Homily: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B
Friends, these last couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about prophets, centering our reflections around their call to prophesy: the Old Testament prophets, like Ezekiel and Amos, and the New Testament prophets (those we also call Evangelists), the Apostles. This week we hear from another prophet, the prophet Jeremiah, but our focus today is more on his message.
Jeremiah’s message is a message of warning to the leaders of God’s people. He is warning them because, instead of leading God’s people in right worship and moral conduct, they had been leading them into worship of false gods and allowed moral depravity. This was terrible for the very reasons listed: that the Kings of God’s people were more than just “governors”, meant to help maintain order in civil life. They were shepherds, meant to lead God’s people and to keep them from falling into sin.
Ultimately, they were supposed to be shepherds who model God’s own shepherding. And where do we find an image of God’s own shepherding? Today’s Psalm, Psalm 23, is a psalm of God’s shepherding. Written by King David--a shepherd before he was made king, who shepherded God’s people rightly (in spite of his numerous failings throughout the years)--this psalm describes not only God’s shepherding, but the goal of his shepherding. In essence it says that God shepherds his people to a place of rest: a place in which it is safe, tranquil, and in which they can flourish in abundance. In this, we should hear an echo of the book of Genesis in which God rests after all his labors and in Exodus in which he commands his people to observe the day of rest (the Sabbath). Also the voice of Jesus, who said, in criticism of the Pharisees, who made the Sabbath rest a thing of burden for God’s people: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” All in all, the message of Psalm 23 is that God’s shepherding leads mankind to a place of perfect rest.
Thus, Jeremiah’s critique: the leaders of God’s people were not leading them to rest and flourishing, but rather into greater labor and turmoil. God, through Jeremiah, says to them: “I myself will gather them and appoint a shepherd who will lead them into my rest.” He will be a “righteous shoot of David” (God’s true “shepherd-king”) who will be a model of right worship and of moral conduct for God’s people. Perhaps, however, they didn’t expect that it would be God himself who would come as a descendant of King David to shepherd his people. Enter, stage right, Jesus in our Gospel reading today.
Today we heard how the Apostles gathered back to Jesus after their mission to proclaim the Gospel in the dispersed towns of Israel and Judah and how Jesus invites them away from it all to rest a while. As they go, however, the restless people, who have been dying for a true shepherd, follow them; and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was “moved with pity” for them, “for they were like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus came to shepherd God’s people into rest--into true shalom, that is, peace--and so he cannot turn away from them in their restlessness. Here we see the reason for Saint Paul’s words from our second reading: “He came and preached peace (i.e. shalom) to those who were far off and peace to those who were near…”
Friends, Jesus is the Emmanuel--God with us--who has come to us to shepherd us into God’s Sabbath--his rest. This is important for us to acknowledge today because, for the past 50-plus years, we’ve allowed the secular world to shepherd us: and it has shepherded us wrongly. Don’t believe me? Look around. By my observation, people today are more restless than ever: and I’m not talking just about being too busy; rather, I’m talking about a loss of psychological, emotional, and spiritual stability.
A prophet of our own time, Blessed Pope Paul VI, predicted unrest 50 years ago when he released his encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae, otherwise known as, On the Regulation of Birth. In it, Blessed Paul VI sought to reinforce and clarify the Church’s teaching on the immorality of the use of artificial methods of birth control. His prescient moment, however, came in section 17 of the document in which he predicted three detrimental outcomes if the use of artificial contraceptives became widespread: 1) marital infidelity would increase (possible pregnancy, while not a positive deterrent to infidelity, was an effective one, nonetheless); 2) men would begin to view women as objects for satisfying their pleasure alone and begin to discard them as soon as they ceased to satisfy them (Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo, anyone?); 3) Governments, seeing that these methods have become accepted within the family, will begin to impose the use of contraceptives on people. Believe me when I tell you that the HHS mandate that coverage for contraceptives be included in “health care” plans is but a few short steps removed from “you must abort your baby if it is diagnosed with Down Syndrome”.
Friends, the results of these predictions are on display for us today: a deep restlessness as families, who have allowed the secular culture to shepherd them, struggle to find ways to keep it all together as the barriers to infidelity, objectification, and government influence have been dismantled. Unfortunately, Catholic families have not been immune as surveys have confirmed that Catholics follow the trends of the public at large in regard to attitudes surrounding the use of artificial contraception; and the statistics regarding marital infidelity and divorce bear this out: with Catholic families trending along the same path as the public at large.
And so, what is the answer? Well, it’s to return to Christ and to allow him to shepherd us rightly into the rest--that is, the shalom (or peace)--that he wants for us. To do this, we need to allow the Church, led by Christ’s Vicar, the Pope, to lead us. Statistics have also shown that families who conform themselves to the teachings of the Church have happier and more stable marriages; and that children who come from homes in which these teachings are followed lead more stable and fulfilling lives. It’s no guarantee, of course, human weakness always must be accounted for, but social science bears out that this is a much more solid foundation on which to build a family.
And we are so blessed here in this diocese to have many dedicated persons who can help couples learn responsible family planning through natural family planning methods: methods, that is, which do not separate the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality and thus work to enhance a married couple’s relationship, even as it helps them to responsibly space out births. If even just Catholic families embraced these methods as a way for Christ to shepherd them as a family, our society would be affected in positive ways and our restlessness would begin to subside.
Friends, Christ is our Shepherd--Emmanuel, God with us--who has come to gather us: those who have been far away and those who are near, so that he can lead us into his rest. As we worship him here today in this Eucharist, let us allow him to shepherd us anew in our daily lives so that the peace (or shalom) that each of our hearts seek might be known; and that the world’s restlessness might be transformed into the peace of God’s kingdom.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN - July 21st & 22nd, 2018