Sunday, July 19, 2015

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - The Flock He Shepherds

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Today's readings focus on the flock or the Church.  Last week we read of Jesus sending out the disciples two by two (see:

In the first reading, we read of the situation in Israel. The shepherds were not doing a good job.  They misled the flock causing them to scatter. These shepherds were entrusted to care for God's flock and instead did not care for them (Ezekiel 34).  God warned them of imminent punishment for this lack of concern for His flock. We then read that God Himself will gather the remnant of the flock (Jeremiah 32:38, Ezekiel 37:27).  He will gather them each and return them to their meadow (Ezekiel 34:12, Ezekiel 34:11, Isaiah 50:11).  While there, they will increase and multiply.  God then promises to give them new shepherds who will do a better job and says that He will bring forth the shoot of David, or descendant of David who will be a king (Isaiah 11:10, Romans 15:12).  This shoot of David is of course Jesus (Matthew 1:1).  Jesus is the Good shepherd who will gather the flock that was lost (John 10:11-18). In other words, God Himself will shepherd His people. This brings us to today's Psalm which echos this by stating that the Lord is my shepherd.

The Psalm today is one that is well known. God is our shepherd (Psalms 80:1). He cares for us, gives us rest and waters that refresh us.  As shepherd, He guides and protect each of us (Psalms 95:7). Even when we are in the "dark valley," God is still with us (Colossians 1:13). We may not notice His presence, but He is there.  Because God is there, we fear nothing or no one (Romans 8:31).  No one will triump over us or celebrate against us because God is there for us (Psalm 41:11). Only goodness comes for those who reside in the presence of God, or His house (Lamentations 3:25).

In the second reading, we are reminded that we were far off at one point. At one point in life we were not in the Church. Perhaps we did not believe or never practiced the faith.  However, that changed because of the blood of Christ. We are near to God.  Jesus is our peace.  He opened up the doors between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5).  The division that separated us from God is gone in Jesus (Matthew 27:51). Jesus broke down the legalism that had taken hold of Israel. The shepherds or the leaders of Israel twisted the faith, making it into a form of control. Atheists often critic and describe religion as "mind-control." They state that religion restricts free thought and action. Well this was the case with the shepherds of the past. They got so caught up with the laws that they forgot that they were made for men, not the other way around (Mark 2:27). Laws serve us, we do not serve them. This is why even when immoral laws pass, we must do what it takes to undo them.

Jesus changed this and restored what the faith is supposed to be (Matthew 5:17).  We must be careful not to become like the shepherds of Israel who got caught up with the rules and did not capture the spirit of them (Matthew 23:27). As Catholics, we must not get caught up in traditions that seem to have been erased by the Church (Vatican II) but in reality simply took on a new expression. We must be careful not to think that certain ceremonies in the Liturgy must be done mechanically in order to be valid, or believe that Latin is somehow a magical language that only God listens to.  Furthermore, today some of our shepherds have not taught the faith. This led to misconceptions among Catholics regarding contraception, abortion and homosexuality.  These shepherds today push for changes in marriage and who can receive the Holy Eucharist even if divorced. Others allowed or participated in the violation of our most precious asset: children.  These shepherds will have to answer to God for their lack of care for the flocks entrusted to them which forced many to scatter.

Finally in the Gospel, we read that Jesus gathered with the apostles. They were overwhelmed by the crowds that had come and needed rest.  The people were desperate to see Jesus and the apostles. Jesus sees this and feels sorry for them.  These people were like sheep without a shepherd.  He then begins to teach them.  Here we see the connection to the first reading.  Jesus is the shoot of David who is king; He is God who comes to pasture His own flock (Ezekiel 34:23).  Christ is the head of the Church (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:23). The Church is His body (1 Corinthians 12:27). In this body, we are in the "meadows" feeding off the Holy Eucharist and drinking the fresh waters of Baptism, so to speak (John 6:51, John 4:14).  This is why "outside of the Church there is no salvation" (CCC 846-848)  The phrase is controversial, but one must understand what it really is stating.  This is not an attack on other religions (CCC 847).  It is a reminder that the Church is the normative means by which we are saved in Christ (CCC 849).  She is His body.

We must be faithful to the Church and help her grow in the world (John 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:13, Titus 1:9).  As Catholics we must accept the teachings of the Church since they come from Christ who guides us via the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, John 16:13).  The teachings of the Church are not suggestions.  They are necessary for us to continue our journey to God while on Earth. As the late Cardinal John J. O' Connor said, "The Church is not a salad bar from which you choose what pleases you" (Coren, PG 30).  The Church is a full meal we must enjoy. Every good meal has some vegetables we may not like.  They may be bitter or strange looking.  In the end, these are the most nutritious of the foods on the plate.  We must eat of it all and not grab the dessert because it pleases us and leave the rest behind.

Let us continue to be loyal to the Catholic Church and tell others about our beautiful revealed faith. As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, "Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8). The multitude we read of in the Gospel is the Church.  They are the people of every nation that no one can count (Revelation 7:9).  May God bless our Catholic Church and may Jesus Christ be praised!


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