Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile...

The foreground in this photo (by MS, SJ) is thought to be the "deserted place" mentioned in this week's gospel.

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's liturgy)

Audio for homily

In my homilies, I always try to preach in the first person plural (we),
that’s to say, I try to make sure I don’t preach at you,
that I don’t preach down to you.

But in some measure,
today’s scriptures call me to preach in the first person singular
in that these texts are directed at shepherds who fail
in caring for their flock.

Jeremiah takes on kings, prophets and priests, Israel’s shepherds,
who have misled and scattered the people.
And in the gospel, Jesus is moved with pity for the crowds following him
because they seem like a flock abandoned by their shepherd.

In a nutshell here:
the bad news is that shepherds, those who lead God’s people,
sometimes fail to do so faithfully;
the good news is that there’s one Shepherd, Jesus
who never fails the flock
(in spite of the fact that in today’s gospel,
he first tries to escape in a boat to get away from the crowds!).

You can be sure that no pastor preaches this weekend
without measuring himself against the words of Jeremiah and Jesus.

And it’s likely that each pastor will judge himself
harshly in some areas and leniently in others:
sometimes getting that right and sometimes getting it wrong.

And he will be judged by others, too.
You can be sure that no congregation will hear these readings
without asking themselves,
“Have we a faithful or an unfaithful shepherd?”

And the answer to that question, in every parish, will be mixed.
The percentages will vary from place to place, shepherd to shepherd,
but the same pastor will be esteemed by some as eminently faithful
and by others as scandalously unfaithful -
all based on the same ministry, the same liturgies, the same homilies,
and the same letters in the bulletin.

Is fidelity then, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? No.

But the shepherd’s fidelity must be evaluated
through three lenses or sets of eyes:
• first, through the eyes of faith in Jesus who is God’s Word made flesh,
and Brother, Lord, Savior and Judge of us all;
• second, through the eyes of Christ’s Body, the Church,
proclaiming the scriptures and handing on our faith’s Tradition;
• and third, through the eyes of parish life as the Body of Christ
gathers to worship, to grow in faith, to serve the poor
and to wrestle with how to live a holy life in these times.

With these eyes, through these lenses
we view and evaluate a pastor’s fidelity
lest unfaithful shepherds be judged as faithful
or faithful shepherds be judged as unfaithful --
which is just what can happen when we look through one or two
but not all three of the lenses of
faith in Christ, the Wisdom of the Church
and the pursuit of holiness.

I probably don’t need to mention it,
but what’s good for the shepherd is also good for the flock.

As you and I judge our own individual fidelity we need to see ourselves
through those three lenses.
• For if pastor and people see only through their own eyes of faith,
they become a church unto themselves,
establishing and relying on their own brand of infallibility.
• If pastor and people see only through the eyes of Tradition,
they can loose sight of the human struggle for meaning and peace
which Tradition is meant to serve.
• And if pastor and people see only
through the eyes of their own particular experience,
their vision will be myopic, blurred, limited
and unable to focus on the truth and holiness
they are called to seek.

Ultimately, neither beauty nor fidelity is in the eye of the beholder,
but rather in the eyes of God
and because we have trouble seeing as God sees,
we need all three of those corrective lenses
• that we might faithfully see Christ as God among us;
• that we might faithfully live by the wisdom the Church offers;
• that we might faithfully seek a holy way of life.

We thank God for giving us Jesus as our Shepherd:
for in Christ our Brother, we can see our God;
and through Christ, the only Son,
we become God’s sons and daughters;
and with Christ’s Body, the Church, we see in the gifts we offer
the Body and Blood of the only truly faithful One:
Jesus who gave his life on the Cross, for us, his flock.

May Christ shepherd us, his people
and may we shepherd one another,
faithful to his Word, his Church and his truth.


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