Today's Gospel opens after a period of great activity and ominous events. Jesus was rejected at home, so he went to other places and sent his disciples to preach in his name. They came back successful, but burdened and frightened by the martyrdom of John the Baptist. It was time for Jesus and his friends to regroup and discern God's will for them.
|Sixteenth Sunday in
Unfortunately, not every retreat plan works out the way one would hope -- not even for Jesus. God's will became clear the moment Jesus understood the people's need. No matter how much he would have liked time to relax, to hash it all out with his companions and to listen to them, the people's hunger trumped his preferences.
St. Louise de Marillac, foundress of the Daughters of Charity, taught her sisters to be willing to leave their prayer to serve the poor, conscious that they were leaving God for God. Such was Jesus' intuition in this case. He had wanted to go away to discern God's will and teach his disciples; the reality was that the people's hunger revealed God's will and Jesus' response was the teaching his disciples needed most.
Jesus looked at the crowd who had come after him and saw people who were hungry for more than the religious leaders of the day were offering them, and they were willing to go to great lengths to find it. No wonder he responded to them! They wanted what he had and wished to share.
On that day in Israel, Jesus received the people who came after him as sheep without a shepherd.
Who are those people today? It is fairly common knowledge that the largest denomination in the United States is the Catholic church and that the second largest "religious" group in the country consists of people who have left the Catholic church. If we look at that reality in the light of today's Scriptures, we will find ourselves under an imperative.
Let's start with Jeremiah's "Woe to the shepherds ... " Every one of us in the church should listen to that warning because we are all baptized to carry on Jesus' mission, and that includes being shepherds for one another. We may have good crowds at the liturgy, and we can be proud of our Catholic charities, but what about the masses of people who remain hungry in every sense of the word? Are we responding?
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis prophetically names some of the hungers of our world when he says:
We cannot ignore the fact that in cities human trafficking, the narcotics trade, the abuse of minors, the abandonment of the elderly and infirm, and various forms of corruption and criminal activity take place. At the same time, what could be significant places of encounter and solidarity often become places of isolation and mutual distrust. ... The proclamation of the Gospel will be a basis for restoring the dignity of human life in these contexts.
Warning us against complacency, he says:
Today we are seeing in many pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life. ... One can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervor. These are three evils which fuel one another.
At the end of that paragraph, Francis could just as well have said, "These are three hallmarks of inadequate shepherds."
So, what are we to do? First of all, pray. Pray for good shepherds and for the grace and personal generosity to do our part. Then, like the daughters of Louise de Marillac, we must stand up, ready for God to send us to the hungry.
Additionally, it's time to encourage others to respond to God's call for shepherds, to invite gifted women and men to be pastoral workers, religious or priests. We need full-time shepherds. We also need every baptized person to take part in continuing the mission of Jesus, advocating for the restoration of human dignity.
This will require lots of activity and trigger some ominous events, but the more we serve, the better we will get to know the Good Shepherd among us.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]