22Apr 22 April. 4th Sun. of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Acts 4:8-12 ** Psalm 118 ** 1 John 3:1-2 ** John 10:11-18

1st Reading: Acts (4:8-12)

Only by the power of the risen Jesus can we be saved

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to the Jewish leaders, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 118)

Response: The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes. (R./)

I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my saviour.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes. (R./)

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my saviour.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his kindness endures forever. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 John (3:1-2)

The love of the Father, lavished on all God’s children

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Gospel: John (10:11-18)

Jesus is a good shepherd who, unlike the hireling, is ready to give his life for his sheep.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

BIBLE

Safe in the Hands of the Divine Shepherd

(Joseph O’Leary)

1. “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” Can we hear this message and can we make these words our own? Very many people suffer from anxiety, a crippling condition of deep unease, that can veer into depression and suicidal moods. Traumatic scenes from their past are played over and over again in their minds, and cannot be shaken off. We might tell such people, “Just trust in the Lord and let yourself be carried by the Good Shepherd.” But tragically the source of their anxiety is often connected with religion, so that such a message is the last thing they want to hear. I think of the many LGBT people who have been deeply wounded by religious teaching on three fronts: injured in their relation to themselves, hating their sexual orientation or gender identification, and lacking all self-confidence; injured in their relation to their families, with whom they are unable to communicate openly, or who, if they do communicate with them, will react with a failure of understanding and sympathy; and injured in their relationship to their faith-ommunity, where they rightly or wrongly feel unwelcome or out of place, and which does not think to provide them with a space for open disussion where they can feel safe and accepted. For such reasons many who are a prey to anxiety also feel abandoned or forgotten by God.

2. But even the average person who is not exposed to such traumatic matters may have difficulty hearing the message that the Lord is their shepherd. Isn’t it the kind of thing you read on kitschy holy pictures, not having much bearing on real life? Our lives seem to be so shaped that we have the greatest difficulty orienting them to God in trustful abandonment. We have plans and ambitions, or distracting duties that keep us busy. Habitual stress or moroseness curbs any elan of the spirit. And a sense of irremediable sinfulness keeps us from “lifting up our eyes to the hills, from whence comes our help” (Ps. 121:1). But as the Irish proverb says, “the help of God is nearer than the door.” All that is needed is to stop and to listen. Listen to some word of Scripture, some familiar prayer or hymn, or just attend to the silent presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament. “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints, to those who turn to him in their heart” (Ps. 85:8).. No matter where we are, we can open our inward ear to this voice that speaks of peace.

3. “Your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2:5 and Lk 7:48) is the first message that this gracious voice speaks to the anxious mind. To embrace this message that sets us right with God is the first blessing of religion. Our sinfulness does not disqualify us from hearing it, for it is intended as a balm to the inner wounds our sins have inflicted on us. God speaks this word most powerfully in Christ, who took our sins on himself, and who “was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Hearing the Risen Christ speak the words, “Peace be unto you” (Jn 20:19), we are able to rest confidently in the calm assurance he breathes upon us. Holding onto this, as steadily as we are able, we find the anchor of our being, at a level deeper than all invasion of anxiety, worry, depression, or fear.

4. The divine Shepherd makes us feel safe, held in his palm. This elicits from us a response of joy and gratitude, as the chains that bind our minds are unloosed and we place ourselves utterly in God’s hands. This loving surrender to God is not servitude but perfect freedom. Then his sanctifying grace can move us to generous thoughts and good works. The Shepherd grants security, but also leads us to new pastures, spurring us to creative ventures we did not dream of when imprisoned in the cage of our anxiety. Even if we fail to follow him and stray from the upward path, we are still in his hands, since we can always turn again to him and confide ourselves to his safe keeping. Four times in today’s Gospel we hear the voice of Christ telliing us that he lays down his life for his sheep. This is the most powerful, the most incarnate, expression of that divine reassurance that anxious minds need to hear. It reminds us of the strength of the bond that ties us to Christ, a bond as close as the one that binds a mother to her child. “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). That is what the divine voice says to us if we open our ear to it. Those are words everyone longs to hear, and words the bring deep joy and security to the heart. If we are privileged to hear these words, let us also share them with others, and become ambassadors of Christ’s peace to them.


Pastors caring for people

We have just heard about Jesus  as the saving Shepherd foretold by the prophets. It’s all about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. Though the imagery of sheep and shepherd is old, the message is alive and relevant to us here and now.  By faith we accept Jesus as the Shepherd of our souls, and our relationship with him is a deeply personal one.  Our spiritual existence is founded on God’s unbreakable love and faithfulness.

To enter eternal life we need to listen to Jesus and follow him;  to tune our minds to the sound of his voice. Self-centredness can make us deaf to that inner voice. Easy options lure us to more comfortable lifestyles. Pressures to abandon our Christian principles are all around us. But God  will not let us be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, for the Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who kept faith with Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.

Peter  spoke out  to the Jewish leaders about the saving power of Jesus. Sharing our faith can be as fruitful now as in apostolic times. After baptism and confirmation, we are vocation-bound to spread the faith as best we can. And here’s a sobering thought: How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn for Eastertide (no.25) spells out what the Lord wants of us: “Now he bids us tell abroad/ How the lost may be restored/ How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.”

Good Shepherd Sunday” invites us to think and pray about how catholic sacramental ministry can continue into the future. In 2018 Ireland the average age of ordained priests is almost seventy, a statistic that urgently calls for  change in how to find our future priests, and what can be expected of them. As Padraig McCarthy has written, there is no such thing as a priest-less parish. “There may not be an ordained priest as is the practice at present, but the parish is a priestly people. How will this take flesh in the future? Are there factors which had value in the past but are now obstacles to the mission of the church? A new model of ministerial priesthood is called for.” McCarthy lists three questions for bishops, priests and laity to consider:

1) Who will be the shepherds in the coming years?
2) How will they carry out the mission to those outside the fold?
3) What needs to change in the Church, so that each parish can have a full Eucharistic celebration every Sunday?


Seeking God within

(José Antonio Pagola)

There are no programs or technology that automatically lead to God. Each one needs to follow one’s own path to God, one’s own way of opening self to the mystery underlying all things. But not everything equally favours an awakening of real faith.

There are people who never talk about God with anyone. Faith is a forbidden topic; God belongs to the private sphere. But even then they don’t ever think about or remember God in the intimacy of their conscience. This attitude, frequent even among those who call themselves believers, can weaken faith. When something never gets remembered, it ends up dying by forgetfulness and starvation.

Others, on the contrary, seem very interested in religious things. They like to raise questions about God, creation, the Bible…. They ask question after question, but don’t wait for answers. It seems not to interest them. Naturally such words are empty if there’s not a sincere seeking of God within. What’s important isn’t talking about «religious things», but making room for God in our own life.

Some people like to discuss religion. They don’t know how to talk about God if it’s not about defending their own position and attacking anything different. In reality, all too often discussion about religious themes doesn’t do anything except favor intolerance and the hardening of positions. However, whoever sincerely seeks God listens to the experience of those who believe in God and even the experience of those who have abandoned God. I have to find my own path, but I’m interested in knowing where others find meaning, encouragement and hope in dealing with our existence.

Whatever the case, what’s most important to getting ourselves directed toward God is to call on God in the secret of the heart, alone, in the intimacy of one’s own conscience. That’s where one opens self confidently to the mystery of God or where one decides to live alone, as an atheist, without God. Someone could say to me: «But how can I call on God if I don’t believe in God or if I’m not sure of anything?. You can. That sincere calling in the midst of darkness and doubt is probably one of the more pure and humble ways of opening ourselves to the Mystery and making ourselves sensitive to God’s presence in the depth of our being.

The fourth Gospel reminds us that there are sheep outside the fold, who live far from the believing community. But Jesus wants to lead these too. “They too will listen to my voice.” Those who truly seek God listen sooner or later to the attraction of Jesus in the depths of their heart. At the beginning somewhat tentatively, later with more faith and trust, some day with deep joy.

 

Today is Vocations Sunday. The Lord has a life-vocation for each of us. He calls us with our particular temperament, with the background specific to each of us. Each of us is unique. Parents know how distinct each of their children is. They will give the same love to all; they grow up in basically the same environment. Yet, from a very early age, their uniqueness becomes very evident. From the time of our baptism, we are each called to be the Lord’s disciples, to follow the good Shepherd. However, the way we do that will be unique to each one of us. The particular way in which the Lord works through us is unique to each one of us. I can do something for the Lord that only I can do. Each person in this church can do something for the Lord that only he or she can do. Each of us has a unique contribution to make to the Lord’s work  in the world, to the life of the church, and our input is just as vital as anyone else’s. We each have a unique vocation and each one of us is vitally important to the Lord. When we respond to our unique vocation, we give a lift to everyone else. When any one of us fails to respond to that vocation, we are all a bit impoverished.

When St Peter tells how the stone rejected by the builders became the keystone of the building, he was referring to Jesus himself, the rejected Son of God. We can all feel rejected at times, for whatever reason. Yet, we are never rejected in the Lord’s eyes. Our God sees us as just right for some aspect of his work. He recognizes the potential for good that is within us all. On this Vocations Sunday we can ask what the Good Shepherd wants of us right here and now.


Machtnamh: Caidreamh pearsanta (A personal relationship)

Léiríonn íomhá an aoire, an nádúr pearsanta atá sa ghaol idir Íosa agus a lucht leanúna. Léiríonn sé an dlúthchúram pearsanta a dhéanann an t-aoire leis na caoirigh. Tá an t-aoire imithe ag lorg aon chaora amháin a d’imigh ar strae, agus nuair a fuair sé é, d’iompair sé ar a ghualainn é ar ais go dtí an tréad. Tá dlúthbhaint idir an tréadaí agus an caora seo. Aithníonn sé a chuid féin mar a n-aithníonn siad é, díreach mar a aithníonn an tAthair é agus go n-aithníonn Sé an tAthair. Tá Íosa ag rá go bhfuil a chaidreamh an-phearsanta san lena Athair neamhaí cosúil leis an gcaidreamh atá aige do gach duine againn. Tá go leor ann chun machtnamh air. I dtuairim an Tiarna ní rud beag i measg slua sinn, caillte i lár an aonaigh mar a déarfá. Ar bhealach nach dtuigfimid, tá aithne ag an Tiarna ar gach duine againn de réir ainm. Is mór aige sinn ar bhealach pearsanta agus iarann sé orainn teagmháil a dhéanamh leis ar bhealach pearsanta, freisin.


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