palestinian farmer woke up one morning to discover his flock of sheep were missing. He could only conclude that someone had stolen them. He went to the nearest town on market day and went to the pens where many sheep were up for sale, and he called out to them. As he stood calling, they made their way over to him and he led them away. Shepherds in Israel take the lead and the flock follow. They listen to their master’s voice.

‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice’

Anyone with a pet or anyone working with animals knows that they respond to familiar voices. We might not find it very flattering to be compared to sheep, as the Psalm reminds us [‘we are his people, the sheep of his flock’]but the analogy is a good one as we are called to respond to the Master’s voice and to listen out for Him. We heard the Father speak from heaven on the Sunday of the Transfiguration during Lent: ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.’ At Cana, Mary’s last recorded words are ‘Do whatever He tells you.’
We do so in responding to His Word in prayer and reflection on the Gospel, in faithful living according to the truths and doctrines of the Church, and in listening to Him in the cry of the poor. We ought also to listen out for Him in the advice of a good confessor or director, in the example of others, and in the voice of a well-ordered attuned conscience. We need to listen out above the cacophony of many other disruptive voices clamouring for our attention.

‘And they will never be lost’

Recently at First Confession, the children in the school where I am chaplain had a little drama based on the Lost Sheep. There was an interesting exchange towards the end of the drama where the ‘99’ sheep scold the lost sheep for going missing. The lost sheep snaps back ‘and how could you let me go off by myself and get lost? Why didn’t you go looking for me?’
We all have a role in assisting the Good Shepherd in looking out for the strays through our good example, through a gentle word of encouragement to prayer and Mass attendance or encouragement to confession, through assurance to people that we are praying for them, through works and organisations of evangelisation and outreach in our parishes. Today we pray for (grand)parents anxious for their straying (grand)children. We pray for vocations - that many will hear the Master’s voice and assist Him in shepherding the flock that is the People of God.

‘The Father and I are one’

At the Last Supper, Jesus said to Philip, ‘to have seen me is to have seen the Father’. The Opening Prayer and Gospel acclamation refer to the words of Jesus: ‘I am the Good Shepherd’, yet the concluding prayer of the Mass this Sunday addresses God the Father as the ‘eternal shepherd’.
‘Father, eternal shepherd, watch over the flock redeemed by Christ, and lead us to the Promised Land.’
It echoes the sentiments of the Opening Prayer: ‘Give us new strength from the courage of Christ our shepherd and lead us to join the saints in heaven.’
May He lead us ‘to pastures green and quiet waters by.’

Third Sunday of Easter Year C

Third Sunday of Easter Year C

It is the most profound, beautiful and most deeply personal question we can ever ask or be asked by anyone: ‘do you love me?’ I wonder if you can recall ever being asked this question in your own experience by a loved one, or by a close friend.
We are not very articulate and would rather show our love to others by our actions. We squirm at American sit-coms or family soaps where the phrase is used so readily. We become tongue-tied and embarrassed; avoid eye-contact at the thought. To whom can we say confidently and readily ‘I love you’? We might say it to a child, but rarely to an adult. When did we last say it to a parent, or a spouse? We excuse ourselves saying, ‘they know it already.’

It’s a tough question because we feel it is also a question that leads to further commitment if it being asked of us. We feel threatened to our own security and wants. What is the other person implying by asking it? What is it they are looking for? We would rather change the subject!

Peter is asked this very question by Jesus three times. Why did Jesus ask it?

Peter had run from the Cross and had denied Jesus three times by the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard. Cursing and swearing He cried I tell you I do not know Him. And then the cock crew. Now, here to prick his conscience at early morning by the fire – with bread and fish, with a miraculous draught, and asking for is love three times, Jesus reminds Peter all that He has done for him and implicitly forgives him by commissioning him to go forth and feed the lambs. Peter has to be fed by Christ by love and prayer first.

Jesus is telling Peter that out of love for Him he must hand over his fate to the Lord in his service. John was writing this account after Peter had died a martyr’s death in Rome by crucifixion. Jesus sees the potential in all of us too to do great things for Him and out of love for Him in the Church and in the world as His witnesses, but we all have to come to that point where we have to answer the question for ourselves – the leap, as it were, to an adult faith, by answering the question Jesus asks of Peter today and which is extended to all of us - you and me - ‘Do YOU love Me?’

Complete surrender to Christ is asked and demanded of each of us, but we fall and linger as Peter and the disciples did. They went back fishing, which shows a falling away from trust and complete confidence. Once more Jesus shows them (half of the 12 apostles) but particularly Peter who He addresses as Simon, his old name before becoming a disciple, how little they can accomplish without Him. All their work, effort, toil, and experience – even as a team – achieves nothing without Christ’s word and instruction.

The story makes clear that nothing can be accomplished by our own efforts in the darkness because we toil without Christ. But with Him, attentive to His voice, we can accomplish wonders. Christ is the light. We must cultivate our love for Him in prayer. He gives us a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning and especially CLARITY. But first we must answer the question that Christ puts to each one of us this morning – DO YOU LOVE ME?

It was then out of friendship and love with Christ – the driving force of his life that Peter accomplished so much as the first Pope and leader of the Church. Peter leaped into the water and drew near once more to Christ. We see in the First Reading what Peter was capable of just weeks later having received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - the festival of the first fruits of the harvest for the Jews - now becomes the first fruits of the Church as 3,000 converts were added to the early Church in a single day after Peter gave resounding and fearless witness.

"Follow me." The Risen Lord says these words to Peter. They are his last words to this disciple, chosen to shepherd his flock.

We pray for our Holy Father Pope Benedict – who is celebrating 5 years as Pope tomorrow and who celebrated his 83rd birthday during this past week, and who preached on this very Gospel [before becoming Pope] as he reflected on the life of Pope John Paul II as his funeral homily.

Christ the Lord is looking for something only you can give Him – your free heart. He knows our future – just as He predicted to Peter but He still wants us to follow Him no matter what happens, and what future 'suffering for His name’ (First Reading) awaits us.


Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas and the showing of wounds

It is not easy to live with uncertainty and ultimately we must place our faith in someone or something to give us reason for living. To have our faith in a cause or a person shattered is a terrible experience. This was the scenario facing St. Thomas.
Perhaps Thomas’ doubt was the fruit of bitter disappointments of the past. He may have had people in his life who let him down and who betrayed his trust. He was not born with this sense of hesitation or suspicion – we can speculate that those things are acquired from bitter learned experiences. He had learned caution and wariness about who he could trust. The word of others was not enough for him- he wanted proof, not testimony. Having staked everything on Jesus, the Lord, he had much to lose if he was wrong to trust Him.

Like Thomas then, there are plenty of people today who rationalise the supernatural and the spiritual and demand empirical evidence and refuse to believe. The danger is that we fall into the trap too – it ultimately leads to frustration, cynicism and despair. I once heard that ‘a cynic is a disappointed idealist.’ Their disappointment rankles with them and they are bitter with life and with others. We too have doubts, but more often they are really difficulties than doubts.

Thomas was lucky, because Christ came to him in his doubt in the flesh, in person.
Christ brings His wounds to us like he did to Thomas – He reveals them to us too so that we can have no doubt but that the crucifixion really happened but that so too did His resurrection. By his wounds we have been and will be healed.
I think that the significance of the feast of Divine Mercy today is this: not only does Christ show us His wounds – He invites us to show Him ours and allow Him to place His healing hands upon them. A physician will ask us where it hurts, causing us to howl in pain when he has reached a tender spot. Only then can he discern the nature and extent of our problem. It cannot serve our interests to hide away the pain. We must face the pain that healing will bring.

We are wounded in many shapes and forms, but maybe not physically. For example many carry around within themselves hidden psychological wounds and emotional traumas of the past – the stuff that they have nightmares about, the things they dread. Nightmares say a lot more about them and their fears, as well as their memories, than their dreams do. Common in men is a fear of exposure, of being seen for who they really are – as frauds, afraid that the veneer of carefully built defences will be erased, afraid of rejection and ridicule. Nightmares may also be a dread of the future and what it may bring.

I remember while in seminary passing around a series of tapes of conferences given by Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR – the one that seemed to strike the deepest chord in people was that entitled ‘Self-hate, hesitancy, and the love of God’. It deals with self-loathing, obviously more common in sinners than we realise.

If what I have said above about the need for healing in the area of the emotions or the psyche, what then of our souls? We must bear in mind that the side effects of Original and personal sin play havoc on our minds and emotional states causing fear, guilt, shame, troubled consciences, as well as the afore-mentioned self-loathing.

It is time therefore that we bring our wounds, spiritual, emotional, psychological, relational - whatever they may be - to Christ the Healer. Chief among them are the self-inflicted wounds of our sins. Christ alone can give us the healing (therapy), forgiveness and inner peace we seek especially when we find it hard to admit our failures, ot to admit to the pain we may have caused to God, to others and ourselves, and yes, when all is said and done, as self-serving as it sounds - to forgive ourselves. But by his wounds we have been and will be healed.

‘Doubt no longer, but believe’.

Happy Easter

There are two questions we can ask about the resurrection of Christ.
How do we know it happened?
Today a simple detail proves that Christ has risen. Think of the people you live with or if you live alone think of the habits of other members of your family as you grew up. We are creatures of habit – how we dress, how we eat, how we keep our rooms, how we present ourselves, what we eat and what we wear, what we say and how we say it – are all habits that are unique to us and known to others. When you live with someone you know how they leave things after them – how they squeeze the tube of toothpaste; how they leave their clothes lying around or not; how they clean up after themselves. A newly married woman complained to me how what annoyed her about her husband was not anything major –it was the little things – like how he would help himself to too much butter on his bread and then scrape the unused butter on the side of the plate. It is little things that can stress us or on the other hand it is the little things that prove that we are considerate, that matter in appreciation as well.
I say this because it a seeming little detail that is crucial in today’s Gospel. The disciples lived and travelled alongside Christ the Lord for three years – and how did Peter know that Christ has risen? The way the cloths in which Christ that been wrapped had been rolled up – Christ did it – it was His trademark way of tidying up after Him that convinced Peter that Christ had been there and had risen indeed.
What does it matter as we celebrate today?
If you were to think of the 5 things we are afraid of - that most people fear, and most Christians should be afraid, they are: fear of pain or sickness, death, sin, Satan, the future.
Sin entered through the world through man Adam, and victory has entered through one man – Christ Jesus. We have all died to sin through Baptism and we rise to new life through Baptism. Today we celebrate and rededicate ourselves -because the day we were baptised we entered into the mystery of Christ’s death and we rose again –we were born again and we were set free. Today is a day of rejoicing!
We are all afraid. But Christ has conquered all. There is no longer any need to be afraid. What we celebrate today is that in Christ we are free indeed.
All over Europe every May, at least in Western countries, V-E Day is celebrated to commemorate the end of World War 2. An end to hostilities, an end to death, and soldiers would be coming home at last.
Today is our victory day celebration. Christ has conquered sin, sickness, death, Satan and He has promised that He will return to take our loved ones and us with Him. We shall be free forever. Alleluia.