Monday, July 23, 2012

16th Sunday - homily

One of our GW Catholics lives in Colorado about 10 minutes from where the tragic shootings took place the other night.  She and her Mom and a friend were actually supposed to go to that movie theater to see "Batman". One of them got sick, so they decided not to go.  We're just grateful that they are all okay and still with us.  It's unspeakable what happened...and the evil involved.  Pray for the people of Colorado.  It's become a cliche to say, "they are in our thoughts and prayers".  So, let's not just say it, let's pray...for the victims, their families, for justice, and for the shooter - for his conversion of heart before he goes in front of the God of Justice.

I would like to address another issue that is serious and sad based on the first reading: the sins of shepherds… the sins of priests.  And, I do it imploring God's mercy and your forgiveness.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord condemns shepherds who "mislead" or "drive away" the sheep or cause them to "fear or tremble".  How can a shepherd mislead his sheep? How can he drive them away? This runs completely counter to the purpose and nature of being a shepherd.  It's the complete opposite of the purpose and office of the priesthood.

Many people have told me in different ways they have been misled: "I have never heard that teaching of the Church" or "I didn't know this was a sin" or "I heard from the pulpit there was nothing wrong with that".  Many others have been driven away from the Church because of the anger, judgment, or selfishness of a priest.  And, let's be clear: sin is selfishness. What happened in Colorado the other night was selfishness.  Whatever the final determination is of the shooter, these were selfish acts.  It was all about him and what he wanted, at the expense of many people. The same is true of the sins of priests in ministry: we care more about themselves than the ones for whom we are to be caring.  Again, I ask for God to have mercy on us and for you to forgive us...or at least be open to forgiveness. Pray for us priests.  Pray that we will be faithful shepherds.

The discouraging image of the priesthood of the first reading is contrasted by the hopeful image in the Gospel.  Where the shepherds of the Old Testament are driving the sheep away, the Apostles are bringing people back.  What is the difference? The Apostles, the first priests of Jesus Christ, are true shepherds. They are caring for the people and not for themselves.  They are authentic representations of Christ. They re-present Christ to people; they are presenting His love, peace, joy, truth, and mercy.

When we find authentic and holy priests who present Christ to us, we find something special. That's what the people found with the Apostles and they wouldn't give them a moment's rest.  They didn't even have a chance to eat! Many faithful priests today - and the overwhelming majority of priests of the past 2000 years have been faithful - have their appointment books full day and night.  People come to them in droves for spiritual direction, guidance, advice, instruction, prayer, healing, and Confession.  They come to them as they come to Christ. Every priest is alter Christus (another Christ). Authentic, holy, and faithful priests of Jesus Christ give people a true encounter with Christ.

Finally, to be Catholic means to believe in the priesthood.  Just as we believe that a change takes place during Mass in the bread and wine (they become the Body and Blood of Christ), so too do we believe that a change takes place in the priest (he becomes the person of Christ…in persona Christi).  This is why we hear the words, “this is my body”, and not ‘this is his body’.  It is really Christ saying the Mass; it is really Christ saying “I absolve you of your sins” in Confession.  This is radical! This is the true nature of the priesthood.  It is awesome!  This is what I and every faithful priest wants to offer you: a real experience and true encounter with Jesus Christ.

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