Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reflection: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The readings for this Sunday were great!! I think, for me, some of my reaction also had to do with attending daily mass this past week and hearing readings from the Book of Exodus each day. Monday was about the Hebrew woman who hid her baby for three months, then put it in a basket in the river and Pharoah's daughter found it and named the baby Moses. From there, the rest of the week was about Moses' life, ending on Friday with God telling him to lead the Isrealites out of Egypt. After listening to that all week, to then get these readings today with the overall theme of the shepherd was really amazing. I'm so glad I've decided to start attending daily mass again, it's been years and I was really missing it!

So, the readings can be found here: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. These are a great combination of readings!

The question for the week: When have I freely given up my time to help someone in need?

This Gospel passage calls to mind our own shepherds, our priests. "Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to the affairs of the Lord, they give themselves entirely to God and to (us)" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1579). The sacrament of Holy Orders configures the priest to Christ and confers upon him an "indelible spiritual character" (CCC 1581-82). Therefore, through the priest, "it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth" (CCC 1548). Because the priest acts in the person of Christ, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of the "necessary, indeed indispensable, aspiration to moral perfection that must dwell in every authentically priestly heart. Precisely to encourage priests in this striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends, I have decided to establish a special 'Year for Priests' that will begin on 19 June and last until 19 June 2010. In fact, it is the 150th anniversary of the death of the Holy Cure' d'Ars, John Mary Vianney, a true example of a pastor at the service of Christ's flock." Let us observe this year by praying in a special way for our priests, who dedicate their lives to minister to us. For more information on the Year for Priests, visit the USCCB's Year for Priests page.

There are two things I want to do in this post and one thing I won't do. I am not going to discuss the Year for Priests here because I have done so already in some earlier posts. What I am planning on doing is first answering this week's Following the Message question and then, second, I want to share some thoughts I had regarding this combination of readings from Jeremiah, Ephesians, the Gospel of Mark and the famous Psalm 23.

When I started contemplating this question regarding when I've given up my time to help someone else in need, I couldn't really think of anything I've done lately. I have done some small things in the past like assisting to serve a meal to the homeless at the Catholic Action Center, assisting with some event or other at Church, helping to fix up a playground that was falling apart at a school when I was in college, and other similar things. There are a number of small things we do every day as well. Most of these don't take any great amount of time, but I do find that sometimes you do have to take a moment you might not have used before to help someone else. For example, stopping to hold a door open for an elderly person or a mother dragging a toddler and pushing a baby in a stroller, or stopping to pick something up that a stranger dropped and getting it back to them. I'm sure we could all think of small things like this that we have done to help those around us.

One time I witnessed a car accident when I was in a hurry and running late for something. But regardless of what I was running late for I knew instantly that it could wait. I stopped, checked one those who were involved, called 911 and talked to the dispatcher, and waited for the police to arrive. Luckily no one was seriously hurt, but it was scary nonetheless. It was clear who was at fault and once the police were there and decided they didn't need my statement (though I gave my number to the guy who was hit just in case) I was able to leave.

I sometimes wish I could do more. I have wanted to help out in many ways, but I often can't actually be present for things. I have donated items to pregnancy help centers on several occasions, which I know is a way of helping those in need, and Chris and I do contribute financially to a number of charities we believe in. But I often feel that I lack in "action" or "works." The Catholic radio station in town has a short spot each week from the Bishop that plays during commercial breaks. In them he always mentions something about the readings, usually the Gospel reading, and invites listeners to come to church on Sunday. So this past week, his spot kind of hit struck me as relevant to my own recent thoughts. He said something about how Jesus invites us this to week to come rest in him and by resting in him our faith leads us to action and our actions lead us to deeper prayer. Or something like that! I only caught it once or twice and my memory isn't good. Regardless, it was an interesting message (plus I remember thinking that it sounds a lot like what I learned in Cursillo, and the Bishop is also a Cursillista).

My conclusion for this part of my post, I need to be more aware of my actions. I need to recognize when people around me are in need and I need to be willing to give of my time to help them.

This goes well with my second thought about this Sunday's readings, namely the idea of social justice. For several years I participated in a group that met weekly to read and discuss the readings for the upcoming Sunday (I met my husband at this group too!). Participating in that group for several years gave me a new understanding for the combination of readings we have each Sunday. They are not randomly selected and they usually all relate to each other in some way. Not only that but we read a good chunck of several parts of the Bible over the course of a year within the Liturgy of the Word at Mass each week. This week's readings are a great example of that.

In Jeremiah we hear about the Shepherd who will bring the scattered flocks back together again. The one who will do this will bring Israel security and will be the "Lord of Justice." Then we sing Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want." What a great reminder about how the Lord will always provide for us just as a shepherd provides for his sheep! The second reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians really spoke to me. Paul tells the Ephesians about peace, several times. In the Lord our God we find peace, and really when we know the Lord takes care of our every need (like a shepherd) why wouldn't we feel at peace. Finally in Mark's Gospel we see the apostles returning from their journies of preaching and healing (see last week's Gospel) and Jesus invites them to come and rest from their hard work. But the people are desperate to hear more from Jesus and they follow them. Jesus is moved by pity and teaches them. I love the line that says "for they were like sheep without a shepherd," which is a great reminder of the first reading.

Why do I see a theme of social justice in this? I think it's a combination of things. We have these readings with the shepherd theme coming out all over the place and the idea of the Lord of Justice and Peace, plus our Pope recently released his latest encyclical which has been called in a few places his social justice encyclical. On top of that, thinking about how our belief in Jesus Christ, the shepherd of all peoples, leads us to action makes me reflect on how we should be acting to bring about good in this world because of our faith.

I haven't yet read the new ecyclical, but I do hope to soon (although this is his third and I haven't read the second one yet either). I have, though, heard it discussed and heard small portions of it quoted. And from what little I have heard the spirit of it seems to reflect very much this idea of action and works because of our faith. The readings on this sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time seem to go alone well with this theme.

I think I have a lot to reflect on for the rest of the week!

How about you?? Any thoughts on these readings or on the question? When have you freely given up your time to help someone in need?

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