XXIV Sunday in Ordinary Time
15 September 2019
In my first year in the seminary I had the opportunity to spend Holy Week and Easter in Ireland. There was an Irish priest on sabbatical in the seminary when I was there that had invited a few of us to his place during that time. His parish was located in Southeastern Ireland, in the County Wexford … The grounds of the parish were quite typical – much like you would find here … church, rectory, cemetery all located on the same property. Yet, his was a little different in that there was a sheep pasture basically on site. He explained that the sheep were not his, nor the property but they were still right there … One morning after Mass, we spotted one of the sheep outside the gate, chomping on the grass in the cemetery. With a certain look of annoyance – like he had done this before – Father walked over to the trunk of his car, pulled out his 9-iron and approached the sheep! Mind you, I was watching this whole thing – and he looked at me and said: I’m just going to escort her back in the gate … did you think I was going to wack her??? Yup… that’s exactly what I was thinking! And sure enough, she ran a bit, but he was able to guide her back to the field and she jumped over the fence back inside the gated area.
How did she get out? No idea! Perhaps, because sheep love to graze, she probably was just focused on her meal that she lost sight of companions or maybe something spooked her and she jumped the fence but then, distracted by her next meal, did not even realize she had wandered away.
It is interesting to think about last week’s gospel compared to today … last week Jesus told us that unless you hate father and mother, brother and sister, etc … you cannot be my disciple … unless you pick up your cross you cannot be my disciple … unless you renounce all your possessions you cannot be my disciple. We spoke of Jesus looking for people who will be committed to Him, dedicated to Him in spite of the difficulty, the challenges and the danger that we may experience. On the other hand, today, He speaks of mercy. You might think that after making statements like the ones in last week’s gospel, if one of the would-be followers decided to leave He’d just let it go … but that is not quite how our God operates because even some of the most committed people get distracted … some of the most dedicated of individuals wander off from time to time … We can get so distracted that, like the grazing sheep, we take our eyes off of where we are meant to be and the next thing you know, we’re lost … separated from the herd. Not because of what Jesus has said … but because we stopped paying attention – caught up in our own world…
Perhaps that which we perceive between last week and this week is this: God asks so much of us and all we see in ourselves is mediocrity … and discouraged by that makes it easy to distance ourselves from Him… The lone sheep does not belong outside the gate, on her own, away from the others – we were not created for isolation, we were created for relationship with God and one another … and here, in the Mass, this is where Jesus – the Good Shepherd – goes searching for us, this is where He puts us back together in right relationship with Him … and we worship together, in the context of community because we cannot do it alone. We need the Mass, we need each other. I am fully aware of how busy life gets … how distracting it is at times … Yet, none of us are beyond the mercy of God … In Him we are not lost … Here, in the Mass, in the Eucharist we discover our true selves, we become more that what we think we are … My identity as a priest is inseparably linked to the Eucharist, to the Mass and thus to Jesus Christ … ought yours be the same – individually as believers and communally as the Church.