The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

In the First Reading, Jeremiah chastises the official leaders because they neglected their duties towards the people. These leaders have to take the blame for the misfor¬tune that has fallen upon the people.

But God will not let His people suffer for long. God Himself will assume the leadership, and He will entrust His flock to the care of good and faithful shepherds.

And then we see in the Gospel. Jeremiah's promise is fulfilled in Jesus. We see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in action. First of all we see His care for His chosen Twelve, His disciples who have just returned from their missionary work.

These are tired and obviously in need of a break. Secondly, we see His care for the ordinary people, whom He calls the sheep of His flock and whom He teaches at length.

What a contrast we see between Jesus and the official leaders of His time. It’s no wonder that the people flocked to Him. In Jesus we see the divine compassion in action.

The disciples, having returned from their teaching mission, were tired, so Jesus invites them to come with Him to a lonely place across the lake where they could rest awhile. Take a sort of a retreat.

Jesus knows that his co-workers need a rest in order to renew themselves. And so, He wants to be with them, to encourage them and to strengthen them.

However, so many of the people were after Jesus that there was barely enough time to eat and so, in order to get some rest from the crowds, they set off in a boat for a "deserted place;' that is, some place remote and isolated. But the people saw where they were going and walked around the shore and got there first.

Though He was very tired, Jesus teaches them at great length and then in the next chapter in St. Mark’s Gospel we will see Jesus feed them with the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Here Jesus gives a good example which could be held up as a model for all the ordained ministry, bishops, priests and deacons.

The priest who is in charge of a parish is usually called a pastor, which is really a Latin word meaning 'shepherd'. And all the readings today are very much about shepherding, the care of the people committed to the parish priest (the pastor) and to his as¬sistants, if he has any.

In the reading from Jeremiah God is taking a very dim view of the shepherds. God says 'Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered.'
God was in fact speaking of the kings of Israel and their many wrong-doings and neglect they had been guilty of for centuries.
You see, the rulers of Israel were both kings and shep¬herds, as the psalm reminds us: The Lord is my shepherd' and what is more, as we see from the lives of David and Solomon, they were priest-kings who led worship in the tabernacle and the Temple.
The moral well-being of the people was to some extent regarded as dependent on the conduct of their king. They were ministers of God for the people.
Unfortunately, as it so often happens in so many human arrangements, they were not faithful and so now on the eve of the exile and captivity of the king and his people, Jeremiah chastises them but he also speaks of the day when God will raise up a king who will be wise, honest and just.
Here Jeremiah is speaking about the coming of Jesus. Jesus is of the line and house of David whose throne and kingdom He will not only in¬herit but will also transform.

It is however, Jesus the pastor, the good shepherd, we meet in the gospel story today. For some months now Jesus has been teaching the people, healing their sick and calling disciples.

He had sent some of these disciples out on their first mission to do very much the work he had been doing, and now that they have returned Jesus invites them to come to a place apart to rest and pray.

But as the Gospel says, they are interrupted. The people clamour round Jesus and his disciples and Jesus 'took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shep¬herd'.

The people wanted to hear Him, so He taught them but it was this same crowd, it seems, whom in the next chapter he fed with the five loaves and two fish. That was indicative of Jesus. How He is the Good Shepherd: compassionately providing both food for the spirit and food for the body.

The work of the pastor or parish priest is the same today, although he can never hope to perform as Jesus did or even as his disciples would do after the resurrection.

For we can tell by the gospel account what is already suggested in the passage from Jeremiah, the pastor must be with the people.

Through these Pastors God says’ 'I will gather my people, I will gather my flock, I will bring them back to the fold.' This Jesus would do through His life, through His teaching and by His death and resurrection;

He would ‘gather together in unity the scattered children of God' (Jn 11:25) and when He was 'lifted up' on the cross and in the resurrection He would draw everyone to Himself (12:32).

This shows us something about the kind of shep¬herding Jesus does, the kind of example he sets for the priests of today, the pastors of His parishes, the shepherds of His flock.

The pastor, the chosen shepherd of today, must be with His people, understand¬ing and sharing to the best of his ability their joys, their sorrows and their hopes.

To them too he must deliver the word, the word of God, mindful always that it is God's word and not his own, the teaching of the Church and not his own opinions, that he is to faithfully com¬municate.

For the Pastors, Christ, through the Sacrament of ordination, has put in his priest’s hands the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments through which Jesus Christ our Saviour communicates His very life to us.

Through the sacrament of reconciliation and his reconciling work in the community, the priest seeks to bring together those who are divided in opinion or at enmity with one another.

It is the priest who journeys with the sick, offering them the holy anointing, and it is the priest who, when someone is dying, in the name of Christ, absolves them and gives them the viaticum (the Holy Eucharist – food for the journey) that will accompany them into the next world.

With the local Church community the priests offers the Eucharist for them and, when someone dies, the priests prays with the bereaved at the grave that the deceased will enter into the everlasting light and peace of heaven.

There are many other activities, often very mundane activities, that are forced on the priest by the demands of modern life and while it is true that he may not be very good at handling them, at the same time if he is with his peo¬ple, and the flock is with him…

If he is always ready to offer them what Christ has put into his hands, then he will be a true pastor, a minister of His Lord, a shepherd reflecting the passion and love of Jesus for His flock.

We know that there is an essential connec¬tion between the Mass and the sacrificial death of Jesus on Calvary two thousand years ago.

However, some of us may be surprised to learn that even though we are invited to participate in Holy Communion, because this is how we become one with Christ and with each other it is in fact the consecration of the bread and the wine making them become the Body and Blood of Christ that is more important than the reception of Holy Communion.

Why? Because, It is this very consecration that is in fact a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, an act which accomplished our redemption.

And while we are obliged by God and directed by His Church to attend Mass every Sunday, we are not obliged but rather invited to receive Holy Communion - there is no obligation to receive Holy Communion every Sunday.

The Mass has been well defined as "The unbloody presence of the unique bloody sacrifice of the Cross" This means that the Mass and Calvary are the same sacrifice, only the mode of offering is different: on the Cross the offering was bloody and brutal, in the Mass it is unbloody and peaceful.

But, however, the Mass is not a different sacrifice from that of Calvary — it is the same sacrifice, only the presence is different. Christ is now glorified in heaven; as such, he is substantially present under the species of bread and wine. The grace of Calvary is now applied to us through the Mass.

In the Mass today the victim, Christ, is the same Christ as on Calvary, and the priest is the same priest, for it is Christ operating through the our priest and offering Himself to the Father in reparation for our sins.

The heart of the Mass, the central part then, is the consecration of the bread and wine. The priest says, "This is my body" and "This is the cup of my blood." The Mass is not a "repetition" of Calvary — it is rather making the sacrifice of Calvary now really and truly present on the altar.

How is this done? It is done by the almighty power of God — it is a miracle. And it is a mystery of faith — Mysterium Fidei — because Jesus told His apostles at the Last Supper, "Do this in memory of me."

This is why the consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ requires our utmost devotion, attention, reverence and respect.

And because of this we the sheep of his flock also have a responsibility towards these His chosen shepherds.

This is why Catholics traditionally have the utmost respect for the Catholic Priesthood. Not because of the man but because of what he becomes when he offers the sacrifice of the Mass at the Altar on our behalf.

This is why we call Him Father. For truly he is our Father, our priest, our pastor. Chosen by Christ and directed by Him to be the shepherd of His people. Without the priest there can be no sacrifice of the Mass. Without the priest there can be no Celebration of the Eucharist.

For it is in the Mass the priest truly becomes the Pastor of God’s People, the Shepherd of His flock.

In this Year of the Priest, we are invited therefore to renew our support freely given to those chosen by God to lead us as Pastors. For we are the Sheep of His flock and we need to hear His voice clearly through these pastors so that we might come to know Him and to follow Him allowing Him to shepherd us and feed us with His body and Blood. -

Which is made truly present for us on His Altar by the actions of His chosen instrument, the Catholic Priest.

Let us, the sheep of His flock, pray for our Holy Father, Our Bishops and all our priests that they may be truly faithful to Christ’s calling and be true and faithful pastors, true and faithful shepherds to God’s people.

God Bless You.

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

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