Homily of Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan for Vocations Sunday

05 May 2020

We don’t have shepherds as such in Ireland any more. We do of course, thank God, have sheep farmers but we do not have shepherds now as in some countries where the shepherd spends day and night with the sheep outdoors.

Permit me to be a little personal for a minute.

You see this Gospel about the Good Shepherd just read reminds me of a homily preached by a friend of mine some 17 years ago.

His name was Ragheed Ganni – a priest from Iraq. We were students together in Rome. Ragheed was joyful, clever, hard-working, he spoke several languages, including a few words of Irish. During his homily that day in Rome he told the story of how he had spent a day with a shepherd in a pasturing sheep in the countryside in his native countryside in Northern Iraq around the city of Mosul. He watched him tend his flock, he had a name for each sheep and had specific whistle calls to get them to move on, go right, go left, stop, etc.

Once when then were grazing Ragheed tried to get them to move by mimicking the whistle call of the shepherd, but they didn’t budge. They knew it was not their shepherd’s call. At night the sheep went into a fold made of wood or stone or branches and the shepherd would sleep at the entrance or gate, to protect them, literally lying across the entrance.

Ragheed learnt a lot that day about caring for sheep. It was a lesson he was to live out in a dramatic way. Because just like Jesus Christ Ragheed Ganni was to give his life for his flock. When the unfortunate invasion of Iraq took place in 2003 Rahgeed was faced with a choice – would he stay in Rome or go back to his own country with all its danger. What was God saying to him? That was what he asked himself.

Father Ragheed’s decision was – “Iraq is where I belong. It is my place”

He returned to Iraq ,he lived among his people, he celebrated the sacraments, he consoled families, and remained in spite of the danger.

I sent him Mass stipends. He sent me photos of his bombed out church. He said, “Without their pastor the flock would be lost”.

On the 3 June 2007 Pentecost Sunday in his parish church he gave the Body and blood of Christ to his people he then gave his blood for his flock.

After Mass several Islamist extremist gunmen were waiting for him and three deacons of the parish and all were killed. I hasten to add these extremists do not represent all Muslims.

Ragheed is a hero for me, an example, an inspiration. We all need heroes. He in turn was inspired by Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Ragheed knew Jesus. Jesus knew him. Jesus asked him to live his vocation of priesthood in a particular way.

Jesus knows each one of us by name. He is calling us. He is calling you to be great -to lose your life to him, to trust him. And I ask myself – do I trust him? Am I willing to give it all up for him? Do I listen to his voice and follow him as he desires?

Jesus loves us, you and me. He is not looking at our sins and condemning us. He is loving us. He sees that you and I can do great things. We can change ourselves and then change the world. Is this not obvious that he loves us from looking at the cross?

Look at your finger tip, the print of those circles on your finger are unique to you. Isn’t that amazing – that each one of us is unique to God, who is head over heels in love, who wants us to be close to Him, to love Him and others as ourselves. And to do great things for which we do not have to go to the ends of the earth but live His will at home, with our families, right where we live, at work, etc. That is the call for all of us. To be good, to be holy and to tell others about him. To allow the Holy Spirit to take over our lives.

Within that general call – there is a particular call for each person – marriage, the single life, religious life or the priesthood. To give it 100%.

This Sunday we concentrate on vocations to the priesthood.

God is calling men to the priesthood. Are we listening? Can we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who knows us each by name, who knows where we will find a safe place, green pasture, refreshment, love, joy, peace. And who wants us to serve God’s people. It can be difficult to hear God’s voice.

We can listen to other voices too. Sure. Voices from all sorts of sources.

The culture around us today is shouting at us, “You can do anything you like and be happy. Seek pleasure, power, success”…Do you really believe that? Jesus warns us about bad shepherds who will destroy the flock and run away. They don’t care about people.

So out of all the voices . .. can we listen to the right one? The voice of the Shepherd who truly loves us. Maybe in this pandemic we are discovering what really matters.

Remember – Someone died for you and me.

Did he die in vain?

Is God asking some of you men listening to me now to follow Jesus in priesthood?

He is looking for men to follow him – to rescue his people, to shepherd his people, so many of whom are downcast, lonely, lost in lives of drugs, in messed-up relationships, lost without purpose. Who will tell them where to find

healing and peace and mercy and love and joy? Will you?

As a bishop I can tell you priesthood is great, not easy. O no, often tough, but great. If you want an easy life…. what good is that! Many of my heroes in life were and are priests.

Jesus wants to act through priests – first to listen, then to follow Him: to preach the Word of God, to gather his people, to celebrate the sacraments, to offer sacrifice, to teach, to serve – to love with all your heart. And in that way to show God’s people God’ s, real mercy and love and truth.

I ask the Holy Spirit to give me the courage to follow Him, to give everything and not hold anything back and I ask the same for you.

And may Father Ragheed who gave everything, pray for us.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm +353 (0) 87 310 4444.