16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 19, 2015
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 19, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
One thing the Church talks a lot about is “peace.”
We talk about “peace and justice,”
we pray for a “peaceful death”,
and that the dead may “rest in peace.”
We long for peace among family members.
And of course, we pray continually for peace among nations.
This focus on “peace” finds a special place in what we do here today:
Have you ever noticed how many times the word peace comes up
during the ritual of the Mass?
At least 13 times, in 4 different parts of the Mass, we use the word “peace.”
At the beginning of Mass we pray
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”
And then, at the very end of Mass we say:
“Go in peace.”
The Mass seems to be all about peace.
And then add to that today’s readings.
For example, in the 2nd reading it tells us that:
“Christ Jesus …is our peace”,
that he died and rose for us:
“thus establishing peace.” and: “He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near.”
What is this peace that we’re talking about here?
If Christ established peace by his death,
why is it that peace seems to be so lacking in the world?
Why are there divided families and communities?
Why is there war and terrorism?
Why are Christians facing growing oppression in the West,
and having their heads cut off in the East?
One key Scripture passage that helps us understand this
is found in St. John’s account of the Last Supper.
The text begins with the words of Jesus quoted at every Mass:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;
but then it continues:
“not as the world gives do I give to you.
“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Christ does not bring peace in the way the world normally thinks of peace.
Remember elsewhere he says:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth;
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
And he prophesied that:
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…”
So, how does Jesus bring peace?
Notice that Jesus says:
“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
The peace of Jesus is the peace that dwells not in the world,
but in the heart—a peace of spirit.
It is an interior peace, experienced by the heart that is not afraid,
even in the midst of tribulation all around.
We read in today’s 1st reading,
how God compares his people to the sheep of a scattered flock,
and promises that with him:
“they need no longer fear and tremble.”
He repeats that same imagery in today’s Psalm 23:
“Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”
Central to each of these passages is being with the Lord, who is our shepherd.
And look back to the 2nd reading: that says that “Christ Jesus… is our peace.”
There it goes on to say that Jesus establishes peace
between the Jews and Gentiles
by: “creat[ing] in himself one new person in place of the two,
thus establishing peace….in one body.”
In short, peace flows from being with Christ, being one with him,
or being in union, or communion, with him.
Personal unity with Christ, which is rooted in His true love, is the source of peace.
Now, if we are one with Christ,
and through him one with the Father and Holy Spirit,
why would we ever be afraid—why would our hearts ever be troubled?
As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:
“If God is for us, who is against us?”
If we are united to Christ then, as Paul continues:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
This message is also at the heart of today’s Gospel:
the good shepherd, who in today’s Psalm reminds us that
“In verdant pastures he gives me repose”
now turns to his weary apostles and says:
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Now, to the Jews, the idea of resting on the Sabbath day
meant more than just taking a day off or a short nap.
Because on the 7th day God rested from his work,
so when a Jew rested from his work on the Sabbath he rested with God.
So here, when Christ invites his apostles to “Come away.. and rest”
he means, “come away and rest with me and my Father.”
And with him, in union with him, they will find true rest, real peace.
But notice—even when they go away to a deserted place,
the people track them down: their “peace” is interrupted.
At least their peace as the world sees peace
—but not their peace of heart,
because even with all the crowds around them,
they are still with Christ.
And so it would be even after he leaves them to ascend to heaven.
Remember he promised them not only to
“be with you always until the end of time,
but also: “My peace I leave with you;
And that promise of lasting unity and peace didn’t stop with the apostles.
When he sees the crowds he allows them to join him and the apostles:
“his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.”
Here is that good shepherd who, as the first reading says,
“gathers… [the] flock…and brings them …to their meadow”
the “verdant pastures” of “repose” of today’s psalm.
Christ offers his unity to each and every one of us.
And if each of us is united with Christ,
we are each united, through him, with each other.
Unity with the shepherd creates the unity of the flock.
Or as St. Paul says today:
Christ established his peace “in one body.”
Conversely though, if we refuse to be in unity with the flock of Christ,
or with the body of Christ,
we can not be in unity with Christ.
So a prerequisite of the peace of Christ is unity with His flock, His body,
In today’s first reading God promises us:
“I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble.”
In today’s Gospel the apostles are worn out because they had just came back
from their work as the shepherds Christ had appointed them to be.
Today he continues to appoint shepherds for the flock:
the pope, bishops, and priests.
Unfortunately, as always seems to be the case,
from Jeremiah’s time, to Judas, to the present day,
some of those shepherds “will mislead and scatter the [Lord’s] flock”:
some will stray from union with the Lord and His apostles.
So we must pray for the shepherds and the flock.
And so we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer as we offer the gifts:
“firstly for your holy catholic Church.
Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her
…together with your servant Francis our Pope and Paul our Bishop,
and all those who…hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.”
Now, in the Mass we remember that
in the mystery of the Eucharist
we stand before the same Cross that St. Paul today tells us unites us,
“you who once were far off have become near
by the blood of Christ….through his flesh…through the cross.”
And as we receive his body he comes to us
and renews and strengthens our union, or Holy Communion,
And in that unity comes lasting peace.
So the Mass celebrating the sacrament of Communion with Christ,
becomes, in a certain sense, all about peace.
How fitting, then, that from time immemorial,
immediately before receiving or renewing that Communion
the priest has offered the people a sign of peace,
again using the very words of Jesus: “Peace be with you.”
What a shame that this beautiful sign is so widely misunderstood
in the Church today.
Of course, the “sign of peace” is actually simply the priest turning to the people,
extending his hands and saying “peace be with you.”
If he thinks it “appropriate” the priest can also choose to expand this sign,
by inviting the people to exchange a sign of peace with each other.
Unfortunately, while this exchange of the sign of peace
is supposed to be a brief and profound sign and prayer
about the peace we’re about to receive in Holy Communion,
a sign that flows from the Eucharist on the altar
and draw us back to It,
all too often it winds up being almost the opposite.
Now, I don’t want to offend anyone, but think about this—be honest.
Remember, when Christ said at the last supper:
“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you”;
he immediately added:
“not as the world gives do I give to you.”
How many times do we see the exchange of the sign of peace
really look more like a worldly greeting
than the solemn ritual prayer it’s supposed to be?
How many times do people say “hello, how are you? “good to see you…”
or even start a conversation at the sign of peace,
instead of reverently and peacefully praying:
“the peace of Christ be with you,” or simply “Peace,”
reminding each other not that we are externally at peace with each other,
but that “Christ Jesus is our peace.”
and we are about to receive Him and His interior peace
totally, completely and most sublimely
in Holy Communion, the Eucharist.
It’s a beautiful and profound sign—if we do it right.
Peace seems to be an elusive thing in the world around us.
But the peace of Christ is never elusive
for those who sincerely seek to be one with Him.
Now, as we continue with this holy Mass,
let us hear the voice of the Lord calling us go away with him
to a quiet place, the verdant pasture,
to be with the Lord in the mystery of the sacrament of unity and peace.
Let us open hearts to be one with his,
so that the peace of the Lord will be with us always.
And when this Mass is done, may we go in peace
to offer this unity with Christ to a world so desperately seeking
true and lasting peace.