Welcome to St Austin's Catholic Parish, Stafford
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0121 230 6240. If you would like to speak to someone independent of the Church you can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.
Message from Archbishop Bernard Longley:
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published its report on the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
We apologise to all victims and survivors of child sex abuse. We hope that with this Inquiry they feel that they have been listened to. Even so, words are not enough.
We are committed to continuing to improve our safeguarding procedures and to listen to and learn from victims and survivors. Past failings must never happen again. The diocesan response to the report can be found at
If you have a safeguarding matter to report please contact the Archdiocese safeguarding team on 0121 230 6240 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Listen to this Sunday's Gospel reading by visiting the website www.sundaygospel.co.uk.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
What Prompts Authentic Rejoicing?
Authentic, as opposed to induced, rejoicing is experienced when the soul encounters The Truth. Humans, being made in the image and likeness of God, have an innate affinity with The Truth, because God is The Truth. Authentic rejoicing, therefore, is a deep, spontaneous, up-welling from the soul and the heart. It’s manifestation can be experienced silently, within the soul and heart. Equally, it can audible and visible as, for example, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain top in the presence of Peter, James and John – (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36). Likewise, when Elizabeth greeted Mary addressing her not as cousin Mary, but as “The Mother of My Lord” (Luke 1:43). The Good News of Jesus the Christ brings authentic rejoicing to those who courageously search for The Truth. Persevering courage is required for the discovery of authentic rejoicing because, in this world, there are innumerable obstacles and false trails.
It is lamentably true that Satan thrives on misrepresenting God. In his continuous attempt to invert The Truth, Satan has always cunningly involved flawed human thinking and methodology. For example, it is true that God chose the Jewish people to be his own. But in doing so, God did not endow them with an exclusivity that would forever separate them from the remainder of the human race. The Jews granted themselves his false aura of exclusivity. Jesus, himself a Jew, never lost an opportunity of exposing the falseness of his fellow Jews’ claim to superiority.
We find two biblically classic examples of Jesus attempting to change the Jewish mindset in the Gospel for this 24th Sunday which comes from St. Luke (15: 1-32).
Jesus freely welcomed all sincere searchers after The Truth to his gatherings, including Jews who were tax collectors and sinners. In the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes and, therefore the main Jewish population, such Jews were definable as public sinners. This was no nitpicking disagreement. The Pharisees classified those Jews who did not observe the Mosaic Law – as interpreted by the all-powerful Pharisees – ‘the People of the Land’. There was a complete barrier between the Pharisees and their fellow Jews so classified. The Pharisaic regulations laid it down that no male member of ‘the People of the Land’ could marry the daughter of an orthodox Jew – Jewishness being passed through the mother not the father. Nor could the ‘the People of the Land’ be entrusted with the monetary affairs of the orthodox. No testimony could be taken from ‘the People of the Land’, they could not be entrusted with secrets, or become guardians of orphans or charitable funds, nor could they be trusted as companions on a journey. Pharisees were forbidden to be guests of ‘the People of the Land’ or to invite them to their homes.
In case the point remains unclear, the Pharisees would have preferred Jesus to have said: ‘There will be joy in heaven over one sinner (Jew or other) who is annihilated.’ Jesus’ outreach to his fellow Jews branded as ‘sinners’ appalled the Jewish religious leaders of the time.
The impact of the parables of ‘The Lost Sheep’ and ‘The Lost Coin’, that are at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel extract, is lessened for us who are largely unfamiliar with the reality of ancient Israelitic life, especially as it was lived in Jesus’ day.
The Jewish Judaean shepherd had a hard and dangerous task. Pasture was scarce and not all that grew was edible. Animals could become dissemblingly sick by being allowed to eat the wrong food. The central plateau was narrow before plunging down wild cliffs to the devastation of the desert. There were no restraining walls as we know them and sheep wander. George Adam Smith wrote of the shepherd, "On some high moor, across which at night the hyaenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff and looking out over his scattered sheep, each one of them known to his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people's history; why they gave his name (The Good Shepherd) to the king and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the personification of self-sacrifice."
The shepherd was personally responsible for the sheep. If a sheep was lost the shepherd must at least bring home the fleece to show how it had died. These shepherds were experts at tracking and could follow the straying sheep's footprints for miles. For good shepherds, it was all in the day's work to risk their lives for their sheep.
Many of the flocks belonged to village communities with two or three shepherds in charge. Returning sheep and shepherds would have brought news that one shepherd was still out on the mountain side searching for a lost sheep. The whole village would be upon the watch because their livelihood was at stake. When, in the distance, they saw the shepherd striding home with the lost sheep across his shoulders, there would rise from the whole community a shout of joyful thanksgiving.
That is the picture Jesus drew of God; that, said Jesus, is what God is like. God is as glad when a lost sinner is found as a shepherd is when a strayed sheep is brought home.
It is a wondrous thought and an amazing truth that God is more merciful than are we. The orthodox Jews wrote off tax-collectors and sinners; not so God. God loves the faithful who never stray; but in his heart there is the joy of joys when one that was lost is found and brought home.
How are we to understand the woman’s lost coin? Well, have you ever seen a photo of a Middle Eastern woman wearing a headdress decorated with ten-linked silver coins? It signifies a woman who is married. The acquisition of the ten coins, the equivalent of a wedding ring for us, was highly personal, irreplaceable and so sacrosanct that it could not be taken from her even for the payment of a debt. The loss of one of those small coins would initiate a most thorough search in unpromising condition of a beaten-earth, dusty flooring covered with dried reeds and rushes. Equally, the finding of such an irreplaceable coin would occasion a whole family celebration. We can imagine the truly authentic rejoicing. God, said Jesus, is just like that when a sinner sets out on the daunting journey home (the parable of ‘The Prodigal Son’ Luke 15:11-24).
Turn our hearts and souls, Father, to search for The Truth, Jesus the Christ, when our spirit is tempted by the evils abroad in our world. May the anticipation of finding our Good Shepherd bring us true joy despite our suffering.