Sunday Sermon for July 19, 2015, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34
In the first reading today God, speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah, condemns the shepherds who mislead and scatter His flock. It is a great honor to be chosen by our Lord to be a shepherd; it is also a great responsibility that one accepts as part of that same office and for which he is answerable to God. What causes the problem for many shepherds is the misuse of the authority they have been given to lead and make decisions.

It is necessary that this authority be given so that the flock of Christ can be united in truth and love. However, the problem is that it is easy to misinterpret that authority as power. Authority is given to serve others; power is self serving. One can understand the temptation to lord over others or to make decisions that are either selfish or for the favor of a friend or benefactor, but not necessarily for the good of the people.

Placing the temptation of the corruption due to a power trip aside, one would think that being a shepherd for the Lord would be a relatively simple task. After all, the truths the Church teaches are all objective, so all one needs to do is to teach, not one’s own opinion, but the teaching of the Church. Doing this insulates a person from being attacked because he is not merely presenting his own ideas, but the teachings of an authority that is far greater than himself. The only other thing that is necessary is to have the love for our Lord and His people that will enable one to serve without self interest.

We have seen in our day, however, that what would appear to be clear and without confusion is suddenly twisted and confused. On the secular level, one need only to look at the recent Supreme Court decision regarding marriage to see how this applies. But even in the Church, where the doctrines are presented to us in written form for anyone to read, we now have Cardinals opposing Cardinals and Bishops opposing Bishops, just as our Lady had foretold.

Throw in the relativism of our society and you have a recipe for disaster. It does not seem to matter what the Church teaches anymore, everyone has become his or her own infallible authority. When people see Bishops and Cardinals being unfaithful to the teachings of Christ, they naturally wonder why they would have to be faithful. The confusion being preached by so many priests who want to tickle the ears of their listeners has emboldened those who think they can still be Catholic while rejecting whichever selected teachings they do not like.

There is only one hope and it is beyond ourselves. If we were seeking opinions, there are seven billion people on this earth who can provide you whatever opinion you might want to hear. There are 33,000 Christian denominations in the world right now, so there is bound to be someone who is preaching the word that will suit the fancy of those who want God to conform to them rather than striving to conform themselves to God.

In the Gospel reading today we hear about our Lord Who took pity on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The people came to Him and He taught them. What He taught was the Word of God; it was absolute truth. The people were always amazed at our Lord’s teaching because it was the simple truth, not watered down, not clouded over, not confused. It is evident from today’s Gospel that the people really wanted the truth; they were willing to walk a long distance and be greatly inconvenienced in order to hear the truth. Jesus, we are told, taught them about many things.

Those same teachings remain true for all people, in every generation, in every nation of the world. Each culture can have its own mores and each person can have ideas and opinions, but everyone is made for the truth and will be set free by that truth. If we were all willing to humble ourselves and conform ourselves to the truth as God has revealed it, then the words of St. Paul would be realized in us individually and in the Church as a whole: He is our peace Who made both one.

We can celebrate true diversity only if we are united in truth and love. People from every part of the world, with our different cultures, languages and colors are all united in the truth. Everyone who accepts the fullness of the truth as the Church teaches it are brothers and sisters in Christ. This is true unity in diversity. We do not accept falsehood or confusion; faithful shepherds unite the flock in truth and love.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit