Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary time
If I were to ask all ‘shepherds’ to put up there hand, probably no one or very few would (if you played a shepherd in a Christmas play does not count). If I asked everyone who has or had a leadership role, no doubt a few more hands would go up. If I asked everyone who was a parent or grandparent or caregiver to put up their hand, many hands would go up. We are all leaders in some way or another.
The gospel for today is a continuation of the one that we heard last week, where Jesus sent his disciples out to do missionary work… 2 X 2. The disciples are now back, sharing with Jesus their experiences, the healing, the reconciliation, the heartaches that they have encountered, the joys… the messiness of peoples lives. They have been on the front lines, shepherding people… giving directions to the misguided, offering words of encouragement and above all… giving hope to the hopeless.
We can almost see Jesus getting caught up in their excitement, of course, sharing in the Good News. But Jesus also knows the toll that this work can take on one physically, mentally and spiritually. This is a real danger for those who lead on the front lines or those who really love what they do. Constantly giving of ourselves can weaken us in countless ways. We know it today as “burnout”.
And so he says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” In other words, take some time to process what you have been through… ask yourselves if these experiences with others challenged you to grow in your own faith in God or perhaps, have they have made you more committed to what you have been chosen to do?
As they make their way to a deserted place, they are spotted… people recognize them… desperate people with various needs want to see them. There is no time for rest or eat. We heard that “Jesus had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
Do we ever feel like sheep without a shepherd? Do we ever feel like there is no leadership in the different areas of our lives? Do we ever feel that no is listening or that no one cares? Of course we do! For example:
- Due to the shortage of medical professionals, including nurses (854 openings in NB alone), nurse practitioners and doctors continue to work tirelessly giving of themselves in a broken system…they, too are looking for some sort of shepherding.
- Or the student that has just graduated, is unsure what direction that they should take their lives but fail to have the courage to ask for advice or access to various programs to help them.
- Or those of us still working who look for a kind word or some sort of encouragement from our bosses but never get it.
With that being said, what if we change the question around and ask ourselves: “Who are we shepherding in our lives?” As Christians, we model ourselves on Jesus, the Good Shepherd so how are we doing that? Who are we trying to lead others?
For the last 16 months or so, the Pandemic Committee has and continue to do an excellent work in ensuring that we are safe and can have weekly Mass. Within the next few weeks, as we approach the “green phase” big changes are coming for us. At our Masses, we will return the Communion Rite to its appropriate place that means that we return to our seats after communion: masks and hand sanitizing will be available at the entrance of church when you come in… Readers, communion ministers (no cup) hymnals, singing. Will we respect one another as we work through this?
- As we open up fully, what ‘shepherding role’ within our parish will we take on? Perhaps we will try another ministry?
- How will we shepherd others back to Mass?
- Or beyond our borders, what about our Planet? Prior to the pandemic, we were going to look at Pope Francis encyclical “Ladato Si” our call to shepherd the earth’s environment from abuse. We need to return to this. On the news, a man is collecting tones of garbage and recyclables to help clean up the world. How can we help be leaders here?
- How will we “shepherd ourselves?” with more personal prayer, more quiet time? Or more positive thinking?
- Do we ‘thank’ or offer words of encouragement to those our shepherds?
- In the First Reading, Jeremiah speaks of those who “scatter the sheep” the danger of those in our society and our faith communities who would rather divide and scatter than to work together and to build up….While we find comfort in knowing that God is our Shepherd, today’s readings include a warning to those who abuse their leadership power they hold over others. My dear friends, we may feel that we cannot “shepherd” anyone, anymore. Not true. Just our presence to another reveals the living presence of Jesus to others… being there with and for others… that is leadership, that is being the heart of Jesus… our Good Shepherd. Amen.