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Contents: Volume 2 - The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 18th, 2021

 

The

16th

Sunday

(B)


1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

3. -- Brian Gleeson CP

4. -- Paul O'Reilly SJ

5. --(Your reflection can be here!)

 

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Sun. 16 B 2021

"Shepherds" in our day have come to mean anyone who has lawful authority or leadership over a person or a group, "shepherds" such as religious or government leaders or parents, school officials or leaders of organizations. The actions or non-actions of some "shepherds" who sullied and defiled their profession in our first reading or who do so today are particularly evil because of the inherent trust that is placed in someone who then willfully stoops so low or who is just horribly negligent. Flashes of such things as pedophile scandals, financial scams, and uneven distribution of Covid vaccinations or care push hard against reasonable righteousness and justice. It is right and just to know that the mighty reaction of the people against such oppressors pales in comparison to the justice of the Lord upon those who do not repent of that kind of evildoing. Our just anger does need to be soothed, however, and redirected.

The 23rd Psalm helps to do that as does the Lord's own words in the first reading where we are promised personal and caring shepherding. Jesus himself provides an example of such personal shepherding in today's gospel account where he not only provides caring direction for the tired apostles but pity for the vast crowd of followers who were in such need of good shepherding. It seems that times have not changed much nor the need for a true shepherd, just the details of the human condition!

Even without reference to publicly known scandals, there are still so many other challenges that society faces as well as personal ones that individuals have. Couldn't you use a personal "shepherd" right now, one who would care for and guide you through whatever is bombarding you in your life? Life partners, counselors and life coaches, and even those people whom we know in our everyday lives who do exhibit the traits of Jesus himself surely do help as do many present religious and political leaders who seem to be on the right track.

I think we need something More, individually and collectively. Right now and for always, we need to look to the Good Shepherd! A re-focus on the Good Shepherd is soothing balm for those lingering thoughts of horrific events that may have touched us or our family personally as well as giving us strength for the times of betrayal that might be ahead. That blessed assurance will indeed help to heal wounds. It will also empower us to act more like the Good Shepherd to others. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want....."

Blessings,

Lanie

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Sixteenth Sunday of Ordered Time July 18, 2021

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Responsorial Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:13-18; Gospel Acclamation John 10:27; Mark 6:30-34

Many will call this Good Shepherd Sunday. We start our liturgy of the Word with a selection from the great, reluctant prophet Jeremiah. Our psalm response to that reading is the beautiful and much used Psalm 23 which insists that God is my shepherd who leads me along right paths. Even the selection from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians can be interpreted as touting the shepherd like qualities of Jesus. For it is Jesus who leads us from enmity to peace and reconciliation with one another so that we become one body, one flock. "For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." In the gospel, Mark presents Jesus’ evaluation of the state of the spirit of the vast crowd. They are like sheep without a shepherd. In their need, the crowds come to Jesus and the disciples, hoping for words of wisdom, seeking relief from the monotony of recurring efforts at survival in body as well as in spirit. In this context, Mark tells us that Jesus began to teach the crowd many things.

The great danger of the Scriptures occurs when we hear them proclaimed and think of those events as the past. We receive these as stories of history, calling our minds and hearts back to former times in the long ago and far away. The danger of the Scriptures is that we perceive those writings as entertainment. Many have insisted their lives would be different if they had lived in the presence of the Christ. If only they could see Jesus and walk with him, what a difference it would make in their decisions and thoughts. Their attitudes and allegiance to the God of the Covenants would be easier to live. Commitment to the Creator would be always in the front of mind.

The reality is that what has happened in the past is often the source of understanding and working with what is happening in the present. Things constantly change. Each generation faces new challenges to living in accord with the Will of the Creator. Those challenges arise in nature. See what is happening to our climate as the normative temperatures of the world steadily rise. Even slight increases have devastating effects on the earth’s ability to produce food and potable water. Those changes relate to technology. We have the capacity to understand more intensely the complexity of everything through the application of technology. We have ability to travel to distant lands in hours instead of months. We have the capacity to converse with persons on the other side of the world in instants instead of weeks of snail mail. Farmers who once thought a hundred bushel to the acre corn was exceptional now consider such a yield marginal. In all this, there remains this one constant. Our relationships are fragile, our reactions more violent, our future more uncertain because of the great improvement in the destructive power of our weapons.

Instead of relationships improving, nations appear ever more committed to conflict and unbridled competition. Even though manufacturing has improved the tolerances of machinery so that mechanicals are ever more enduring use and lasting longer, there remains a huge supply of manufactured junk that pollutes our oceans, our rivers, our land – creating huge mountains of trash. The stresses of our times fragment families, pit neighbor against neighbor. Businesses seek dominance by merging, buying competitors, and applying cut-throat methods of advertising, pricing, and market dominance. If one cannot buy out a competitor, then one must discover ways of driving them to bankruptcy.

This has ever been the situation with humanity. Of course, contemporary technology, techniques, and scientific based improvements in production systems and techniques have accelerated this doom and gloom scenario. We believe that our living has been improved by what is modern. The trappings of living have certainly improved. Health care has extended human life by decades. Agriculture has improved its technics so that one farmer can feed fifty times more people than a farmer a century ago could have. Yet, are we any more at peace? Are we any more delighted with the gift of life? Are we any more connected with our families? Are we any more at peace with neighbors, communities, the state, the nation, and other nations?

Perhaps negative response to those questions come to us from the same cause that ruined the nations of Israel and of Juda. The seeking for power, for wealth, and for status among the nations was the undoing of Israel, that break away nation of the Hebrew people. Perhaps the reading from Jeremiah this Sunday holds for us the seeds of our current malaise. Idolatry is much the same today as it was three thousand years ago. The human race quickly forgets its errors. The kings of Israel and of Juda entertained false gods of the pagans, even installing images of those gods in their temples. Jeremiah in the reading this Sunday shouts to the temple crowd and to the political forces of his time. "Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord." Can we not shout along with Jeremiah about the secular and the religious situation of our time?

Just a note about idolatry of power, wealth, and status. None of these are idolatry by themselves. It is when we commit ourselves to the acquisition of power, the accumulation of wealth, or the all-consuming courting adulation of the crowd that we make those three idols. When those become more important than our families, our neighbors, our state, our nation, and our world, then we have installed those as idols in the temples of our hearts. The times and the circumstances of our time have clearly changed. But do not the human hearts of humanity remain unrepentant of the idolatry Jeremiah observed in his time?

Are we not in the crowd that sought Jesus in the desert place, looking for a way to overcome their anxieties and fears? Are we not a flock flittering here and there without purpose, without a grasp of the truth of our living? Where are the answers to our burdens?

This Sunday we sing the responsorial psalm often used at memorial services and church and secular funeral remembrances. "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want." Following the Lord, we discover places in life where we are nourished, watered, and where we can grow in peace. Human life is not about merely adhering to laws. Christian – for that matter, all religions – living is about growing in closer and more intimate relationship with creation, with other persons, and thus through those relationships to a closer and more intimate union with God. Paul tells us this in the last line of the selection of his letter to the Ephesians. "He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." Growth in our relationship to each other and to God is what living is about. Idolatry gets in the way of it.

Listen again to Jeremiah: "Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord." Such shepherds are condemned. Even so there are many of us who are taken in by those charlatans, those purveyors of falsehood, those firebrands of violence and hatred. By what standards are there by which we can discern the false shepherds? How will we know who to listen to and who to jeer? Again, Paul teaches us just as Jesus taught the crowd who searched for him even in the desert. Shepherds ought to be heard who teach peace and lead us to grateful and appreciative relationships with creation, with other persons, and with the God of truth. Those who seek to divide us, those who constantly encourage violence to achieve goals, those who disrespect the poor, the widows, the handicapped, those of minority standing because of color, national origin, language, faith tradition, poor health, of limited education: those are the shepherds who would mislead and scatter us for their own purposes. They are not shepherds but ravenous wolves and lions using the flock as prey for their insatiable hunger. Those are the contemporary pharaohs. In the ancient stories of the Hebrews in Egypt, it is the pharaoh who enslaves, robs the nation of freedom. Can we not understand the contemporary pharaohs who seek to enslave all of us as they seek autocracy and tyrannical power? If we think this applies solely to secular leadership, we are mistaken. There are pharaohs as well in the religious cultures.

But let us not resort to finger-pointing, to scapegoating to relieve us of soul-searching because of this Sunday’s readings. Repeatedly, the Catholic tradition insists baptized members are "priests, prophets, and kings." Kingship, in its original iteration, was very much like the duties of a shepherd. The king/queen’s central responsibility was the safety and flourishing of the flock, of the people. It was not self-serving idolatry of status or power or wealth. It was a service. Thus, it is that through our baptism we are indeed shepherds of all we encounter. These readings are a call to action to take seriously our responsibilities as shepherds. We are to be concerned with the safety and the flourishing of the flock. If we, as Jeremiah shouts, mislead and scatter, we must repent. We must be responsible for our relationships, our speech, our attitudes, our choices. We, baptized members of the Assembly Called Together, are called to care and feed the members of the Assembly, the Church. But not only Catholic churchgoers: we are called to gather and provide security and nourishment to all people of the world. Even more than this: we are called to for safety and the nourishment of all of creation.

That is a huge job, a herculean task. If we are taught by Jesus, we know we have an advocate present to us even now in these latter days, in this final epoch of God’s creation. The Spirit is with us. As shepherds we must be attentive to the Spirit’s whispering. Through the moments and relationships of daily living we have the opportunity to become more and more aware of God’s presence in the Spirit. The advice of a great Rabbi in the Jewish tradition gives us a clue. He was asked when the messiah would come. He replied, "He is here now, if only you look for him."

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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FEEDING THE HUNGRY: 16TH SUNDAY B

There are at least three kinds of hunger. There is a hunger for bread, for the food and drink that satisfy physical hunger and nourish physical health and life. There is emotional hunger, a hunger for acceptance and welcome, affirmation and affection from others. And there is spiritual hunger. For Christians, this is a craving for Christ and his company. As a famous song puts it, in words of St Richard of Chichester, this hunger is a longing 'to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day'.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta has spelt out well these three kinds of hunger:

Your poverty is greater than ours ... the spiritual poverty of the West is much greater than the physical poverty of the East. In the West, there are millions of people who suffer loneliness and emptiness, who feel unloved and unwanted. They are not the hungry in the physical sense; what is missing is a relationship with God and with each other.

In our gospel today, we meet people who are experiencing those three kinds of hunger. Their greatest hunger is for the company of Jesus, for the enlightenment and truth of his teachings, and for the warmth and comfort of his understanding, kindness and compassion. They are also feeling the pangs of physical hunger and hoping he can relieve those as well.

Looking for a little rest and recreation, Jesus sails away with his friends for the eastern shore of the lake. But seeing where the boat is heading, the crowds hurry along the shore and are already waiting for them at the other side. You can imagine what you and I might have thought and even said about this. Jesus too might easily have felt annoyed and resentful. He might easily have moaned and groaned: 'Why won't they leave us alone for a while? Why won't they let us have a bit of time to ourselves? Why won't they give us just a little peace and quiet? Why won't they stay away? Why won’t they?'

But Jesus thinks no such thoughts. He thinks only of them, of their need for him, and for the love and assistance he can provide as their Good Shepherd. Sensing their longing to be with him and seeing so many sick and troubled persons among them, his heart overflows with compassion. And so, he goes from one little group to the other - listening to them, talking to them, comforting them, and healing their physically and mentally sick ones. In this way the longing they have felt to be with him, and their need for acceptance and welcome, affirmation and affection, are satisfied.

All this has much to say to us as the disciples of Jesus in the world today. We must face, first of all, the physical hunger of millions of our fellow human beings. Can we any longer feel indifferent concerning so much conspicuous consumption and so much waste in our Western world, when so many persons are deprived of the basic necessities of life and are even starving to death? What will Jesus say to us on Judgment Day? Will it be: 'I was hungry, and you gave me food? I was thirsty and you gave me a drink' (Mt 25:35-36)? Or will it be: ‘I was hungry and you never gave me any food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink' (Mt 25:42-43)?

In the second place, there are all around us so many deprived and lonely people who are craving for even a little bit of affirmation, acceptance, and affection. The widespread problems of so many runaway and homeless children, of drug addiction, of domestic violence, of suicide, are but symptoms of deep unsatisfied longings to be loved and to love. Can you and I be at least a little more sensitive, a little more responsive, a little more active and caring towards so many lost and lonely persons? And will we want Jesus to say to us: 'I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me (Mt 25:36-37)'?

Jesus has clearly identified himself with people in physical, emotional and spiritual need. To meet them is to meet him. 'In truth I tell you,’ he says, 'in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me' (Mt 25:40-41) and 'in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me' (Mt 25:45).

It’s the same Jesus whom we meet today in our celebration of the Eucharist, as the Jesus who took pity on the crowd of hungry people on the shore of the lake. He will shortly be nourishing our friendship with him in the signs of bread and wine, so as to empower us to become more and more like him. And at the end of our celebration of him and his teachings, he will be sending us back into the world as a source of nourishment to others, by reaching out to them with our words and actions of acceptance and welcome, affirmation and affection.

Fed, then, by our holy communion with him, may we do more than ever before to satisfy the physical, emotional and spiritual hungers of all those needy persons out there, whom God keeps putting on our paths, to nourish them with practical signs of God’s own compassionate and caring love.

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Year B: 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

"They were like sheep without a shepherd."

Some people, even some Christians, wonder whether being a Christian really matters and whether having a Church and a priest and people going to Mass every Sunday really makes any actual difference in the world. I admit that I occasionally have those doubts myself. But then I think of the flocks of sheep that I have known without a shepherd.

You see, I once saw an actual flock of sheep without a shepherd. It was in the Rupununi in South America. I don’t know how it had happened, but a group of sheep had run wild on the open savannahs in the dry season. And they were in terrible condition – the Rupununi is not good sheep country. They were thin, scrawny and sick – obviously they didn’t know where to go to get enough grass and water. Their coats were matted and unsheared and far too heavy for them in the hot sun. And they were full of fear. Nobody could go near them; nobody could lead them. Nobody could protect them from the dogs and the jaguars. And over the few months they were around, they gradually got fewer and fewer in number until – all too soon - there were none left. I come from a family of sheep farmers – and it broke my heart.

Then a few months after that I had to go on a medical trip into another area – a long way from the Christian villages where I mostly worked. And I was shocked at how the people were living. Nearly all of the men were drunk – all the time! Nearly all the women were sad and depressed. Nearly all the children were malnourished and sick. Never have I seen – before or since – such desolation in an Amerindian area. I was shocked!

And for several days, I simply could not understand what had happened. Finally, quite by accident, I asked the right question: "Where is the Church?"

I was actually only asking the way – but it was a more profound question than I realised. They showed me an old building – the mud walls falling in; the thatched roof rotten and eaten away; the door held up only by the padlock that kept the people out.

"What happened?!!" I asked, in shock.

"Ah", they said, "we used to have a pastor here. All the village people came to service. It was a good village then. People co-operated. People didn’t get drunk. People didn’t fight. Men didn’t beat their wives. It was a good village then."

"So what happened?" I asked again.

"He went away to the Coast; got a better job; more money."

For most of the rest of the day I thought about that Pastor. And running around in my head were those lines from Don Mclean’s ‘American Pie’:

"The church bells all were broken.

And the three men I admire most:

The father, son, and the holy ghost,

They caught the last train for the coast

The day the music died."

Some of the time, I felt angry. How could he leave his people. Like the hired hand, he had run away and left the people to the wolves. How could he do that?

Other times, I felt sympathetic. Maybe he had a wife and family to support and he needed the money to provide for them – to give them a better education and a better way of life. Charity begins at home. But, however I tried to explain it to myself, it was terrible to see a flock of sheep without a shepherd.

But then, I thought, how easy it is to condemn the sin in other people that we don’t even notice in ourselves – the splinter in his eye and the plank in our own. The Church is not just a pastor or a priest. And it doesn’t all fall apart if the pastor or the priest goes away. The Church is all of us. We are all shepherds of one another.

Which of us has not at some point betrayed the flock?

Which of us is without Sin?

Which of us has always been faithful to our Christian commitment?

Which of us has not failed to speak the Word of God to people for fear of embarrassment?

Which of us has not betrayed the people of God, just as that pastor did? And perhaps even without his reasons?

Let us pray that all of us may have the grace to be good shepherds of His People.

And let us stand and profess our Faith in the Good Shepherd of us all.

Paul O’Reilly, SJ. <fatbaldnproud@opalityone.net>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net.  Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

-- Fr. John Boll, OP
 


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