Year B – 4th Sunday of Easter

On the Shepherd and His Donkey

(Acts 4:8-12; 1Jn.3:1-2; Jn.10:11-18)

Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, we celebrate our divine Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

What’s the mark of a good shepherd? It’s that he truly loves his sheep. He cares for his whole flock, and each individual sheep, even when it’s dangerous to do so. 

This is very different to the hired hand. As Jesus himself tells us, a hired hand only works for the money, and he’ll abandon his flock when a wolf appears. But the Good Shepherd has no greater priority. His flock is his life.

We all know how faithful our Good Shepherd is, don’t we? He is the One who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and died for his flock soon afterwards.

Now, there’s another good man with a donkey we should remember, because today is also Anzac Day. Every Anzac Day, of course, we remember with deep gratitude all the servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for our country. [i]

This other man with a donkey is the legendary Private John Simpson. [ii]

John Simpson was born in England in 1892, into a poor family of 8 children. When he was young, he helped support his family by working as a donkey-lad during the school holidays. In those days, children paid a penny for a donkey-ride, and Simpson used to walk with the animals and look after them.

In 1909, at the age of 17, Simpson joined the British Merchant Navy. When his vessel reached Australia, he jumped ship and went to work in the cane fields of Queensland, and the gold mines of Western Australia.

Then, in 1914, soon after WWI began, he joined the Australian Army’s 3rd Field Ambulance as a stretcher-bearer.

As soon as he and the other Anzacs landed in Gallipoli in 1915, they were attacked. And just as a shepherd carries wounded sheep on his back, Simpson quickly started carrying injured soldiers back to the beach.

The next morning, he found a donkey. He called it ‘Murphy’, and for the next 24 days Simpson and his donkey shared the burden of carrying wounded soldiers to safety. They worked day and night, rescuing over 300 men, ignoring the bullets and shrapnel all around them.

Then, on 19 May 1915, aged just 22, John Simpson was shot in the back and died. [iii]

Simpson was a cheerful young man. He often sang and whistled as he worked, and he carried his pet possum in his slouch hat wherever he went.

He never fired a single shot, though; he never killed an enemy soldier, and all who knew him said he was a good man ‘to have beside you when the whips were cracking’.

Mustering the Troops: Amazing colourised photos of Gallipoli

Neither John Simpson, nor his donkey, ever received a military award. Yet they surely represent the pinnacle of heroic goodness and noble sacrifice. [iv]

Jesus tells us that there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn.15:13). Why does he say this? It’s because genuine love, freely and unconditionally given, invariably involves some form of sacrifice. 

The deeper the love, the greater the potential sacrifice.

Like the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, John Simpson set aside his self-interest and his personal comfort to look after the needs of others. And just like a good shepherd, he carried lost, wounded and frightened men to safety.

Today, we are reminded that many people around us still need the love and protection of a good shepherd. There are lots of wolves prowling around in our world today, and many people are vulnerable.

That’s why today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, when we are all asked to pray for our modern-day priestly shepherds, and to consider whether we, too, might be called to shepherd others.

So, here’s the question: are you being called to serve as a good shepherd, by being kind, compassionate and merciful to others, just like Jesus?

Are you being called to help rescue the lost, the wounded and the frightened, just like Private John Simpson?

And are you being called to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life?

Whatever our calling, each of us can surely do something meaningful to help those who struggle. What might that be?

Jesus has set the example.  Now it’s our turn.

[i] Anzac Day is the solemn day of remembrance of all the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who fought and died for their country. Each year it occurs on 25 April, the anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign, their first engagement in World War One.

[ii] John Simpson was born John Kirkpatrick, in South Shields, England. He joined the Merchant Navy under his original name. But having jumped ship when his ship arrived in Newcastle, Australia, he thought it wiser to use his mother’s name Simpson when he joined the army.



Year B – 3rd Sunday of Easter

On Telling our Story

(Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1Jn.2:1-5; Lk.24:35-48)

Ever since the first cavemen sat around log fires, people have loved stories.

Stories are powerful. They help us understand who we are and where we come from. They help build strong families and communities. They can teach and inspire, and they can heal.

After the Rwandan genocide, many therapists went to Rwanda to help damaged and abused souls. They took with them many new techniques, but it was only old-fashioned storytelling that seemed to heal their wounds. As the Rwandan men and women sat together and told of their sons and daughters and the horrors they endured, healing and forgiveness took place. [i]

Why do stories resonate so deeply? It’s because we’re all made in God’s image. Our heavenly Father is the greatest storyteller of all. Our world is his story; we are his characters. And his Scriptures are filled with legendary tales about famous men and women and God’s remarkable love for us.

Jesus, the Word himself, is certainly a storyteller. He uses parables to reveal things ‘hidden since the creation of the world’ (Mt.13:35). And he clearly understands the power of story to convey profound suffering, love and wisdom.

Our reading from Luke’s Gospel today immediately follows Jesus’ walk to Emmaus. After the two disciples recognise Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they rush back to Jerusalem to tell everyone.

While they’re telling their story, Jesus enters the room and says ‘Peace be with you.’ They’re all stunned; he must be a ghost! But Jesus shows them his wounds, and he explains that his passion, death and resurrection were all part of God’s plan. Everything written about him in the Scriptures, he says, had to be fulfilled.

‘You’re my witnesses,’ Jesus says, ‘you must tell the world.’ We find the same message is in Isaiah 42:8-10 and Acts 1:8. Jesus wants his witnesses to spread the news.

Why? It’s because Jesus’ presence is always a blessing to be shared. The world needs him.

In Luke 12:49, Jesus says, ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth.’ That’s exactly what happens after his resurrection. Christianity spreads like wildfire because of the convincing testimony of his witnesses. His disciples had a story to tell and they told it, even when it was dangerous to do so.

Today, it’s our turn. If Jesus has touched our hearts and lives in some way, we have a responsibility to tell others (1Pet.3:15-16).

How, then, might we do this, especially in this challenging, secular age?

A good way to start is quietly. In subtle ways let others notice that we follow Jesus. Let them see our Christian symbols – the ones we wear and carry, and those we display in our homes. Let them witness us praying and going to Church. Let them know about our Christian values and our happiness because Jesus loves us.

Then, when the time is right, share your story. In your own way and in your own words, let others know about your journey to conversion. How did you discover Jesus? Did he help you through a tough time? Did he answer a prayer? Did you learn a valuable lesson? How does Jesus speak to you? And what difference does he make in your life?

Your story doesn’t have to be dramatic, like St Paul’s journey to Damascus. It might even be simple, like St Therese of Lisieux’s.

But we all have a story to tell. And after sharing your story, leave the results to God. He’ll take care of what follows. As St Teresa of Calcutta used to say, our duty is not to be successful; it’s only to be faithful.

Pope St Paul VI once wrote: ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it’s because they are witnesses.’ [ii]

Today, we are Jesus’ witnesses, and each of us has a story to tell.

Let’s close with a story.

Centuries ago, a rich sultan in Baghdad gave a banquet in honour of his son’s birth. Every guest brought expensive gifts, except a young sage who came empty-handed. He explained to the sultan, ‘Today the young prince will receive many precious gifts, jewels and rare coins. My gift is different. From the time he’s old enough to listen until his manhood, I’ll come to the palace every day and tell him stories of our Arabian heroes. When he becomes our ruler, he’ll be just and honest.

The young sage kept his word. When the prince was at last made sultan, he became famous for his wisdom and honour.

To this day, an inscription on a scroll in Baghdad reads, ‘It was because of the seed sown by the stories.’ [iii]


[ii] Evangelii Nuntiandi n.41

[iii] William J Bausch, Touching the Heart. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2007:8.

Year B – 2nd Sunday of Easter

On a Drop in the Ocean

(Acts 4:32-35; 1Jn.5:1-6; Jn.20:19-31)

We often hear about God’s grace and mercy. But what do these two words – mercy and grace – actually mean?

In his book From Superficial to Significant, David Chadwick answers this question in a story about his son. He once asked the boy to do something, but he refused: ‘I won’t do it!’ Chadwick asked him again, but he still wouldn’t budge, so he sent him to his room.

Later, Chadwick went to talk with him. The boy looked up tearfully and begged not to be punished. He didn’t want to receive what he knew he deserved.

Chadwick’s heart was deeply moved by his son’s contrition. He didn’t punish him. Instead, he hugged him and asked if he knew what he’d done wrong. The boy nodded yes, and asked for forgiveness.

Seeing God's Grace and a Judge's Mercy in Real-Time – Ministry Village at  Olive

Chadwick forgave his son. That was mercy: he didn’t give him what he deserved.

But he also took his son out for ice cream. That was grace, because he gave him what he didn’t deserve. [i]

Max Lucado has a shorter explanation for mercy and grace. Mercy, he says, gave the Prodigal Son a second chance. But grace gave him a feast (Lk.15:11-32).

In John’s Gospel today, the fearful disciples are in the Upper Room, fully aware that only two days before they had betrayed and abandoned Jesus. Then Jesus enters the room saying, ‘Peace be with you’. They are stunned, so he says it again, ‘Peace be with you.’

There’s no blame or retribution; only mercy and love.

Then Jesus gives them a remarkable grace. He says, ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.’ Instead of punishing his disciples, Jesus commissions them to share his merciful love with all the world. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ he says. ‘Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’

With these words, Jesus gives his disciples the power to forgive sins. He creates a way for everyone – everyone, including you and me – to leave our sins behind and start afresh.

Saint Faustina

In 1931, Jesus appeared to a humble nun, Sr Maria Faustina Kowalska, in Poland. He was concerned that too many people are unaware of God’s loving heart, and in several visits until her death in 1938, he revealed to her the secrets of his Divine Mercy.

Jesus said that he will pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach him for mercy.

The soul that goes to Confession and receives Holy Communion, he said, will receive complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. And this mercy is available even to the greatest sinners.

Jesus also asked for an image to be painted of him wearing white with rays of red and white coming from his heart. And he said that that he wanted the Sunday after Easter to be celebrated as the Feast of his Divine Mercy. [ii]

Lent and Easter Icons: Divine Mercy Icon | Monastery Icons

In the year 2000, Pope St John Paul II canonised Sr Faustina and established this special feast day, which we celebrate today. On that day he said: ‘Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr Faustina to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time. By divine providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the twentieth century … In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her.

‘Those who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people will know well how necessary was this message of mercy,’ he said. [iii]

Mother Angelica, the Poor Clare nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), had a good explanation for God’s divine mercy.

She loved going to the beach, and although she wore leg braces, she liked getting close to the surf. One day, on a beach in California, a large wave came in and wet her shoes. Then she heard a voice, saying: ‘Angelica, that drop represents all your sins, all your imperfections and all your frailties. Throw it in the ocean’.

Mother Angelica Inspirational Plaque Confirmation Gift | Etsy

She threw it back, and then she heard the Lord say: ‘The ocean is my mercy. If you looked for that drop, would you ever find it?’

‘No, Lord,’ she replied.

Mother Angelica often told people that their sins are like that drop in the ocean.

‘Every day, every minute of the day,’ she said, ‘throw your drop in the ocean of his mercy. Then, don’t worry, just try harder.’

[i] David Chadwick, From Superficial to Significant. Harvest House Publishers, Eugene Oregon, 2017. 



Year B – Easter Sunday

On the Life of Stardust

(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col.3:1-4; Jn.20:1-9)

Christ is Risen! Hallelujah! This is our song of joy; the foundation of our faith. But how can we be sure that Jesus is risen?

Let’s start with history, and then we’ll look at the science.

It’s important to remember that the Gospels and Epistles aren’t myths. They’re actually historical and eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and resurrection (2Pet.1:16).

All four Gospels record that women were the first to witness Jesus’ empty tomb. This is significant, because in ancient times it was illegal for women to witness anything official. If the resurrection had been faked, women would never have been mentioned.

It’s also significant that Jesus’ linen wrappings were left in his tomb. If his body had been stolen, the bandages would have gone with him.

St Paul tells us that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to over five hundred men and women on one occasion (1Cor.15:6), and over a period of forty days he appeared to many other people as well (Acts:1:3). We also know that Jesus’ resurrected body was touched at least three times (Mt.28:9; Jn.20:17, 27).

And Luke tells us that after walking to Emmaus, Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Look at my hands and my feet. It’s me! Touch me and see; a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like this’ (Lk. 24:39).

But what’s truly profound is the way the disciples’ behaviour changed. When Jesus was arrested, they were terrified and went into hiding. But after his resurrection, they changed completely. They came out of hiding and started preaching with incredible courage and passion.

Within 20 years Christianity grew explosively. It spread to Rome and eventually became the official religion of the Roman empire, despite constant persecution from both the Jewish and Roman leaders. [i]

The Empty Tomb Proclaims a Powerful Message - Congregation of the Mission

The philosopher and theologian Peter Kreeft was once asked: ‘If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, who started the resurrection myth and what profit did the liars get out of their lie?’

This was his answer: ‘I’ll tell you what they got out of it. They got mocked, hated, sneered and jeered at, exiled, deprived of property and reputation and rights, imprisoned, whipped, tortured, clubbed to a pulp, beheaded, crucified, boiled in oil, sawed in pieces, fed to lions and cut to ribbons by gladiators.’

‘If the miracle of the Resurrection didn’t happen,’ he said, ‘then an even more incredible miracle happened: twelve Jewish fishermen invented the world’s biggest lie for no reason at all, and died for it with joy, as did millions of others.’ [ii]

Now, let’s briefly consider the science of the resurrection.

In 2016, Jesus’ tomb inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was opened for restoration. When scientists reached the ‘slab of anointing’, their Geiger counters went berserk and other technical instruments died.

They had been affected by very strong electromagnetic disturbances, which some scientists have connected to Jesus’ image on the Shroud of Turin. [iii] [iv]

And here’s one final insight: the Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr tells us that science is helping us understand that the mystery of the resurrection is the constant pattern of the universe. Things are always changing; nothing stays the same for ever.

Did you know that there’s the same number of atoms in the universe today that there were five seconds after the Big Bang happened some 13.8 billion years ago? Rohr says that these atoms just ‘keep playing musical chairs and by all evidence — at ever higher levels of complexity and consciousness’. For example, 98% of our bodies’ atoms are replaced every year, and geologists know that no landscape is permanent.

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‘It’s not poetry to say we were all once stardust,’ Rohr says, ‘and what we are yet to be is the good surprise, the gift and pure grace of God.’

But, he says, God couldn’t wait for modern science to teach us that resurrection is a fact of life. People just needed to believe that Jesus ‘was raised from the dead’ so that the hope and possibility of resurrection could be planted in us.

His point is that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reflect the whole pattern of creation. Jesus is the microcosm for the entire cosmos; the map for our journey.

Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a one-off event. It’s happening inside us and outside us, all the time. God’s creation is constantly being made and re-made, whether we notice it or not.

Rohr says that anyone who holds any kind of unexplainable hope believes in resurrection, whether they are Christians or not. And the material resurrection of Jesus affirms what the whole physical and biological universe is saying to us: that everything is always changing.

Resurrection Of Jesus Stock Photos And Images - 123RF

‘The resurrection, therefore, is more than a mere spiritual belief. It must also be a material belief.’

So, let’s remember: Easter isn’t just one day. Easter is happening every day and everywhere! [v]



[ii] Peter Kreeft. ‘Miracles’, in Fundamentals of the Faith. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988: 68.

[iii] Homiletic and Pastoral Review,



Year B – Good Friday

On the Passer-By

[Is. 52:13-53:12; Heb.4:14-16, 5:7-9; Jn.18:1-19:42]

In their telling of the Passion of Our Lord, the four evangelists mention several people. One of them represents you and me.

He’s simply a passer-by, feeling hot and tired after walking into Jerusalem from the country. His sons Rufus and Alexander are with him, and he’s looking forward to celebrating Passover.

He notices many people about. Some seem happy, but others are crying. And there are Roman soldiers, looking irritated. ‘What’s happening?’ he wonders.

Then a soldier grabs him by the shoulder, and at spear-point forces him to help a bleeding man lift his heavy cross. This doesn’t look good.

The passer-by protests: ‘this has nothing to do with me!’ He doesn’t want to carry an instrument of torture; that’s humiliating. And he doesn’t want to touch that man’s blood. It will make him ritually unclean and shut him out of Passover.

But he has no choice. Resentfully, he steps forward to help this poor, weak man. For just a moment, though, they look at each other, and the passer-by senses this man’s innocence.

Simon of Cyrene then reaches down to lift that heavy load, and starts following Jesus of Nazareth. And as he does so, his life changes. Completely.

At first, Simon had thought that this was all just bad luck . But later, he understood that hidden inside that unwanted burden was the secret of his own salvation.

In his book The Passion and the Cross, Ron Rolheiser says that Simon of Cyrene was not central to the drama or the meaning of Jesus’ passion and death. He was actually an unimportant figure standing at the edge of things, when he was forced to play an unglamorous and self-effacing role. He had to sacrifice his own plans and he wasn’t happy about that. Yet this unplanned and humble service became the most important thing he ever did. It was his signature piece. It gave him a place in history far beyond that of millions of people who were once considered important in the drama of life.

Thousands of years from now, Simon of Cyrene’s name will be remembered, and for the right reason: he helped carry the Cross of Jesus. [i]

Jesus had hoped that his disciples, his closest friends, would be there for him. But they all failed him.

It was actually a stranger who helped him when he needed it most. That stranger was the answer to Jesus’ prayer there in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he begged his Father for help.

Sometimes the person who helps us most is just a passer-by.

Today, we live in a society that’s constantly urging us to take control of our lives, to do whatever we want. But we know that’s often impossible. We so often find ourselves doing things we never planned or wanted to do.

Just like Simon of Cyrene.

Perhaps it’s cleaning up someone else’s mess, or caring for an aging parent or disabled child, or having to find a new job, or facing an unexpected illness. We all have to bear such crosses.

But here’s the question: how do we respond?

Do we patiently accept these trials, and pray for help? Do we understand that such challenges help us grow in faith, love and maturity? And do we recognise that death on every holy cross is followed by resurrection and new life?

Or do we simply resent the inconvenience, and fight it all the way?

God loves us all, just as we are. But he loves us far too much to let us stay the same. He’s encouraging us to become better people.

Today, on Good Friday, we are reminded that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We must learn from him.

No-one is meant to suffer alone. No-one should have to carry their cross without help from someone else. And sometimes, like Simon of Cyrene, God calls on us to do the helping.

Yes, Jesus does ask us to pick up our cross and follow him. But Simon is the only man in history who actually carried Jesus’ Cross.

According to Church tradition, he and his sons became prominent Christian leaders. They may be the ‘men of Cyrene’ who preached the Gospel to the Greeks, as recorded in Acts 11:20. And St Paul praises Simon’s son Rufus and his mother in Romans 16:13.

Sometimes our crosses seem so random; so unnecessary. But as Simon discovered, the Cross of Christ wasn’t random at all.

The cross is always a divine gift; an invitation to change our lives.

And hidden inside every cross is the secret of our salvation.

[i] Ron Rolheiser, The Passion and the Cross. Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, OH. 2015:68-69.