by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente missionaries.
Madrid, July 18, 2021. | XVI Sunday in Ordinary Time
Book of Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Letter to the Ephesians 2: 13-18; Saint Mark 6: 30-34.
How do I respond when my children, brothers and friends interrupt my rest, mi speech or plans ? What do I feel toward them?
And what are my thoughts, my feelings and my reactions when I have the impression that God is asking me for more and more… perhaps at a time that I do not consider to be one of the best in my life?
This could be the beginning of our reflection today, when we sometimes feel in a situation similar to that of Jesus and the apostles in this Sunday’s Gospel text. It is clear that these situations, being interrupted, having no time to eat, being continually called upon to help or feeling powerless to relieve others, will always exist. Sometimes because we human beings are impertinent and obstinate, at other times because of the desperation caused by pain and -how not- because God’s time is not our time. It is interesting to see how Christ himself had this experience, immediately finding a mission to fulfill with the crowd, which was were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
In addition to the obvious need to eat and rest, whether or not we are believers, when we are really exhausted overwhelmed by pain, we cannot remain objective and able to listen to the voice of God. This is why when Jesus, was informed of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, who was beheaded by King Herod, He withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself (Mt 14: 13). It is precisely in those moments that we need time to process our feelings, our fears and our underlying motivations. It is in solitude and in silence, that the Holy Spirit comes to our lives and put all things in perspective.
For those of us who have experienced a taste of much-needed relaxation only to have it taken away abruptly, perhaps we surmise what the Apostles might have been feeling in that moment. But Jesus is not being inconsiderate of the Apostles needs. He offers them — and us — a lived lesson. St. John Paul II wrote, The whole of Christ’s life was a continual teaching: his silences, his miracles, his gestures, his prayer, his love for people, his special affection for the little and the poor, his acceptance of the total sacrifice on the Cross for the redemption of the world. In Jesus’ choice to teach, we see all of these things: sacrificial love, concern for the marginalized, and priority of people’s needs over personal preference. These are not abstract ideals. They are lived realities as we strive to live and love like Jesus. When a new obstacle confronts you in your life, how do you respond?
I remember a situation in which to a certain woman everything seemed to escape her control, all were unpleasant surprises in her life and yet, she moved many of us with her decision to raise her eyes to God, to accept all events not only with patience, but with the explicit intention of satisfying God. Her husband had recently passed away and her work was too demanding in terms of responsibility and time commitment.
One day she asked me to accompany her to the Psychiatric Unit of a Bronx hospital to visit her only daughter, aged 21. The police had found her on the street disoriented and showing signs of drug use. We immediately realized that her condition was not transitory and that a process of schizophrenia had been triggered, much more terrible and dramatic than the passing effects of an experience with hallucinogenic substances.
She was informed that she would only be able to see her daughter for 20 minutes a day and in the presence of a nurse, as she had shown signs of a suicide attempt. I remember the conversation between the two of them, where the young girl said completely meaningless phrases and the mother broke down in disconsolate tears.
At the end of the visit, when she managed to calm down a bit, she told me: I do not understand how this can happen, nor why, nor what the outcome will be. But I do understand one thing: God wants me to be here now.
That was her lesson of wisdom: to be aware that in those distressing moments, Providence was asking something of her. That perspective is only possible in a state of prayer, otherwise, we are hopelessly doomed to discouragement, anger, or some state of ironic cynicism. It depends on our temperament.
Jesus began his public life with an “unscheduled” miracle. Moreover, he explicitly said that his hour had not yet come. He was interrupted by the woman who begged him to cure her hemorrhages, by lepers, by children, by tragic events such as the death of Lazarus or St. John the Baptist.
Undoubtedly, the young Jesus learned from his parents to see in all circumstances the divine plans. Beyond our understanding or our preferences, that is the motivation of a true Christian, of a genuine apostle.
When Mary was informed that Elizabeth, despite her advanced age, was six months pregnant, she got up and hurried to the hill country to fetch Elizabeth.
Having placed herself in Elizabeth’s shoes, she knew Elizabeth needed someone to help her around the house. Mary understood her need and came to her rescue. Mary would do something similar again when she influenced Jesus to work his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana having perceived that the couple would be embarrassed at the shortage of wine.
Today’s Gospel text tells us precisely what moved Jesus to address the crowd, how he followed the shock that his heart felt when he saw people like sheep without a shepherd and began to teach them. One way to understand this attitude of Jesus and above all to be able to imitate him is to remember the unity that must exist between contemplation and action, between faith and charity, so as not to limit ourselves to the realization of some eventual humanitarian or generous work that soothes our conscience. As Benedict XVI said:
Sometimes we tend, in fact, to reduce the term “charity” to solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It is important, however, to remember that the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the “ministry of the word”. There is no action more beneficial – and therefore more charitable – towards one’s neighbour than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most integral promotion of the human person (OCT 15, 2012).
That explains why he began to teach them many things. These many things can be summed up in the last phrase of today’s Second Reading: 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.
In other words, by imitating Jesus we are able to satisfy our heavenly Father, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us to do good beyond our capacity, in the midst of pain and limitations, but allowing us to see the true priority of our neighbor, who has the right to an opportunity to unfold his capacity to love.
That is why, in our mystical life, Beatitude and Affliction are so intimately united. To feel that God is asking of us a mission that is humanly impossible, to see our neighbor suffer physically, emotionally and spiritually, to be able only to accompany in silence those who suffer, is linked to that beatific impression of being collaborating with Christ, of having the certainty that every tear, every drop of blood will bear fruit.
Jesus had come down from heaven to teach us the truth about God, the truth about God’s love for us, and therefore the deep truth about who we are and whom we are called to be.
Therefore, the First Reading is a terrible threat to bad shepherds, to those who take advantage of the sheep, instead of showing them the true nourishment: to do the will of God. The crowds that follow and gather around Jesus, the healings and casting out of demons, the miraculous feedings are all signs that the Son of God is shepherding the people into God’s kingdom. In the age to come, Jesus proclaims, many who are first will be last, and the last will be first (Mk 10:31). That age is now breaking into this age; we who seek to live God’s kingdom here and now must follow Jesus’ subversion of worldly power and wealth. The poor in spirit, those who are meek and perhaps not very talented, are able to love as the wise and powerful never did.
Today, in the face of so many people in our culture who are lost, who don’t know the purpose of their lives, who often go from one pleasure to the next so as not to confront the most fundamental questions of existence, who don’t know the difference between right and wrong, who do not even realize that there is a heaven and a hell not to mention what actions are taking them to either place…in the face of so many people who are indeed like sheep without a shepherd, the great act of compassion that God wants from us is to teach them about him.
That is the true compassion, also called mercy, that moves the heart of every disciple of Jesus.
At a book presentation in 2001 while cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, te future Pope Francis made a startling assertion: Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord…. I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter with the Lord is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin. It is obvious how this priority of mercy is in the heart and intention of Christ from the beginning. If the church is a field hospital after battle, in Francis’s words, it must bring healing, particularly by teaching that liberating truth that the three readings proclaim today: We do not walk alone, there is a Shepherd who goes before us and shows us the way.