Catholic homily outline for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Good shepherds

Shepherd, sheepdog, sheep

Shepherd, sheepdog, sheep

Central idea: Good and bad shepherds. Doctrine: Workers for peace and justice in public life. Practical application: Civic involvement.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)

To view Lectionary 107, click here.

Central idea: Good and bad shepherds

Reading 1 Jer 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD.
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the 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.
I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
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.

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
as king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”

  • Israel is like a flock of sheep whose leaders have been evil shepherds who “mislead and scatter the flock” of God’s pasture.
  • The Lord condemns these shepherds, and since these shepherds have been unworthy, the Lord promises he, himself, will do what they ought to have done. He will gather the Jews together back in Israel where they can “increase and multiply.” The Lord will then appoint good shepherds who will protect them and keep them from being scattered.
  • Of these shepherds, one will be outstanding: an heir of King David who will be wise, just, and powerful enough to save his people and give them security.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6

R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.

He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

  • Psalm 23 perfectly presents the hope of Israel and of every humble person who has faith: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). We are not leaders who get what they want by command, or rich men who get what they want by buying, or thugs who get what they want by violence.
    • We need to be taken care of in this hostile world. The Lord promises he will.
  • Lest this psalm make it sound as if the life of faith is purely passive, we must keep in mind that God is calling each of his flock to be shepherds, too—shepherds for anyone over whom we have the duty of care or the opportunity to serve.
    • Of course, some have a special calling to be shepherds: bishops, priests, religious superiors, government officials at all levels, law enforcement, employers and managers, teachers and coaches, parents, and even older brothers and sisters.

Reading 2 Eph 2:13-18

Brothers and sisters:
In Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, he who made both one
and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,
abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims,
that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two,
thus establishing peace,
and might reconcile both with God,
in one body, through the cross,
putting that enmity to death by it.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

  • Paul explains to the Ephesians that it is not just the Jews who have been scattered. The rest of mankind, the Gentiles, have also been scattered from each other and from God’s Chosen People.
  • Christ gathers all the peoples of the earth together through his sacrifice on the Cross. For those who unite with him, he has established peace between formerly hostile persons and ended the enmity that existed between each person and God.
  • The scattering of the sheep that Jeremiah deplores, and that moves our Lord to pity at the crowds that follow him, and that St. Paul announces has been abolished in Christ, is really the alienation due to Original Sin: alienation from God, other persons, ourselves, and even the natural world.

Alleluia Jn 10:27

My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.

  • Each of us has the happy responsibility to learn to recognize the voice of Christ and to be able to distinguish it from all the other voices we hear.
  • Hearing the voice of Christ is perhaps one of the most important “life-skills” of a Christian.
  • It is one of the aims of the life of prayer.

Gospel Mk 6:30-34

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.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he 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.

  • The human body needs rest and refreshment when it is over-extended. And so does the human soul. After the apostles returned from their mission, Our Lord sees they need a retreat so he brings them to a deserted place. Even the shepherds need to be shepherded.
    • On their mission, the apostles got an opportunity to practice being the kind of good shepherds that Jeremiah prophesied in our first reading.
  • When people who knew their need of what Christ (and now his apostles) could give them, they arrived at the place even before the one they sought. They had heard the voice of the good shepherd and were hungry to hear more of it.
  • Christ’s “heart was moved with pity for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
    • They needed to be led and protected. In this case, Our Lord met this need by teaching them “many things.” They needed mental food and shelter, for that is what good instruction supplies.

Doctrine: Workers for peace and justice in public life

  • As stated above, Psalm 23 might sound as if Christians are to be mere passive recipients of good things. But God is calling each of his flock to be shepherds, too—shepherds for anyone over whom we have the duty of care or the opportunity to serve.
    • We mentioned how some have a special calling to be shepherds: bishops, priests, religious superiors, government officials, law enforcement, employers and managers, teachers and coaches, parents, and even older brothers or sisters.
  • Some human problems and needs are international, and so the leaders of nations, international organizations, and multinational corporations have a special responsibility before God (CCC 2437-2241).
  • Other problems are national in scope, others local, some are within our parish, or neighborhood, or our home. Shepherds at all these levels are not lacking, but will they be good or bad ones?
  • Point 2442 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, “It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life” [my emphasis]. The pope, bishops (such as through national or regional conferences, like the USCCB), and our own diocesan bishop can point out civic problems they see. They certainly can and should lay out moral principles that must govern the efforts to solve them. In addition, they may offer prudential advice on how to go about solving them.
    • Pope Francis does this in his encyclical Laudato si’. He points out many environmental problems people are aware of and indicates some of their causes. He also articulates moral principles that should govern the effort to solve them, principles like stewardship and the universal destination of good in regard to the poor and future generations. He even offers advice on how these problems might be solved.
  • However, the actual work to solve them “is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens” (CCC 2442). The task of the laity is “to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice” (CCC 2442). This is true at whatever level they are acting, whether as a national leader or a resident of a neighborhood.
  • Most broadly, the social action the laity take, “should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church.”
    • The common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment” (Gaudium et spes 26).
      • For example, individuals, businesses, and civic organizations and governments can act for the common good, aiming to benefit themselves and many others. They can also act against the common good, aiming to benefit only themselves, not others, or even in a way that harms others.
    • Because these actions could harm those who take them and those who receive them, they must “be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church.”
      • For example, if a school district is concerned about teen pregnancy, there are many actions it could take that would be moral, but giving out contraceptives or helping young women get abortions are not.

Practical application: Civic involvement

  • Throughout human history we can readily see both good and bad shepherds in religion (including in our Catholic faith), in government, and more recently in business. But our personal concern, today, must be ourselves, our own actions, and what we can do for others.
  • The ways we act to promote the common good will be very individual, since everyone’s circumstances are different and because we have personal freedom. Each of us had, has, or can have opportunities to participate in social, civic, and economic life.
  • We Catholics need a formation in the principals of the social teachings of the church. When Our Lord saw the crowds “he began to teach them many things.” The laity should demand this of their pastors.
  • Then we can examine our own lives and behavior to see if we have lived “the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church.” In this way we might think of ways we can rectify our behavior and come up with new ways to promote the common good.
  • Here are some questions to spur one’s own thinking:
    • Do I study issues and candidates before voting?
    • Am I the kind of person who could actually get involved in political life directly?
    • Does my professional work actually promote the common good in some way? Can I shift my professional work so that it makes a greater contribution?
    • Can I start a business that provides some valuable service and puts people to work?
    • Can I volunteer my time and skills in some way that will benefit those in need?
    • Can I donate to worthy charitable organizations and causes?
    • Can I be a better parent for the good of my family?
    • Can I be a better brother or sister or child of my parents?
    • If I am a student, how can I be a better member of my school community?
  • We are quickly entering a time in which “the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church” are seen as evil by those in power: by the government and its vast bureaucracy, by corporations, by the media, and by academia. Catholics could well be denied involvement in many areas of civic life (something already happening). We may have to become more creative in how we contribute to the common good of society. We can always witness by the ordinary lives we live in conformity with “the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church.”
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