16th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003
First Reading - Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm - 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Second Reading - Ephesians 2:13-18
Gospel - Mark 6:30-34
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Our Gospel today reveals the intensity of our Lord's public ministry. Both Jesus and his disciples were so busy that they didn't even have time to eat. This reminds us that Christians should at times be ready to sacrifice their time and rest in service of the Gospel - that they ought to be accessible to those who need their help as much as it is possible. On the other hand, we have to temper that zeal with some common sense - to not go to such extremes that we can no longer physically function well. Even our Lord calls His disciples to take a break from it all in order to recharge.
This is quite an appropriate Gospel for these days of summer. After all, it's the time of the year when many of us take time away from our busy schedules to go away and rest awhile. Yet, how often do many people see rest as meaning doing nothing - of "vegging out", as they say these days. Rest does not mean doing nothing, for the Christian should never have a free moment. Rather, resting means to relax in activities which demand less effort.
We see in today's Gospel the rhythm of Christian life - the continuous going into the presence of God from the presence of men and coming out into the presence of men from the presence of God. While we observe that there is a necessity for rest because without rest, we cannot work, we also should perceive there is a danger that lies beneath, however - having too much work or having too much rest.
This strikes at the very heart of our work in the apostolate. There is a via media or middle way that should be struck when approaching our apostolate. One extreme is manifested by those who do not pray or do not pray enough - they are merely content with doing social justice work. Their work, however, is not grounded in prayer - in time, they become glorified social workers, not authentic Christian helpers. Work is not the same as prayer, as some would believe. That is why the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Theresa are who they are. They begin each day of work with an hour spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament, in silent prayer. Mother Theresa used to describe this hour as the most important one of the day because it gave the work of the day its proper context and perspective. Some used to complain to her that spending an hour a day in front of the tabernacle was a waste of a valuable hour that could be spent feeding the poor or caring for the sick. Mother disagreed completely. In fact, she noted that once she began ordering that her sisters begin the day with a holy hour, vocations to the order skyrocketed.
There is the other extreme as well - those who have very strong devotional lives but have no apostolate, even an apostolate of prayer for those who need prayers. Devotion that does not move outside of oneself into the world and the needs of others is not true devotion. Spending time in prayer so as to avoid interaction with our fellow man is not properly ordered - we should seek time in prayer with God so as to be better equipped to spend time with other people. This applies to those who cannot do the work of the apostolate due to age or illness. I remind such persons that they have been entrusted with the apostolate of prayer, not as an escape from work, but to pray for those who work in the vineyard of the Lord, seeking souls.
We read in our Gospel today that even when Jesus and the disciples try to get away, they are followed, in almost a harassing type of way. Notice our Lord's response - rather than be annoyed, He is compassionate towards their spiritual need. Jesus sees that these people are hungry for the Word of God and so He preaches to them. It is clear that while Jesus is moved by their physical hunger and fatigue, He is more moved to help them because of their ignorance. The Gospel goes on to describe how our Lord looked upon the crowd with compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. By this imagery of sheep without a shepherd, St. Mark tells us three things:
First, sheep without a shepherd cannot find their way. It is only when Jesus is truly in control of our lives and when we surrender our lives over to Him that we experience the authentic freedom of living as children of the Father. Our Lord guides us through His Bride, the Church. Some of the teachings of our Lord made known through the Church are easy to follow; others are more difficult. Some teachings are those that we question and that we struggle with but in doing so, we ought never to doubt that the teaching is viable or worth following. As Cardinal Newman liked to say, "a thousand difficulties never add up to a doubt." Christ continues to provide us with shepherds through the ministry of the priesthood and through the Magisterium and teaching of the Church - our Lord has provided for us in this way for 2,000 years.
Second, shepherds lead their sheep to green pastures, where they can be nourished. That is what happens at the Mass. The priest leads the lay faithful to the green pastures of the Eucharist, where we can be nourished, when we receive Holy Communion in a state of grace and having kept the hour-long fast. Some of you may not know this, but the Mass of Vatican II, which is the Mass that we celebrate here each Sunday is actually written with the priest facing the altar with his back to the congregation. Many think that this new Mass was written with the priest facing the people in mind. It was not. There are actually several parts in the Mass, where the directives of the Mass instruct the priest to turn and face the people and say the following prayers. The reason why the Mass was written with the priest facing the altar or the Crucifix in mind is that it symbolizes how shepherds lead their sheep. Shepherds walk in front of their sheep; they do not lead their sheep as if they were tour guides walking backwards. That is why it is entirely appropriate for the priest to face the Crucifix during Mass since His role is to lead the people to Christ, as a good shepherd would.
Third, shepherds defend their flocks from the enemy - bishops and priests are commissioned and ordained to defend God's people from error and dissent. They are guardians of the deposit of Faith and they must warn their people of impending danger to their Faith when such danger lurks. That is what Jeremiah the prophet warns us about in the first reading - to be leary of shepherds who do not protect their people from the wiles of the enemy - shepherds who do not warn their sheep of the danger of error and dissent.
Being a sheep is not easy - it requires docility, patience and trust. This afternoon, we will impart the sacrament of Confirmation to a new member of the flock, Bolling DeSouza. Bolling is a baptized Christian who is making his Profession of Faith, Confirmation and First Communion at this Mass. Bolling, I pray that as you approach the altar to receive the sacred mysteries in this sacraments, that you continue to nourish your new life in Christ's Church with frequent Confession and worthy reception of the Eucharist. Lynn, your wife and Confirmation sponsor and your family and friends have all helped you to make this most important step in your faith journey. Take time to give thanks to God for the gift of these individuals, who have helped lead you closer to Christ. Keep in mind that what happens today is not the completion of a journey to the Faith - rather, it is just the beginning. It places new obligations and duties on you because you have responded freely to the particular grace to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. These obligations will set you free so long as you allow Christ, the Good Shepherd to guide your path into the ways of peach.
May the Lord, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to fulfillment until He returns in glory to lead us to that final green pasture of glory - eternal life in the heart of the Trinity.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!
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