Monday, July 13, 2009

Sheep, Without a Shepherd Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, Mark 30-34

Jesus Teaching by the Seashore 1899 James Tissot (1836-1902)

Jesus takes his disciples apart for a time of rest, prayer and recreation. However, we see that Jesus is flexible when it comes to meeting a pastoral need. Pastor means shepherd. A true shepherd of souls feeds his flock with true teaching. He keeps his flock from the poisonous streams of false teaching, moral relativism and religious indifferentism. He leads by example in living a life of holiness and integrity. He also seeks out the lost and brings them safely home.

Jesus is moved because of the people’s ignorance. In the book of Hosea, God says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Ignorance is not the same as stupidity. Will Rogers once said “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” Someone may know a lot about computers and very little about cars and vice versa. Most brain surgeons know little about rocket science and you wouldn’t ask a rocket scientist to perform brain surgery.

The greatest ignorance is ignorance of the things of God. What the old Baltimore Catechism taught is still true today. God made us to know him, love him and serve him in this life and to be happy with him in the next life.

Each of us should strive to know God better each day and strive to be faithful to his will. We can start by getting to know God better by reading the Bible. St. Jerome said “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

The more we read the Bible, the more we see how are Catholic faith is solidly supported by the Word of God. For example, in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus clearly teaches us about his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. John 21 shows Jesus instituting the Sacrament of Penance by breathing the Holy Spirit on his apostles and saying “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained. ” The first words of the Hail Mary are taken from Luke 1. “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Our Lord is with you. Blessed art you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

The Bible also teaches us respect for human life. In the book of Jeremiah, God says to Jeremiah "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1, 5) Psalm 8 says “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:3-5)

1. The Bible teaches that human life is made in the image and likeness of God.

2. The Bible teaches that children are a blessing.

3. The Bible teaches that the child in the womb is truly a human child, who has a relationship with the Lord.

4. Scripture condemns the killing of the innocent. God gives us the commandment “Thou shall not kill.” (Exodus 20, 13)

5. The Bible teaches that God is a God of justice. Justice is an act of intervention for the helpless, to defend those who are too weak to defend themselves.

6. Jesus Christ paid special attention to the poor, the despised, and those whom the rest of society considered insignificant. Jesus said ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me.” (Matthew 25, 40)

7. Scripture teaches us to love. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus always expanded the definition of who our neighbor is.

8. The Scripture also teaches that eventually goodness will triumph over evil and that life will be victorious over death.

Today we face a great conflict between a ‘culture of death’ and a ‘culture of life’. In his Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II said “it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of "conspiracy against life" is unleashed.”

The culture of death thrives on ignorance. If you rely on CBS, NBC, ABC or your local newspaper for your news, you are most likely unaware of some important facts related to the abortion debate and are likely to have a negative impression of the pro-life movement. Most people are unaware that in 1973 the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion in all nine months of pregnancy and for practically any reason. They are unaware that one out every five pregnancies ends in the violence of abortion. Many people are ignorant of the scientific fact that at the moment of fertilization, a separate, unique human being is present with a different genetic structure than either their father or mother. The sex, eye color, shoe size, intelligence is determined in the genetic code at the moment of fertilization in the 46 human chromosomes.

Many people mistakenly believe that more contraception will lead to fewer abortions. But the contraceptive mentality, that sees the child as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, has actually led to more, not fewer abortions. Most people have never heard of the newer methods of natural family planning that are just as effective as the birth control pill without the physical side effects and without the moral consequences.

Many people mistakenly believe that in vitro fertilization is pro-life and don’t know that Church teaches it is gravely immoral. In vitro fertilization is wrong not only because ‘spare’ embryos are produced that are unjustly frozen, experimented on or discarded or experimented on, but because it breaks the inseparable bond between love and life that God has designed for the marital act.

A friend of mine recently revealed that before he came back to the Church he and his future wife regularly had pre-marital sex, until he came to understand that what they were doing is condemned in the New Testament as fornication and that those who did not repent of this sin could not enter the Kingdom of God. From that point, but they decided to live chastely and reserve the gift of sex for marriage.

How many people are aware of the fact that the former Jane Roe of the Roe v. Wade decision is now a pro-life Catholic? Most people have never heard of the post-abortion healing ministries of the Catholic Church such as Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats. Rachel’s Vineyard involves spiritual exercises based on Scripture that help both men and women find healing and peace. You probably haven’t heard that, as of 2003, 29 out 39 studies done on the subject show a link between abortion and breast cancer.

You might not know that in 1997 Oregon became the first state to legalize physician assisted-suicide or that Oregon will pay to help a person to commit suicide they won’t pay for adequate pain management, living assistance or some life-saving treatments. Montana recently became the third state to legalize physician assisted-suicide. Most people are unaware that rationed health care is already a reality in countries with socialized medicine such as Canada and Great Britain where and seriously ill people have to wait months for surgeries and treatments they need to survive and terminally ill patients are denied treatment altogether.

Pope Benedict XVI has help up St. John Vianney as a model for parish priests in this Year of the Priest. St. John Vianney said "If a parish priest doesn't want to be damned, and if there is any loose living in his parish, he must spurn the very thought of public opinion and the fear of being despised or hated by his parishioners. Even if he were certain of being lynched when he came down from the pulpit, that must not stop him from speaking out against it." Still, in many seminaries, future priests and deacons are told not to address controversial subjects or to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

I think if St. John Vianney lived in the United States in the twenty-first century he would be speak out clearly against abortion and other threats to innocent human life. He would challenge young people to live chastely. He would clearly explain why contraception, sterilization and in vitro fertilization are wrong. He would denounce pornography. He would defend marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman who are committed for life and open to the transmission of human life. At the same time, he would preach a message of mercy to sinners and generously make himself available to hear their confessions. He often spent up to 18 hours a day in the confessional as people came from all over France and other parts of Europe to go to confession to this holy man.

In this Year of the Priest, let’s especially pray for priests that they will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd in speak the truth courageously with love; that they will live lives of integrity and lead by example and that they will diligently seek out the lost with a message of God’s mercy.

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