Jesus Sees That They Are Sheep Without A Shepherd
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Last week we heard how Jesus sent his apostles two by two with no money, no bag, nothing. He sent them out completely disarmed, and we also go out disarmed when we speak sincerely about our lives and what God is doing for us. People are not looking for perfection, but honesty, and to hear the sincere struggles of another helps them to fight.
This week in the gospel (Mark 6: 30-34) Jesus is moved with pity when he saw the crowds following him who were like sheep without a shepherd. The original language is even more graphic: this word means his insides turned over, his inner parts were in turmoil when he looked at the suffering of the people. This Greek word can also mean womb. The same word has two meanings and so this mercy of Christ gives life. Even our mercy can give life to another, like a womb. God puts life where there was death.
Jeremiah tells us how the recent kings of Israel just prior to the exile misled their sheep, scattered them and did not care for them. In fact, the prior four kings all died in exile. But today Jeremiah promises them a true shepherd, one like David who will restore the kingdom. He is speaking of Christ who calls himself, the Good Shepherd, the one Israel was waiting for; the one for gives his life for his sheep. The real shepherd leads others to a true life where we can rest in the Lord.
The Church celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae written by soon to be Pope Paul VI in July 1968, a very turbulent time in the world and in the Church. He reiterated what the Church has always taught about human life: that the act of love is from God, he created it and it is something very beautiful. The only appropriate place for this expression of love is the Sacrament of Marriage. Priests as shepherds need to remind you of this, and also since most of you have children and grandchildren you need to shepherd them. Don’t let them be guided by the world.
This letter states clearly that a couple cannot separate the two meanings of the act of love: babies and bonding. One cannot deliberately omit the possibility of a child in Christian love making. If one does it destroys what God has made and it creates a frustration to the couple. The act of love is saying: I love you so much I want another one of you, one that looks like you and acts like you and laughs like you. The Church does not say how many children a couple ought to have. It does say be open to God’s plan for you; don’t take it into your own hands, trust in him. He may bless you with six or with none. The point is to follow his will.
As a priest it is easy to see when a couple breaks this unity between the procreative and unitive meaning of love making then problems increase in the marriage. The society has paid a big price for not living this teaching of the Church. There have been over 60 million abortions in the US and probably an equal or greater number of children who were never born because of contraception. No wonder we need immigrants to work in many sectors of our society; we do not have the people.
The Lord sees the suffering that contraception has caused so many families and societies, and his insides are turning over. Perhaps now is a good time to look at this teaching again in light of what has happened in the last fifty years. It is a wonderful and prophetic letter to read again. I invite you to do so. It is easy to download it and it is a beautiful and accessible document.
Pope Francis says the shepherds need to have the smell of their sheep. They need to know them and to know their sufferings and difficulties. Let us learn to walk with those around us, especially those who are far from God and through our friendship be there for them. Through our example, and even at times our words, let us shepherd them back to their true home.