Looking out for the lost sheep

By Monsignor John Devine

Father James English was a legendary parish priest. He served at Christ the King in Childwall, my home parish, for many years. He was a holy man but faced criticism from some parishioners for one reason: they didn't see enough of him. They saw him at Sunday Mass but the rest of the time he spent looking after the lost sheep.

A familiar figure at all hours on the corridors of Broadgreen Hospital, he formed a bond with those out of touch with the Church. His parish visiting consisted of 'seeking out and saving the lost' rather than in socialising with regular attenders. He visited the sick but had little time for the hale and hearty. And some of them resented it. It must be said, however, that in the days Father English was parish priest, much of the routine duties were undertaken by energetic and enthusiastic curates such as Father Kevin Finn and Father John Smith. Eternal rest grant to all of them.

On the fourth Sunday of Lent we hear the story of the Prodigal Son. The key lies in the introductory verse: "The tax collectors and sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained." The parable describes the resentment of a loyal and dependable older brother at the leniency of his father towards his feckless and irresponsible younger brother.

The Year of Mercy challenges us to reach out to those who have fallen away from the Church. Do we rejoice with the Father when they make an effort? Or do we sneer at funerals when they fail to join in the responses? Or resent them seeking baptism for their children? And do we too readily condemn them when they disappear the day after their children make their first Holy Communion?