Dear People of God, hopefully you will remember that last week in our readings, Jesus had sent out the Twelve on a mission, and told them that, if any town or village refused to hear them, they should shake the dust of that place from off their feet, in testimony against it. Well, this week we are told of the Apostles’ return:
The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So, they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
There we have a lovely example of Jesus’ solicitous care for His Apostles: ‘Come, get away from this endless bustle of activity and involvement; let us go to some “deserted place” where we will be alone and where you will be able to find refreshment for your souls, light and understanding for your minds, peace and joy for your hearts.’
The Apostles had put Jesus at the centre of their lives, and it was necessary for them to return to Him, not only to learn more from Him but to be with Him alone at times, in order that they might be able to continue to proclaim Him alone in their preaching and teaching. Otherwise, they could so easily descend to preaching either themselves or whatever people might want to hear: reacting to, or simply serving the wishes and priorities of the surrounding society, before ultimately adopting the worldly attitudes and aspirations of those to whom they had originally been sent as guides in the ways of Jesus, thereby meriting a share the condemnation of the pastors mentioned in our first reading:
You have scattered My sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.
This, People of God, is of great importance for our modern society where Church attendance is falling markedly. The words “scattered My flock and driven them away” refer not so much to the people falling off through indifference as to the pastors driving the flock away from Jesus, by offering them all sorts of substitute food rather than the true nourishment prepared them by Jesus:
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven that one may eat of it and not die. (John 6:48-50)
Jesus alone is the bread of life and He comes to us in two ways.
First of all, through His Word:
First of all, through His Word:
He answered and said, "It is written, ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)
Secondly in the Eucharist:
I am the living bread which came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world
That spiritual fulness of bread -- the Word of God and the Eucharist -- is what we pray for to our heavenly Father every day:
Give us this day our daily bread.
What then if God’s People, coming to Church on a Sunday, are not given the bread God Himself is calling them into His presence to receive? That is the real meaning of those words:
Thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who shepherd My people: You have scattered My sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.
This type of thing is done when, instead of the Gospel message and the Church’s teaching, political correctness is preached; when current fancies are allowed to obscure Catholic teaching; or when the sins of the people are passed over in silence or even excused in order to avoid trouble or court popularity (Mark 7:7-9):
This people honours Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition!
In this regard we should remember that today such ‘clinging to human tradition’ does not refer to the traditional teaching of Mother Church over the ages -- received from those who were far closer to Jesus and the authentic spirit of Christianity struggling, suffering, and dying, to proclaim the Gospel in a pagan world, or from acclaimed saints and doctors who dedicated their whole lives to Mother Church’s proclamation of the truth of Jesus -- but to modern, glib and oh! so smooth popular words and attitudes, and to practices designed to adapt Jesus and His Good News in ways that allow ample tasting of the delights offered by the world.
To continue with our Gospel passage, we are told that the people followed Jesus and His Apostles, with the result that:
When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He began to teach them many things.
Do please, People of God, notice the form Jesus’ compassion took:
He began to teach them many things.
That is what must happen today in our society. Jesus alone can heal us (Mt. 11:28- 30):
Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Therefore, Jesus has to be preached, His teaching has to be given, in season and out of season. However, this is far too often done only partially when, for example, such words as those “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” are repeatedly acknowledged and commented on because they are beautiful words, recognized and admired by all; but Jesus’ subsequent words: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me”, may be heard but not often praised or commented on. There, 'so-called teachers' stop short because they want to present religion and faith – not to speak of themselves -- in a popular light; likewise, there are many ‘hearers’ who also want to stop short there, because they do not want to hear talk of a yoke of any sort, let alone feel obliged to take one up. And so, all too often, essential Catholic teaching is omitted, whilst the seeds of consolation such as those words “Come to Me all you who labour” are carelessly thrown on the soil of souls already overgrown with worldly weeds. The result is that the word of God is choked, and a pseudo-religiosity takes its place : “God is good, He rejects none (that is still good seed) --- there is no need to go to Church to find Him, to be accepted by Him (that, however, is the rejection of any yoke) --- there is no need for sacraments, especially confession, just say an occasional prayer if you have time and God’s goodness will do the rest for you” (there, indeed, you have worldly, even devilish, weeds that choke Catholic spiritual life).
An example of the choking of God’s word has recently been provided by a Vatican cardinal saying that priests lack credibility when it comes to marriage preparation!! I heard that ‘opinion’ some forty years ago – not so much as a statement then but as a ‘fear’ from a few, perhaps too humble, fellow priests -- and my answer was then as it is now, that it is a Catholic priest’s most important duty to help any parishioners contemplating marriage to appreciate and understand Mother Church’s teaching on God’s purposes and prescriptions for Christian marriage: both as a privileged co-operation with God Himself in the continued gift of life and blessing to mankind and as a truly blessed and beautiful expression of Christian-inspired human love … based on ‘agape’! Perhaps some couples might want medical, psychological, or just friendly, advice besides, but all Catholic couples need, and should have, the opportunity to learn and appreciate authentic Catholic teaching about the Christian sacrament of marriage through their theologically trained and Church-sent-and-approved priest, that thus they might the better receive and appropriate God’s grace and find strength and joy for their fulfilment in married life.
St. Paul told us in the second reading that Jesus:
Reconciled us with God through the cross (that is the yoke) and He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near (that is the teaching), (and) through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Through Jesus -- the Jesus Who died on the Cross and Whose yoke we must take upon ourselves, a yoke which He will make light for us -- through that Jesus we have access to the Father, in the Spirit Who brings to our mind all that Jesus taught and Who enables us to keep His commandments. Through that Jesus alone do we have access to the Father. Today however, that Jesus is not infrequently sacrificed anew in favour of a figure with the same name but without a cross or any other sort of yoke, a pseudo-Jesus whose teaching – ‘Repent and believe the Gospel’ -- is manipulated so that it appears no longer to proclaim and demand that we need to be reformed and renewed by His Spirit of Holiness. This pseudo-Jesus is prepared -- so some modern people like to hear and want to believe – to accept us just as we are: after all, are there not apparently kindly people eager to tell them that they do not really intend any evil that might be lurking in the harm they think or do, and therefore, though they may, indeed, have some faults and failings, these are not really sins and, consequently, can easily be overlooked. With some such self-justifying thoughts there are sinners who – over long years -- find themselves endowed by a now undisturbable, fully-calcified, conscience; sinners who like to further deceive themselves by imagining a comforting prospect of heaven being approached by a broad, well-lit, road that is not only smooth, but which also allows for many places of pleasant refreshment on either hand, to keep those travelling along it happy on their worldly pilgrimage.
People of God, be innocent not foolish; be wisely ignorant of the ways of the world and truly wise in the ways of God; try to do what Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, advises us:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. (Matthew 7:13)
We can only do that if we listen to the authentic and traditional teaching of Mother Church, for she alone knows Jesus because He, Jesus Himself, is with her as He promised to be, even to the end of time; she knows Him because He Himself bequeathed her His own Most Holy Spirit to abide with her and guide her into all saving truth.
On their return from proclaiming the Good News Jesus called the apostles aside from the crowd to a desert place where they could be alone with Him. After a week of Christian witness in the world He still calls His disciples aside – apart from the world -- to be with Him, every Sunday at Holy Mass. Like the apostles in our Gospel passage, we are meant to be one with Jesus in our Sunday gathering. ‘One with Him’ can then mean two things: all one in faith before Him as living members of His Mystical Body; and all – individually and personally -- alone with Him in the devout attention of our minds and the pious love of our hearts.
That Church-oneness-of-faith in Jesus realized at Sunday Mass is proclaimed by the beloved disciple John when he says:
Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)
And that personal commitment of love to and for Jesus, realized best at Holy Communion during our Sunday Mass, is urged upon us by Jesus Himself:
Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-26)
People of God, Sunday, and Sunday’s Holy Mass, is that unique occasion when our faith calls us to leave all behind and come together to be alone with Jesus; and surely, thinking on these things, we cannot but heartily agree with Mother Church that the Eucharist in which we are now participating is indeed, most felicitously well-named, the Eucharist, our Thanksgiving.