16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 22, 2012

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

All of us need to do exactly this from time to time:
to relax, refresh, renew, and rejuvenate—to rest.
Of course, there are lots of ways we do this.
We go on vacations:
sometimes far away from home,
but sometimes we simply stay at home and relax.
Sometimes we just take a day or two off,
or maybe just an evening relaxing with friends.
Jesus used to do that too:
the Gospels tell us, in particular, how he used to visit the home
of his friend Lazarus and his sisters,
apparently just to get away from things and relax.

The need to rest is essential to man—not only physically and psychologically,
but spiritually as well.
In fact it’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God,
as Genesis chapter 2 tells us:
“God … rested on the seventh day from all his work.”
And so he made it one of the 10 Commandments:
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy…”
So to the ancient Jews, including Jesus himself,
the Sabbath was not merely a day to rest, but to rest with the Lord.

Of course, this means that when we go on vacation
you can’t leave God behind
—whether it comes to your morals, or to your prayer life,
or to Sunday Mass.

But more importantly this reminds us
that the highest and most necessary form of rest is prayer
—of being in the refreshing presence of God.

Think of what Jesus does when he rests.
Of course he sleeps, and he visits his friends.
But think of all the times he goes off by himself to a quiet place,
or up on a mountain, or to a garden, to pray.

And the highest form of prayer, and rest, is what we do here every Sabbath:
the Holy Mass.
Think about it:
the Mass is the ultimate getaway
—going ” away by yourselves to a deserted place.”
We really do, or should, leave the world behind
—this is very different, on purpose,
than anything we do in the world.
And we come here not to talk to or see each other,
but really to talk to and see God.
And of course, like all good vacations that rejuvenate and refresh us,
we come here to eat the most delectable and invigorating food
—the Holy Eucharist.

Last Sunday we read how Jesus had sent the apostles out
to preach the gospel, drive out demons and cure the sick.
In today’s Gospel the apostles have just come back from that mission,
and they’re exhausted.
So Jesus says, “Come away…to a deserted place and rest a while.”
But they can’t get away.
As St. Mark tells us:
“People saw them leaving and …[t]hey …arrived at the place before them.”

Why?
Because the people were desperate for what Jesus and his apostles had.
St. Mark writes that when Jesus
“saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
What shepherd were they “without”?

The answer is in today’s psalm, Psalm 23:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.”

This is the shepherd they were looking for.
This is the shepherd we are looking for.
And they, and we, find that shepherd in Christ, and his apostles.
The shepherd that would give them repose, rest and refreshment.

But as they follow this shepherd out to this deserted place,
they find themselves in a predicament: they have no food.
We stop just short of reading this today,
but in the next few verses after today’s text from the Gospel of Mark,
we find that Jesus responds
by feeding of the 5000 with a few loaves of bread.
And so the sheep are completely refreshed by the shepherd who
“spreads the table before me…” so that “my cup overflows”?

And here we are, at the Eucharist,
as the good shepherd spreads the table before us,
the bread of eternal life.

But this can’t happen without shepherds.
As we read in today’s first reading:
“I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them.”
Just as the Lord sent the apostles to preach his gospel,
he also sent them to be the shepherds of his sheep.
And he continues to send shepherds in his place.

Because without shepherds there can be no verdant pastures to repose in,
no refreshing of the soul, no table spread before us.
Without priests there is no Mass, no Eucharist,
no source of true and lasting refreshment and revivification.

So in a parallel text in St. Matthew’s Gospel,
when Jesus
“saw the crowds, he felt pity for them,
because they were …like sheep without a shepherd”
according to St. Matthew, Jesus added:
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
pray therefore the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Perhaps the Lord is guilty of mixing his metaphors, but his point is clear:
there are lots of sheep waiting for a shepherd.

My friends, we need more priests.
We at St. Raymond’s have been discovering this in a rather painful way
in the last month.
But you know, I’m convinced we have lots of priests
sitting in the pews here every Sunday
—they’re just not ordained yet.
I’m convinced that Christ is calling literally dozens of the young men
here at St. Raymond’s to the priesthood, to be shepherds of his flock.

But will they answer the call?
And will their parents and brothers and sisters help them to answer the call?

A lot of young men are afraid to answer
—and a lot of their family members are afraid for them.
And understandably so: I won’t lie to you, it’s a hard life,
if you do it right, or if you try to.

But so is the life of a lay man, if you do it right, or try to.

The other day, after I finished Mass someone came to tell me
there was no toilet paper in the rest room.
I thought to myself,
yes, and there’s a financial statement sitting on my desk I have to review,
and scores of emails and phone calls I have to return,
and a column and homily I have to write.
Not to mention a $3 million mortgage I have to pay.
And meetings, confessions and Masses…
I felt like the apostles in today’s gospel,
trying to get away to a quiet place but pursued by the crowd.
That’s the life of a priest today.

But it also sounds a lot like the life of a married man with kids, too!
Who’s busier me or him?

People say, but Father, priesthood is such a lonely life.
Yes, it can be.
But then again, not so much.
Like Jesus and the apostles, the priest is never really alone
—there’s always a crowd following him.
And this can be very consoling:
literally 1000s of people love you, just for being a priest.
If I said right now “I have no food in the rectory,”
a dozen families would show up this afternoon with dinner in hand.

And most importantly, I know that 1000s of people pray for me, by name,
every day—can any of you say that?

And all because I stand in the place of Christ, and by his grace
refresh their souls by spreading the table of the Eucharist before them.
Only a shepherd can do this, only a priest.

My dear sons, why don’t you want this?!
Mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of my sons
—why don’t you want this for them?

Of course there are sacrifices, but for a moment see with the eyes of Christ:
who “saw the vast crowd, [and] his heart was moved with pity …, for they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
If you are called to be that shepherd,
to bring rest, refreshment and peace to his people,
why would you say “no” to that?
Or not even consider the invitation?

I know I’m a poor example of a shepherd,
but even my weakness should inspire you.
22 years ago I sat in the pew as a layman,
listening to another priest give one the of the worst homilies in history,
and I thought to myself: “I can do better than that.”
And something inside said to me: “Okay, smart-alec, why don’t you try”
And you sit there today thinking the same thing about me…So why don’t you try?

Now, you may be thinking, boy Father really needs a vacation.
Maybe.
Maybe I just need a few days off with some friends.
Earlier I mentioned that Jesus used to do that.
In particular he used to go to rest at the home of Lazarus,
and of course his sisters Martha and Mary, in Bethany.
Interestingly enough, today is the feast day of Mary of Bethany,
except that it’s suppressed to celebrate the Lord’s Day.
Although we don’t usually call her “St. Mary of Bethany,”
instead we call her by the other name she goes by in Scripture:
St. Mary Magdalene.

I won’t go through her whole story now
—I wrote some of that in today’s bulletin if you care to read it.
But it is the common teaching of the Church,
that this sister of Lazarus was once a terrible sinner,
who, by the love and grace of Jesus,
was lifted from the depravity of her terrible sins
to become one of the greatest saints:
the first to witness the resurrection and
and the one Jesus sent to announce the resurrection
to the Apostles.

This is the great St. Mary Magdalene.
She has been dear to me all my life.
You see, I was born, baptized and raised in a parish named after her
—it was there I first heard the call to the priesthood as a little boy.
And over the years she’s taken special care of me, in so many ways.
In particular, 10 years ago this very day, her feast day,
she intervened with our Lord as I lay in a coma dying in Fairfax Hospital:
in the morning all the doctors said I would be dead by the afternoon;
by the afternoon they were all shaking their heads in utter disbelief
that the illness was completely gone from my body.
She is a powerful saint and a tremendous friend.

Normally I recommend her as a particular patron of women
especially those who suffer from their own personal sins
or the sins committed against them.
But today, let me recommend her to those young men
who may have a vocation to the priesthood, and to their parents.
Because, you see, the Gospels tell us that she, along with certain other women
“used to follow [Jesus] and minister to Him” and the apostles,
“contributing to their support out of their private means.”

In other words, 2000 years ago she took care of the first priests of the Church,1
1 The tradition that holds that Magdalene traveled to France with her brother and sister also holds that her brother Lazarus himself became a priest, and perhaps a bishop…
and 2000 years later she still takes care of priests
—she takes care of me every day.
Let her take care of you, let her help you discover if you,
or your son or brother,
is a called to shepherd the flock of Christ.

It is written in our very nature that we all need to rest.
But that need is not only for physical rest
—in fact, the most satisfying and necessary rest
is resting with the Lord in prayer,
and being refreshed by the Bread of heaven.
As we now enter into this great mystery of the Holy Mass,
let us join the angels and saints, especially St. Mary Magdalene,
and leave behind the cares and troubles and sins of the world,
and let our Divine Shepherd lead us to repose in verdant pastures
and to refresh our weary souls.
at the table He spreads before us.
And let us be at peace, confident that the Lord will never deprive us of
this wonderful rest,
never leaving us like sheep without a shepherd.
Let us, “Come away …to a deserted place and rest a while.”

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