Sunday Sermon for July 22, 2012, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34
In the first reading today our Lord speaks to the shepherds who have scattered His people and driven them away. When we consider the number of people who have left the Church because of scandals and abuses, the number of people who have been led astray because of a lack of clear teaching and a failure in charity to instruct the ignorant, the division in the Church due to a lack of fidelity to the moral and doctrinal teachings of the Church as well as the liturgical principles and rubrics, we begin to understand that this passage could apply to our day as much as it did in the days of Jeremiah.
People are tired of hearing about money. People are tired of hearing about the latest trip the pastor went on (when they are struggling to feed their children) or the latest movie he went to see. Most people really do not care about the priest’s baseball card collection. The people are at Mass to serve the Lord and to be with Jesus; the pastor’s job is to lead them to Jesus, not to the movie theater. The average person puts in precious little time on their spiritual life outside of Sunday Mass. The last thing they need is more of the world in the little bit of time they have set aside for God.
People do not come to Mass to be entertained; they get plenty of that outside of Church. They want and need something that is going to touch them deeply, to form them, challenge them, and call them to be Saints. This is not politically correct, but from my reading of the Gospels, our Lord was not politically correct either. He is the One Who, in today’s Gospel, is shown as the Shepherd Who actually cares for His sheep.
The people who came to Jesus were like sheep without a shepherd. This describes the majority of people of today. When our Lord recognized the needs of the people, we are told that He taught them. People are made for the truth and the truth will set them free. Shepherds need to stop being afraid to speak the truth just because someone might be offended or, even worse, people might not put as much money in the collection basket. You cannot serve God and Mammon. It is time that as pastors we start taking our commitment to Christ a bit more seriously.
The truth will not only set people free, it will also unite people. We are divided today, in part, because people are hearing conflicting messages from both priests and bishops. If the clergy were all united in truth we would be able to lead the people to the Truth, Jesus Christ. When we are not united in Him, we tend to lead others to ourselves. This is most often done unintentionally, but it is the tragic reality.
In the second reading St. Paul speaks about how Jesus broke down the dividing wall that separated people and created in Himself one new person from those who were two. This, of course, was spoken about Jews and Gentiles, but one cannot help recognizing the overtones of the Prophets who many times spoke of God uniting the people of Israel under one shepherd. The first reading tells us that the shepherd will be the righteous shoot raised up to David: Jesus. It is no longer the two Kingdoms of Judah and Israel which are united, but it is all the peoples of the world united in one faith and worshiping the One, True God.
St. Paul tells us that through Jesus, in the Spirit, we all have access to the Father. This access is in prayer, but it is most profoundly accomplished through the Sacraments which are available only through the Church. I frequently think about the people who have left the Church and joined an Evangelical group of some sort. I always comment on how sad it is that they left Jesus in order to find Jesus; now they found Him in Scripture, but they left Him in the Eucharist.
There is great hope when we hear our Lord telling us through the Prophets that He Himself will gather the remnant of the flock and that He will appoint shepherds who will actually shepherd the people. As times become more difficult we are going to need true shepherds who will lay down their lives for their flocks. It may be that one day an heroic act of martyrdom will be required, but until then it requires laying down our lives daily by teaching the fullness of the truth, being present for the administration of the Sacraments, being united with Jesus in prayer daily, and leading the people entrusted to our care to the One Who entrusted them to us.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.