Sunday, July 19, 2015

Confident in our Shepherd: 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

(Listen to this homily here).

            There is a story of a Shakespearean actor who liked to host dinner parties in his mansion.  After dinner concluded he provided the entertainment by taking requests.  Someone would ask to hear something from Romeo and Juliet, Othello (and those are the only plays I know from Shakespeare), and he would perform them.  As the evening went on, he got more and more into it, earning greater applause.
            One evening, an elderly priest stood up to make a request and he said, “Sir, would you mind reciting the 23rd Psalm?”  The actor agreed, provided that the priest would also recite it.  The priest agreed.  The actor performed Psalm 23 with great eloquence, perfect diction and emphasis.  He earned a standing ovation at the end.  The priest thought to himself, “How am I going to beat that?” but he bowed his head and from his heart prayed Psalm 23 as he had done so often in his life.  While he didn’t have the same gusto, dramatic flair or enunciation, you could hear a pin drop when the priest finished and there were tears in many eyes.  The actor said to the crowd, “Do you see what happened?  I knew the Psalm.  Father knew the Shepherd.”
            Do you know the Shepherd?
            Our readings were all about shepherds this weekend.  We start by hearing the prophet Jeremiah condemning bad shepherds.  Here, context will help understand why.  Jeremiah prophesied in the darkest period of Israelite history.  The kingdom had been split with the northern tribes (Israel) having been decimated by the Assyrians.  The southern kingdom (Judah) was about to meet the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians.  Throughout this history the people were led by 42 different kings (starting with Saul, David and Solomon).  Of these, only six were described as good in the Bible!  The rest were described as evil, wicked and not knowing God.  Through Jeremiah, God condemned these false shepherds, and promised to send a good shepherd.
            Then we prayed Psalm 23—one of the most famous Psalms in the Bible and poems in the world.  Like the Lord’s Prayer, this is a prayer that fits all seasons.  It is used in Baptisms and at funerals and can be sought in both joyous and sorrowful times.
            Might I encourage you to memorize this Psalm?  Consider that some homework for this week.  And I know you can!  When I was at my last assignment, I began the candy basket—offering candy to our students if they could memorize a Bible verse (nothing like bribing kids to memorize the Bible!).  The sixth graders were a bunch of punks—apparently they were too cool for candy—and hardly any kids took up my offer.  So one day I marched two third graders into the sixth grade class—and they both recited Psalm 23.  If third graders can do it, so can you!
            And when Jesus, in the Gospel according to Mark, “…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.”
            The good news for us—Jesus continues to shepherd his Church almost 2000 years after his death.  One of the ways he does this is through the hierarchy (pope, bishops, priests) he established.  Now many may cringe when they hear this word—hierarchy—today.  “That’s too rigid,” or “It’s all about power” some think. 
            But do you know what the word for shepherd is in Latin?  Pastor.  Pastors—myself included—are meant to be a shepherd of souls, to nourish, protect, guide and assist the flock of Christ. 
            Jesus continues to give us pastors to ensure the people of God are shepherded today: Pope Francis for the universal Church, Bishop Paul Sirba for the Diocese of Duluth and I have the humble honor to serve you. 
            Please pray for your pastors—for your shepherds.  Can you imagine Pope Francis’ job?  He needs our prayers!  Pray for his health, safety and wisdom.  Or Bishop Sirba.  I can tell you first-hand that no priest wants to be a bishop (and a priest who wants to be a bishop should never be a bishop!).  Bishop Sirba didn’t want this job, but he said yes when he was asked to serve our Diocese.  Please pray for him.  And you all know by now that I need prayers.  Please pray that, as a young man, I may be given the strength, wisdom and joy to lead you well.
            Finally, always remember that we are all about Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Popes, bishops, pastors and priests come and go.  Remember, we all follow Christ!  If you receive anything good from a priest, bishop or pope, remember that is the Good Shepherd working!  If you receive less than that, it is due to a man’s sin or imperfections.  Please God, our earthly pastors will lead many to the Shepherd.
As we heard about shepherds today, we are grateful that Christ continues to Shepherd his flock through the holy Catholic Church today.  Let’s strive to follow Jesus the Good Shepherd faithfully today and during this week.

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