Receiving and Sharing the Good Shepherd’s Compassionate Teaching, 16th Sunday (B), July 19, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, New York, NY
16th Sunday of OT, Year B
July 19, 2013
Jer 23:1-6, Ps 23, Eph 2:13-18, Mk 6:30-34

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily (which was abbreviated in delivery because of the presence of the Missionary from the Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga), please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

What Jesus’ Compassion Causes Him to Do

The Lord says through the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading that the Lord will not allow bad shepherds to destroy his flock. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock … and I will bring them back to their fold.” We see the Lord Jesus fulfill this prophecy in today’s Gospel. Jesus saw a great crowd and had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a Shepherd, like little leaguers without a coach, like soldiers with no sergeants or officers. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, sprang into action and brought these lost sheep back to the fold. Moreover, he had promised in Jeremiah’s prophecy that he would “raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them.” The first wave of these new shepherds were the apostles, whom Jesus was forming first by sending them out with his message and his authority — as we saw in last week’s Gospel — and then by taking them away with him, so that they might tell him all they had done and taught and so that he could give them the rest they needed to return to serve that fold. When Jesus was coming to shore with them, and saw the vast crowd hungering for a shepherd, he continued his formation of the apostles to be real shepherds, by showing them what real divine compassion is all about. St. Mark tells us, “He had compassion for them and [therefore] began to teach them many things.”

The first gesture of his compassion toward the crowd was to teach them. Jesus had come down from heaven to teach us the truth about God, the truth about God’s love for us, and therefore the deep truth about who we are and whom we’re called to be. To teach the truth in love is one of the greatest acts of mercy. Without the truth, one remains blind and lost. This is one of the most important purposes of the Church and the Shepherds who act in the name of the Lord.

The Lord’s Nourishment through the Church

At St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, this truth is depicted very powerfully in art. At the very back of the basilica, one of the most famous pieces in art history is found, done by the great sculptor Bernini. It’s called the “Altar of the Chair” and it was so beautiful and influential that art historians say it launched the baroque era. At the top of the altar, there is the brilliant translucent image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by angels. The Holy Spirit is descending upon a huge bronze chair that houses what in the 16th century was believed to be the actual chair on which St. Peter used to teach the people of Rome. (Much like today when the judge gives his authoritative rulings from the “bench,” in the ancient world, kings, magistrates, and rulers used to teach and give formal pronouncements seated on a chair, which became a symbol of their authority.) Peter’s chair was the symbol of the teaching authority of the Church and particularly of the Popes, the successors of St. Peter, who are Christ’s vicars on earth. The most formal teachings of the Church were called “ex cathedra,” meaning literally from the chair. The Holy Spirit is descending upon the chair to depict that, according to Christ’s promise, the Holy Spirit teaches the Church everything, leads us into the whole truth and reminds us of everything Christ has taught (Jn 14:26; Jn 16:13). Sculpted onto the back of the Chair, however, is what is most relevant to today’s Gospel: it’s a depiction of Peter’s feeding Christ’s sheep. This is a reference to the end of St. John’s Gospel, when Jesus asked Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (Jn 21:15-17). After Peter three times had replied in the affirmative, Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” Peter’s love for Christ, his obedience to caring for and feeding Christ’s sheep, is seen above all, therefore, in his teaching the truth of Christ authoritatively in his name.

Just as Christ, the Good Shepherd, looked with compassion on the crowd and taught them, so the Church’s compassion for the crowd is to teach them this truth as well, the truth that sets them free, the truth that helps them become more and more like Christ, who is the Truth incarnate. Our compassion for those in need must involve this element of teaching. To “instruct the ignorant,” is one of the spiritual works of mercy that the Church has carried out from the beginning. It has inspired those in the Church to pass on the truth of Christ, by founding Catholic schools and universities, by doing catechesis, by RCIA, by talking one-on-one with friends, by leavening the “marketplace of ideas” with the truth that comes from Christ. Today, in the face of so many people in our culture who are lost, who don’t know the purpose of their lives, who often go from one pleasure to the next so as not to confront the most fundamental questions of existence, who don’t know the difference between right and wrong, who do not even realize that there is a heaven and a hell not to mention what actions could land them in either place — in the face of so many people who are indeed like sheep without a shepherd, the great act of compassion that the Lord wants from us is to teach them about him.

Being Fed so as to Feed Others

But we cannot give what we don’t have. In order for us to be able to give the truth of Christ to others, we first have to know Christ and what he teaches us, and through living that truth come to abide in Him who is the Truth (Jn 8:32). Just as the Good Shepherd goes in search of his sheep, so good sheep must go in search of the Good Shepherd. For us to be capable of bringing Christ to family members and friends, we need first to bring ourselves to Him, to spend time with Him, to be fed by Him so that we can in turn feed others. That’s why the first part of today’s Gospel is so important. In his formation of the apostles to be good shepherds of others, he first needed to teach them how to be good sheep. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” They were so busy feeding others that they themselves had no leisure even to eat. This, of course, applied to material food, but also it applies to spiritual food; sometimes we can be so busy doing various good deeds that we can fail to seek nourishment ourselves. Eventually we will run out of gas. To be able to feed others, we first need to be fed. We, too, need to heed the Lord’s command to “come away to a deserted place a rest a while.” This, of course, refers to prayer — daily mental prayer, prayerful participation in the Mass, and hopefully an annual retreat — when we go away with the Lord, give him our full and undivided attention, and allow him to refresh us. But, in line with the second half of today’s Gospel, I’d like to focus on the call the Lord gives us to come away with Him for sacred study.

For us to be effective in carrying out Christ’s compassion for the world, we need to know the truths of the faith very well. And since — except in the case of a few rare saints — God does not give this knowledge by infusion, we, like the first disciples, need to go away with the Master to learn. He taught them over the course of three years, as he interpreted for them the Old Testament and gave them live the New. How does he teach us? First, he educates us through Sacred Scripture, particularly the Gospels and the writings of his first apostles. He teaches us through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, written for adults in the 1990s, which is the summary of everything the Catholic Church he founded and sent the Holy Spirit to guide believes. He teaches us through the successors of St. Peter, who in their various homilies, encyclicals and other documents, apply the truths of the faith to modern questions and problems. He teaches us locally, through Cardinal Dolan’s blog and articles, through solid Catholic newspapers, through adult education opportunities, through religious education, through so many good books, websites, videos and CDs, Catholic television and radio channels and more. Christ also seeks to teach us through the priests he has called, chosen and commissioned to preach his Gospel. What’s our attitude to Christ’s teaching in all of these ways? Are we grateful for the Master’s guidance? Do we take advantage of it? Are we good students in his school? Or do we take it for granted? Do we read God’s holy Word? Do we study papal encyclicals like Pope Francis’ recent Laudato Si on integral ecology? Do we appreciate or resent when priests put more effort into their homilies and preach a little longer in order to share with us more of Christ’s saving truth?

To be a good sheep of the Good Shepherd, we need to be faithful disciples, and the word disciple in Greek means “student.” To be a good disciple means to “study” our faith, to sit at the feet of Jesus the Master and allow him to teach us. Recent surveys, however, have shown that very few Catholics, including those who are very faithful, study their faith. One recent poll showed that only three percent of Catholics who come to Mass faithful every Sunday ever read the Bible on their own. I think the percentage of those who have studied the Catechism or read a papal encyclical in the last few years is even lower. While most American Catholics would never be satisfied with merely an elementary school education in math or reading, many do not seem to be troubled at all if their education in the faith stopped in the eighth or tenth grade with Confirmation. When “adult issues” come up — like whether it is moral to have recourse to in-vitro fertilization, or to stop nutrition or hydration for a terminally ill loved one, or to conduct embryonic stem cell research, or to support same sex unions — many adult Catholics do not know what the Church teaches; after all, these issues are not normally taught in fifth or sixth grade CCD. When friends confronting similar situations are lost and confused and ask for our advice, while we can extend a certain sympathy, we cannot extend Christ’s compassion, because we do not know Christ’s teachings well enough to do so. All we can give is our “honest opinion,” but — now we have to be truly honest — often these opinions are formed more by popular culture than by the Gospel. Rather than imparting the truth revealed to us by God, we, despite our good intentions, often pass on a popular falsehood. On other occasions, even when we know what Christ’s teaching is, we do not know it well enough to be able to answer common objections; as a result, lest we embarrass themselves and the Church, we often stay silent. Our friends and family, who are searchers without a guide, end up remaining lost. A truly compassionate doctor or nurse seeks to learn everything possible to care for patients and help them get better. A truly compassionate Christian needs to try to learn everything he or she can about the truth Christ reveals in order to care for family members, friends and acquaintances, fellow parishioners younger and older and to help them not only get better spiritually but get to heaven.

Promoting Catholic Schools and the Catholic Missions

It’s also very important for us, if we’re going to continue Christ’s compassion on the world, to do all that we can to strengthen the Church’s mission received from Christ to teach all nations. That’s why it’s so important for us to sacrifice for Catholic Schools, so that, even if we don’t have kids or grandkids now in Catholic schools, Christ’s saving truth can be passed on to the next generation, so that they may not go through life as sheep without a shepherd. It’s also key for us to support the work of the missions, as they seek to bring Christ’s word and life to all people for whom Christ died. Today we’re honored to have here at the Church of the Holy Family Brother Salvatore of the Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga (popularly called the Bannakaroli, “The Brothers of Charles” Brothers) of Uganda, who have consecrated their lives to the service of others, especially the poor, by means of education. They run 21 elementary schools, 7 high schools, 10 vocational schools and two orphanages in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, caring altogether for almost 30,000 young people. Christ looks with compassion on all of these young people and has called the Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga to bring him and his truth to them. And today Jesus wants us to share in that compassionate glance. Please be as generous as you can to this year’s Missionary Co-op.

The Fulfillment of the Most Famous Psalm

This Christian Sabbath, Jesus the Good Shepherd, has looked on us with compassion and has taught us through Sacred Scripture. With Him as our shepherd, as we sing in today’s famous psalm, we want for nothing, we have it all. He has brought us here, to the fruitful, verdant pastures of his home, to give us repose, to spend time with us, and to feed us. Through the truth he imparts to us, he leads us in right paths for his name’s sake. After he nourishes us with his truth, he seeks to strengthen us with his body and blood, as we’ll be seeing in the Gospels for the next several Sundays. As the Psalm says, he’s about to set a table before us. Let us, therefore, ask him to give us a hunger not only for the truth he compassionately gives us but also for the Truth he is, so that, receiving him in Holy Communion, we may enflesh the truth and become radiant messengers of his saving Gospel. This is the way the Good Shepherd seeks to lead the world through the valley of the darkness of ignorance to the light that will never know a sunset. This is the way that we and others to whom we bring this truth may be led by the Good Shepherd to dwell in His House forevermore!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 JER 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD.
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.
I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;
and none shall be missing, says the LORD.Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
as king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6

R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Reading 2 EPH 2:13-18

Brothers and sisters:
In Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the blood of Christ.For he is our peace, he who made both one
and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,
abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims,
that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two,
thus establishing peace,
and might reconcile both with God,
in one body, through the cross,
putting that enmity to death by it.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Alleluia JN 10:27

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 6:30-34

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.

 

Jesus Teaching-43