July 18, 2021
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dear Followers of Jesus,
In Mark 6:30-34, Jesus invites his disciples to gather and rest a while. Jesus modeled a life of prayer and service to this band of brothers who desired good things. He knew that stepping back from service and into some time for prayer was essential. This is no different for us who follow him today.
In summer, we take time for a different perspective. In the heat of the year, we gather for family picnics or work in the garden or take time to cultivate an interest or skill or craft. Vacations, retreats, conferences or wine and cheese on a patio, all offer us a different view and perspective from our yearly work, school, and life of tasks and obligations.
The liturgical scriptures invite us to rest. In doing so, we encounter the Shepherd who comforts us. This image of Jesus is important to both our prayer and our service to one another. Many people think they can muster the human power within them to face any task or any difficult relationship. Many people want to remain their own god. Nothing seems to persuade them, for in our society we are taught to be and remain self-sufficient.
However, this self-sufficiency is the death of our spiritual lives. Eventually, we all conclude that we cannot fix our pain or solve all our relationship struggles. We cannot control people or even heal our own sin. We need God. We need a life of prayer that opens our hearts to the deeper life God has for us. In this deeper life, we can become the people God desires us to become. We can grow in compassion, in forgiveness, in our desire to put others first and not our own needs. Only in prayer can we learn tenderness for the downtrodden and learn to help those who have less power than we do.
The life of the Shepherd is the source of tenderness. After all, the Shepherd chases us down, he desires to heal us, to forgive our past and he puts us on his shoulders and calls us his own. This simple and yet profound image of Jesus Christ is at the core of our life of prayer. Without the shepherd, we lose ourselves in our power that becomes abusive to ourselves and to other people.
Prayer becomes prophetic witness of God in our world. Our prayer is not private devotion. The Mass is not private devotion. Our prayer may be personal, but it is never private because we belong to the Body of Christ on earth. Our baptism is key to our life of prayer. The prayer of our inner hearts becomes a way in which God longs to renew our world. Prayer always leads to conversion, to change and eventually a prophetic witness of God’s love in our world.
The Shepherd, Jesus Christ, challenges our human ego, our human power. We are united to Christ always; we are never alone. The Christian life is not about pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. The Christian life is to remain in Jesus Christ in our prayer and in all the ways in which we serve. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, claims us as his own. He desires unity with our hearts and every aspect of life.
I invite you to let go of your stubbornness. Let the Good Shepherd chase after your hardness of heart, your apathy, your ego, your cynicism, and your false power. The Shepherd is here in our midst. The Shepherd rests in every human heart. The Shepherd calls us by name, and then we learn to hear his voice and to recognize him, especially when we cannot find solace and concord in our hearts. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, teaches us to encounter love, and to live such a gift beyond our lives.
In our summer rest, I pray we may touch the mystery of the Shepherd’s love for each of us.
God give you peace,