Sunday, April 21, 2024

Shepherd of an evangelical community: Homily for Good Shepherd Sunday Eastertide 2024

"Trinity of Mother Teresa," M.F.Hussain, 1989, via

I am the good shepherd,

and I know mine and mine know me,

just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;

and I will lay down my life for the sheep.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is common to take today’s readings and speak about God’s love for us. And yet this almost instant reference to God’s love, a banal lens that we automatically apply, can blind us to an important fact. Remember that for the shepherd, each sheep is precious, not because they are pretty, or they are his pets, and he is fond of them. They are precious because they cost him money, they have a very real value. And this is precisely the sense in which Jesus uses the term for us. As we are reminded in the first letter of Peter:

You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish (1: 18-19).

So precious are we that He purchases us by giving His life for us, and for this reason we are doubly precious to Him who created us.

But if the readings remind us for the visceral nature of God’s love for us, these readings should also cut our hearts into ribbons, because they force us to ask ourselves very hard questions about what we have done, and are doing, for this God who loves us so much and expects a reciprocal love.

Listen to His words which we often overlook:

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.

These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,

and there will be one flock, one shepherd.

These other sheep, that do not belong to this fold, are very easy to identify; they are those who are not yet members of His one true, Catholic, and apostolic Church. And why are they not yet members? Is it, possibly, because we have not done anything to invite them into this Church?

We from Goa must ask this question very seriously. What kind of a church are we? Are we a church that is largely a cultural outfit? A church that is happy to be reduced to a minority? Or are we a church which is evangelical? A church that will preach Christ to our brothers and sisters who do not yet know him, and will be willing to make a place for them in our lives? Are we willing to proclaim loudly as Peter did in the first reading today:


He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,

which has become the cornerstone.

There is no salvation through anyone else,

nor is there any other name under heaven

given to the human race by which we are to be saved.

You need give me no answer, because the silence is screaming for all, and all the world can hear it!

Now I do not deny that these are difficult times, and that the current political situation is tense. Indeed, I acknowledge that the political scenario is, in fact, very dangerous. But the question is not what we can do today, indeed, the question is, what have we, the spiritual children of St. Francis Xavier, been doing for the past few decades?

Further, I am not even suggesting that we should be out on the streets preaching, rather I suggest that we should be doing is asking if our lives are even worthy of imitation. St. Francis of Assisi is alleged to have said “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Do people look at the way we live our lives, the way in which we interact with our neighbours and say, “Look how these Christians love one another! How I would like to be like them!”

The lyrics of the psalm has words of advice for us:

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.

There used to be a time when the average Goan Catholic was the paragon of the God-fearing. You could rely on their sense of honesty. Today one would be hard pressed to find such a Goan.

And so Goan life today, both in Goa and outside of Goa, is largely one concerned with the accumulation of money. We fight with our siblings for money, we poison people to capture family property, we have Goan gangs fighting each other in foreign countries. We have forgotten that education is not about gaining a way to make money, but really a way to gain values. Speaking of values, we refuse to consider that we may ever be wrong! We assert ourselves wherever we can, even on the roads, violating all traffic norms – and being complicit in the high number of deaths that unfortunately take place on Goan roads.

In short, the contemporary Goan is so focused on the worldly, that there is no real space for the God whom we pay lip service to, or the God to whom we run to when we need a job, a house, a marriage. This is what it means to trust in man, where we do not trust in the divinely revealed value systems handed down to us, in the Our Lord’s promise of the eternal reward. Instead, we trust in man-made systems which offer earthly reward.

As if placing our trust in man was not enough, we also place our trust in princes, rather than taking refuge in God. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) recently requested Catholic educational institutions to recite the Preamble to the Constitution in the school assemblies. This reference to the Preamble has become a feature of Catholic activism in India.

Now, once again I recognize that at a time when the entire legal structure seems to be in crisis, and the very constitution seems ready to be overturned, it makes sense to make people aware of the importance of the constitution. However, we should also remember, what the psalm already suggests to us, that merely reciting the preamble to the Constitution is not going to save us.

As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, our commitment to a liberal democracy, and particularly to the values of citizenship necessary for its sustenance, must necessarily be animated by the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Our commitment to these political values, therefore, come from outside of the sphere of electoral – and other – politics, they come from God and must involve God – a just God who promises eventual and lasting justice. This God, as we know, is Jesus Christ. This teaching is not unique to Pope Benedict XVI; Pope Saint John Paul II too, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, pointed out the intrinsic link between moral good and God. Without a relationship with God, morality becomes utilitarian or motivational, dependent on the benefit we hope to extract from our actions.

My dear brothers and sisters, in the face of the love of the Good Shepherd, we have only one task in our life. This is only to preach Christ through our lives and attract others to his herd. Let me make the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans my own:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (12: 1-2).

The will of God is that we live a virtuous life, cultivating in our lives the virtues, and that we shun the vices. If we do so, we will become the city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. Therefore, dear brothers and sister, as in the words of the Gospel, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).

(A version of this homily was first preached to the Goan community in Rome at their community mass on 21 April 2024)

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Mercy and the Reign of God: Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday

 Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

For as long as I can remember I have looked forward to the second Sunday of Easter because of the first reading we heard today, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. I have looked forward to this reading because it offers a powerful witness of what an authentic Christian community should look like:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.

There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.

Those of you who are sharp will have realised that I have not excerpted all the words from the already short reading. On the contrary, I have excluded the following words:

With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favour was accorded them all.

This exclusion was not a mistake, but intentional, because it reflects the way in which I used to understand authentic Christian community. This was an understanding that rested on a material understanding of the text – the division of goods, the sharing of goods. This exclusion communicates a vision that shares much in common with the socialist, and even communist, vision of the earthly utopia. And to be honest, it was only today, when I read this selection again that I realised how much had shifted since this reading first caught my attention.

What changed then? I suspect it has been the five years of priestly formation where I have had time to meditate on the teachings of our Holy Mother Church. Teaching which directs us to think, not of the natural, material, and earthly realm alone, but of the supernatural, and heavenly. Teaching that directs our attention not to our own efforts, but to the operation of Grace. Another word for this grace would be Divine Mercy which we celebrate this Sunday.

Once aware of the operation of Divine Mercy, this first reading takes on a whole new dimension, and the portion that I excluded – which, perhaps not coincidentally, sits in the middle of the whole reading - comes to shine like a gem in its setting. But let us re-read this scripture with the lens of Divine Mercy to see what it reveals to us.

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind.” This “one heart and mind” has to be the heart and mind of God, which is a heart of mercy. And, as we know, dear brothers and sisters, this heart of mercy is not a mere metaphor, a pretty mental image, but an actual, physical, heart. It is the very human heart of our Lord Jesus Christ which was pierced by a lance. This is the heart of mercy that roars with the fire of love for us. A heart that gathers us, and in which we participate when we can manifest the actions of mercy that this reading testifies to. When we recognise our neighbours, and share our goods with them, we are motivated by Our Lord’s heart of mercy.

A reflection on this heart of mercy makes us aware that nothing of what we have, and not just our material goods, but even the talents and skills that we own, none of what we have is ours; or in the words from Acts “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own”. But rather, all these possessions are what have been given to us through an overflowing of this heart of mercy. As such, it was never intended solely for our own personal use, but always for the common good.

In having everything in common, the scripture goes on to tell us that it was “With great power the apostles bore witness.” This power, is nothing, dear brothers and sisters, but the power of the Holy Spirit that motivated the early Church, just as it can motivate us if we give it the opportunity. When we are good, it is not merely our own efforts, but our own efforts, prompted and supported by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“and great favour was accorded them all.” Working with the grace of Divine Mercy, draws further and greater graces as our Lord promises us in Luke chap 6 verse 38:

give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Lk 6: 38)

We should bear in mind that this giving does not commence with us. Indeed, it was God who first gives, and forgives, and through His beating heart continues to pump mercy into our lives and world. Alive to this ever flowing river of divine mercy we should be bearers of the flux of life-giving water of mercy, for without mercy, this world is a harsh and cruel world.

What is the mark of the authentic church therefore? Reflecting on this reading from the Acts of the Apostles we realise that the authentic church is marked, not only by the sharing of material goods, but by the manifestation of mercy and action in the Spirit. A recognition that all we have comes from God, that our every good action emerges from the goodness that Christ feeds us with weekly at the altar, and from the movement of the Spirit that flows through the Church.

Let us repeat therefore, on this Sunday, and whenever we have empty minutes in our day:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

(A version of this homily was first preached to the congregation at Domus Australia, Rome, on Saturday 6 April 2024.)