By Father James Rodriguez
In my last article, I wrote about the Gospel’s special place in my heart as the reading at my ordination. Today’s Gospel holds a similar place in my heart, but for a very different reason. I was ordained June 7th, and on August 4th, the memorial of St. John Vianney, patron of priests, my first pastor died.
Fr. Marcello Latona was well-loved by the people of Most Precious Blood, and in the short time we lived together, I could see why. Fr. Marc was easygoing and friendly, a natural fit for the social work degree he earned as a seminarian. The words of the Gospel that morning — the same as today’s — stung me: “…they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
The theme of shepherding is a common one in the Gospels, and today’s picks up where last week’s left off. St. Mark, perhaps echoing a firsthand account he heard from St. Peter, writes about the apostles’ return from their mission trip. Rejoicing at their success they are led by Jesus to take a break but are immediately confronted with the reality of a spiritually starved people. Jesus looks out at the crowd, and His shepherd heart is moved with pity. I have tasted this pity myself. Sometimes looking out at the beachgoers here near St. Rose, I wish they would come into the church, even if only for a moment, on their way to or from enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.
Our parish Legion of Mary does an outstanding job of inviting them from the boardwalk, but ultimately, as with every person called by Christ, they are free to choose, and sadly many don’t come. If only these sheep knew the pastures they were bypassing, the healing and joy they could experience could change the world. It has always been the mission of the Church to reach out, extending Christ’s invitation, but when we fail to love the Lord ourselves, we muffle the message.
In today’s first reading, Jeremiah chastises those “who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.” These words, like those of the Gospel, resonate, reminding me of an old saying: “Whether to heaven or hell, the pastor does not go alone.” The Lord promises to remain in His Church always and to equip those of us He has called to ministry, but this call does not undo our freedom. Rather it enhances it, imbuing every choice that promotes the Gospel with His blessing, and every choice against it further alienates us from the One we are supposed to love.
This is the woe of the wayward shepherd, the painful division in his heart when he seeks other pastures for himself in sin. We priests need the prayers of our people in order to be the diligent and holy men you need us to be, men who listen to the voice of the One true Shepherd, Jesus the Christ.
“He is our peace,” as St. Paul emphatically assures the Ephesians, and our fidelity to Him ensures our salvation. When the healing power of God enters a heart broken by sin, we experience the reconciliation St. Paul goes on to describe. We must never make the mistake of separating the man from his words, as we often do, forgetting the great conversion Paul experienced, then the great price he paid for the Gospel throughout his missionary travels.
Like the other apostles, he suffered greatly for the Name, yet this was for them an honor. It sounds like madness to those who do not know Christ. It sounds bizarre and contradictory, but a person in love gives their life away to another, and, in so doing, finds it. Such is the logic of the saints, following the example of their King.
These summer months are a good time to stop and reflect on the goodness of God. As we rejoice at a return to normalcy, building a post-pandemic life, we may be tempted to do too much, to try too hard to make up for lost time, thus losing even more. Take time this summer to pray, thanking God for His goodness and love, His healing and grace. Come to the beach, but stop in at the chapel first; we’ll leave the air on for you.
Readings for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father James Rodriguez is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway Beach.