The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Homily: 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34

Watching the news yesterday morning, I caught an interview of a young pastor named Darrel Wilmoth who had been in the theater in Colorado when the shooting began. Calling on his military training, he and several others took it upon themselves to treat many of the wounded with first aid and to help get them to ambulances. He mentioned that once they had taken care of the survivors’ physical needs, he realized there were a lot of unmet spiritual needs. He and several others moved from person to person, comforting them, asking if they could pray with them. Not a single person said, “No.”

Like so many in our world today, these distraught, confused people were like sheep without a shepherd, and this young, faith-filled pastor readily accepted his calling to be the presence of Jesus Christ in their midst, offering them the peace they needed and sought. During the interview he also remarked how all the experts were offering their opinions on TV, opinions as to the causes of all the carnage. As they tried to make sense out of what had happened, all they could provide was a kind of worldly understanding to others. But neither we nor the experts can understand such things, because they will never make sense. Referring to St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, Pastor Wilmoth added,  
“We were promised not peace and understanding, but the peace that surpasses all understanding.” [See Phil 4:7]

This, brothers and sisters, is the peace that Jesus Christ gives us. We don’t need to understand why men do what they do because the peace of Jesus Christ surpasses all understanding; it transcends all the evil in the world. And so today, we should follow this young pastor’s example and pray for peace, not for peace as the world understands it, but for Christ’s peace, for peace in our hearts. This is the peace so sought after by the survivors and by the families of those who lost their lives. The need to turn to God in prayer was this pastor’s first inclination, and judging by his comments it  remains so today, days after his on-the-scene work as a shepherd was done.

In today’s Gospel passage from Mark we encounter the Apostles as they return to Jesus from their first mission. It was a mission of healing and teaching and preaching, and they were no doubt exhilarated by the experience. They had witnessed firsthand the power of God's Word, the power of Jesus' Name. But they were also hungry and exhausted, in need of rest, as well as physical and spiritual refreshment. They needed time alone, time to pray, time for peace.

Jesus, too, needed a break from the crowds who constantly pressed in on him, demanding his attention. Can you picture the scene? Listen again to the words of the Gospel:
"People were coming and going in great numbers, making it impossible for them to so much as eat." [Mk 6:31]
It must have been chaotic. To make matters worse, Jesus knew that his cousin, John the Baptist, had just been executed by Herod. This surely affected him deeply.

Yes, Jesus and the Apostles needed some time alone, a period of retreat, brief respite from the world. As Mark tells us,  
"So Jesus and the Apostles went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place." [Mk 6:32]
But that’s not the way it worked out, is it? The crowd figured out where they were going and arrived before them. And it was a huge crowd, over 5,000 people. Most of us would have been annoyed to have our plans disrupted that way. But not Jesus. Instead of telling them to go home, that He’d done enough for one day, He sees their need, places it above His own and that of the Apostles, and takes pity on them. For the crowd, too, needed that same physical and spiritual nourishment. Jesus provides food for their souls with His teaching, and food for their bodies with His miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. In doing this, Jesus sends us all a message: If there’s no rest for Him, there can be little rest for His followers either.

For the Christian, the disciple of Christ, the needs of others must always outweigh his or her own. I think again of that young pastor in Aurora, Colorado. Suppressing his own need to get to safety, to escape the carnage and chaos and danger, he shepherds those in dire need of Christ’s peace.

How often do you and I place others’ needs above our own? Once a week? Once a day? That’s nice, but Jesus is telling us to do this always. You see, by virtue of our baptism, we all received a calling. Like the Apostles we’ve all been sent into the world on a mission. Indeed, that’s the very meaning of the word "apostle": one who is sent out. And like Jesus, we all have a certain amount of shepherding to do.

This doesn't mean we are all called to work in the foreign missions. For most of us, our mission is much closer to home; actually, it begins right in our homes. We can feed, clothe, and care for our children physically, but if they’re not nourished spiritually, if they’re given no Christian direction, they’ll lose their way and wander aimlessly through life without lasting purpose. And husbands and wives, do you know your primary mission is to help each other get to heaven? That’s right, all else is secondary. Husbands, shepherd your wives. Wives, shepherd your husbands.

How sad that so many people, the young and the not so young, people from nominally Christian homes, lead empty, self-centered lives devoted only to pleasure or the accumulation of material wealth. Is there no one to shepherd them? Perhaps even worse, we see people throughout the world, many of them Christians, seemingly motivated only by national or ethnic hatred. Where are the shepherds in their lives?

In today's second reading from Ephesians, St. Paul tells us explicitly that through the sacrifice of Christ, all people are brought near to God in a covenant of brotherhood. Listen again to his words as he describes how Christ destroys that which separates Jew and Gentile and brings peace:
"It is He who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart...reconciling both of us to God in one body through the cross which puts that enmity to death." [Eph 2:14-16]
Our mission extends beyond home and family. It extends to the workplace, to friendships, to those seemingly chance encounters with those in need.

In the first reading we heard Jeremiah tell of God's promise to send shepherds to His people, so they will no longer live in fear. It’s a promise fulfilled by the gospel, with the arrival among us of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus calls on each of us to continue His work, to be shepherds of God's people. But being a good shepherd can be a hard line of business. And so He gives us a road map with the path clearly marked. We’re asked only to obey His commandments and to love -- to love Him with all our being and to love each other.

Loving God demands that we find a quiet spot in our lives where we can be alone with Him in prayer. Like Jesus and the Apostles, we sometimes need to refresh ourselves spiritually, to get away from the pressures that bear down on us, to listen to God's healing voice. If we allow Jesus to make His home in our hearts, He will give us the strength we need to cope with the challenges of life and the courage we need to accept our calling. He will give each of us a new heart, a heart filled with the Spirit of God.

Do this, brothers and sisters, and He’ll take care of the rest.

In the midst of a senseless, chaotic world, only Jesus Christ can give us peace, the only true peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

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