This weekend’s Gospel reading focuses on the relationship between the Good Shepherd and flock but so much of what it says can be applied to our own life also.  Our relationship with those ‘in charge’ of us changes dramatically when we sense that not only are they in charge, but they truly care about us and are committed to our wellbeing. Rather than resisting their guidance we learn to appreciate that all they do is aimed at our good.   The Good Shepherd ‘lays down his life for his sheep’. Similarly we are blessed with people in our lives who have often laid down their lives for us by putting our needs before their own, by sacrificing themselves so that we might have greater opportunities in life, by setting aside their own interests to care for us and support us through difficult and vulnerable moments in life. The gospel is an invitation to remember in gratitude all those who have ‘shepherded’ us and continue to do so today.  It may be a parent, a spouse or partner, a son or daughter, a friend or neighbour, a carer or home-help– extraordinary people who go out of their way to care for us and look after us when we need it most.

Jesus also speaks of the freedom of the Good Shepherd in laying down his life. Faced with the needs of others, we can at times feel trapped into looking after them: caught by duty, obligation, or guilt. We can become like the hired hands doing a job without truly caring for the person. Perhaps we have experienced both attitudes, caring for others under duress and caring for others by your free choice. The attitude and heart we bring to caring for others makes all the difference, even in circumstances where we feel little option.  Caring for others is not always easy and is not always appreciated, but if we can learn to see it as an opportunity rather than a burden or obligation, it can become for both the carer and the cared an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience.  May God grant us the heart of the Good Shepherd in our shepherding and caring of each other.                          Fr Seán

I never cease to be fascinated by St John’s account of the resurrection of our Lord. There is no attempt at proof, just one man’s version of what had happened.  The details are so graphic that it can only be told by someone who was there.

First, John remembers that Mary Magdalene came to him and Peter early on Sunday morning, just before dawn.  She had been to the tomb.  Obviously she could not sleep. Sorrow can induce one of the worst forms of insomnia.  Not that it would do any good but that is where she wanted to be. On arrival, at the tomb she made what must have been a terrifying discovery, the tomb was open and the body was gone. Her immediate thought was that the body was stolen. At this point she hurried back to tell the sad news to Peter and John.

Next John remembers how he and Peter ran to the tomb, with John getting there first and he stood there looking into the tomb trying to figure out what had happened. Then Peter arrived and typical of him, he went straight into the tomb and John followed him. Mary was right, the tomb was empty and there was nothing there except the cloths that were around the body of Jesus. The robbery theory somehow did not hold water.

At this point, John, speaking of himself says “He saw and believed.” This would seem to suggest that he was the first to have faith in the resurrection. Standing there in that empty tomb he arrived at the conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead. His faith was again confirmed and restored. That is what you and I need this Easter Sunday morning, not simply to believe in the resurrection but to have our faith in Jesus and the things in which he stands for renewed. This world has a way playing havoc with the principles in which we try to believe. It is difficult to have faith in Christ in the kind of rat race that modern life represents. Everything that he stands for gets shoved aside, trampled on, crucified almost every day that we live. Let’s face it – most of the time we are afraid to really trust him in case we make a fool of ourselves in the process. He talked about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, going the extra mile. Where is the place for that kind of thing in this kind of world? The only thing that applies here is the law of the jungle, the survival of the fittest. This is a dog eat dog kind of world and those who do not face that fact either get run over or left behind.

Let’s be honest, isn’t that how we really think most of time. This world did to Jesus the very worst it could do. It rejected his truth and nailed him to a cross but on the third day he overcame it all, even death. John saw and believed. That is what you and I need this Easter Sunday – a renewal of our faith.     Fr John

When you and I become truly interested in some public figure our first desire is to know what he or she really looks like. We see them on television, we read about them in the newspapers, we listen to their speeches. We all know that all of these things are carefully planned and controlled.  They are deliberately designed to create a certain kind of impression.  What we would like to do is go behind that public image and see the person as he or she really is.

In this Sunday’s Gospel a group of Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover sought similar information about Jesus. They had heard stories about this unconventional prophet from Galilee. What they had seen and heard made them want to know more, so they asked Philip, one of the Apostles “Sir, we should like to see Jesus”. Philip took them to Andrew who seems to have been the contact man for those Greek men who had heard about Jesus and wanted to meet him.  He knew Jesus’ mind on things and his plans.

Such contact persons are needed more than ever today. There are people who have heard a lot about Jesus and the Gospel, but who want somebody who actually knows Jesus in faith to lead them to Him. That is what the world wanted from the Church back then and that is still what the world wants from the Church today. If we could give them a clear vision of Jesus, most people would be interested in Him. The only convincing way for us to do that is by demonstration. We must live in such a way that His qualities can be seen in our attitudes and actions. We cannot take them by hand and lead them into his presence as Philip and Andrew did. We can help them to see a little bit of Him shining through us. In 2018 the cry of many hearts and especially among the young, is that of the Greek festival goers “Sir, we should like to see Jesus”. Can we be an Andrew for them in our time?

                                                                                                   Fr John

We congratulate the children from the First Communion Classes in Ringaskiddy, Shanbally, Monkstown and Passage West who, over the past two weeks, have treated us to some very special ceremonies as they celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time accompanied by their families and teachers. 

When I asked the children in the schools what they thought ‘forgiveness’ means one child answered ‘It means giving someone another chance.’ It is hard to imagine a simpler or a better definition of what forgiveness entails!  As we continue our journey through Lent maybe we might ask ourselves: ‘Is there someone in my family or amongst my friends or colleagues who has hurt me in some way who deserves another chance?’

Some people are born deaf.  In others, hearing is impaired through accident, illness or age. Then there are those whose hearing is nearly perfect but who never listen. Listening is a decision. It is a decision to give another person one’s full attention and to focus on everything that is being communicated. Without listening there can be no trust and no love. Listening is an acquired skill. In our busy noise-filled world, listening is hard work for many of us, especially to someone in need of love or affection or support.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, God the Father challenges not only Peter, James and John but each one of us to listen to his beloved Son. Peter could not stay still and listen. With a burst of energy he wanted to rush off building tents that nobody wanted. Something similar often happens in our human relationships as well as in our relationship with God. Hearing and listening is not the same thing.  A person may have wonderful hearing and be able to pick up a conversation from a distance and yet not be able to hear the cry of someone close to them in need. A person may have hearing good enough to be able to understand perfectly the Word of God proclaimed in our Scripture readings at Mass and elsewhere and yet not have ears sensitive enough to really take it in, so that it makes a difference to the kind of person I am and the kind of life I live. I can have perfect hearing and yet not be able to hear at all.

We are called to listen to what God is saying to us and asking of us – in the Scriptures and in the events of our lives. To really listen is to respect.  How good a listener are you?                                                                              

Fr John

In our day-to-day struggle just to get on with the business of living it is unlikely that we go around with the image of ourselves as ‘God’s work of art.’ There are many forces at work both within us and outside us which tend to pull us down and to leave us with negative feelings about ourselves and those around us. By contrast, at the heart of the gospel message is the wonderful assertion that we are the handiwork of a God who does not make mistakes. This is the God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son not to bully us into obedience or to threaten us with hellfire but to bring us to life in its fullness. This is terrific news indeed, so let us take steps to ensure that other messages do not drown it out.

Seán Goan, Let the Reader Understand, www.columba.ie

The child featured on the Trocaire Box this year is a girl called Kumba.  She was a bright happy 7-year old until 13th August last year when her life changed forever.  Kumba woke as her house began to shake and a deafening roar filled her bedroom.  Her mother Finda grabbed her arm and dragged her from the house as mud enveloped their home.  Her little sister fell and as they tried to pull her from the deepening mud her kneecap became detached.  Fortunately, though injured, the family reached safety. Other villagers weren’t so lucky.  Kumba watched many perish, believing her father who wasn’t at home to be among them.  Thankfully her father survived, but her home and the life she had known were swept away that morning. Her family lost everything.  Her parents’ livelihoods were gone in an instant.  With nowhere to live Kumba has been separated from her family and is staying in a children’s home with her mother and siblings while her father lives with his brother.  All they want is to be together again.

A few years ago Kumba and her family lived through the Ebola crisis which killed many in Sierra Leone.  Now, she and her family face the fear of uncertainty again.  Kumba loves school and hopes to have an important job one day.  Help to give her that hope by supporting this year’s Trocaire Lenten Campaign so that Trocaire can continue to support the Koroma family and many more like them in Sierra Leone that have been devastated over recent years first by the Ebola epidemic and in more recent months by terrifying mudslides.  

Trocaire Boxes and information packs are available in all our Churches this weekend. Please take one and return it after Easter to help families like Kumba’s in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world. Despite all the setbacks Kumba and her family have suffered, they are not giving up. Neither should we!  Together let’s do what we can to help to bring new hope to their lives.      

Fr Seán

Lord, even in difficult times

help me to remember that you truly care for me,

especially in those moments when it doesn’t feel like that.

In hours of loneliness, weariness, and pain draw near to me.

If afflicted, bring me relief;

in moments of impatience and anger

help me to be gentle with myself and with others.

When frustrated help us to find peace within.

As Mary once stood by your side, so may I never face my trials alone.

In times of despair surround me with love and with people who care.

Never allow me to lose hope in myself, in others or in you.

May I never forget that your deepest wish is

that we should have life and have it to the full.

Anonymous

Every Lent is a new beginning. Sometimes new beginnings are welcomed, other times not so much!  We welcome Lent as a time to make our faith fresh, but we know from other Lents that it’s hard to keep going, and it’s for a long time!  We might ask ourselves what Lent is really for.

The focus of Lent is not so much on what we give up but on what we have been given. We focus our minds on the self-giving love of Jesus which we will celebrate in Holy Week. We allow ourselves to believe in this love. Often it’s difficult to believe in the tender love of God. This conquers all else in the world; it is given in the mercy and compassion of God.

Lent reminds us of the grace of forgiveness into our world, a grace we need individually and as a people. We need to know that God is bigger than any of our sins, our faults, our failings; greater than every war and violence and hatred that disfigure our world. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God’s kingdom may become a reality in our own time. Lent is our time of saying ‘yes’ to a partnership with God in building a more caring, just and equal world. Maybe we need to ask ourselves what our Lent does for others rather than just what we are doing for Lent. If Lent is truly a time of renewal, then it will manifest itself in acts of love and forgiveness and a heartfelt compassion and care for others.

© Donal Neary SJ   www.messenger.ie