11th / 12th May 2019

posted 20 May 2019, 05:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C - Good Shepherd Sunday (11 & 12/5/19)


We are all sheep of the Lord, because we have been baptised.  But not all sheep are the same.  Someone with experience of sheep farming would be able to tell you that there are many different varieties of sheep, whilst to the untrained eye they might all look the same.  God has given us all a way to serve Him which is unique to each of us personally.  Our task, throughout our life, is to constantly ask the Lord what He is asking to do, and then to follow it.


Perhaps easier said than done, at least sometimes.  Following the Lord can lead to great opposition and persecution.  At the very least we might fear ridicule.  How many people have stopped coming to Mass because of various forms of discouragement and ridicule?  One of my memories at secondary school was going up to receive a prize on Speech Day.  It was a formal event in the town hall, with an invited speaker.  Those of us who were going to receive prizes had been informed beforehand, and it had been our task to find a suitable book to be presented to us by the guest speaker.  I had chosen Man of the Century, a book about Pope John Paul II.  When I went up to shake the guest speaker’s hand and receive my prize, he said to me, “That’s not what I would have chosen”.  I took it as his disapproval of the Catholic Church, but took no notice of him.  I have no memory of this person’s name.


Now that sounds extremely mild, compared with what happened in the first reading.  Paul and Barnabas preach the message of Christ, and so many are interested that it says that, “The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God”.  But the Jews work to contradict everything they say and turn the people against them.  Then, when Paul and Barnabas decide to speak to the pagans instead, the Jews get to work again and this time get Paul and Barnabas expelled from the territory.  I may have given some poor quality homilies in the past, but I’ve never yet been expelled.


Following Christ isn’t always easy.  Christ didn’t promise us a rose garden.  He said take up your cross and follow me.  A few years ago, when I was still in Birmingham, we were asked in our deanery meeting to share amongst ourselves how each of us was called to the priesthood.  Perhaps one of the most remarkable stories was from a Vietnamese priest, a Fr Anthony.  He came from a faithful Catholic family.  They went to Sunday Mass, and he served as an altar server, getting up for 5:30 am Mass each morning.  That’s dedication.  I’m still in bed at that time, unless I get a call to the hospital.  He said that he wanted to become a priest because priests have a comfortable life.  I’m not too sure how much of this was him being humorous and how much of it was just his impression when he was young.


He did well at school, and wanted to become a Jesuit.  But because of the Communists he went to university to become a teacher.  He wanted to escape from Vietnam, but didn’t know how to, and was under pressure to join the Communist Army.  Eventually, he was sent to Cambodia to fight.  He prayed to God each day for a way out.  Then he managed to escape on foot, together with a student who was a Catholic.  They went to Thailand, and sang hymns to Our Lady on the way to aid them with their escape and so that he could become a priest.  They travelled through the forest and had to sleep in hammocks high in the trees to avoid the animals at night.  They had no water towards the end of their travels, so they ate leaves to survive.  Then they came across dead deers, indicating that the area was covered with mines.  They prayed to Our Lady and managed to avoid the mines.


When they reached the border with Thailand, they were put in prison for a year, in case they were communist spies.  At that time, he decided he wanted to be a priest in Thailand, and joined the Jesuits again.  Four years later, Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville called for priests to come to Birmingham, so he decided to pursue his missionary vocation in England.  The rest is history.


If we decide to follow Christ, we might as well throw our whole self in, rather than just dip in our toe.  It can be daunting, but it can also be rewarding.  The Latin American and Caribbean Bishops put it this way:


“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.  Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”  (Aparacida Document, 29 June 2007, 360)


We are not all called to be St Paul and St Barnabas – we are called to be ourselves.  But it’s only in being totally open to Christ that we find out what I am being called to and what it means for me to be me.