Today’s readings can be found at: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Website
I’m sure some of my brother priests, religious brothers, and sisters who are here today have memories as I do of hearing this Gospel passage on retreats when we were first discerning a vocation, trying to figure out if Jesus was calling us to follow Him in this particular, intentional way in these lives of service. Specifically, this line where Jesus looks at the crowd and St. Mark describes Jesus’ “heart is moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd” is often one that comes up in those settings. Which is a good thing to reflect on. For some of you, and you know who you are, right now, hopefully, those words are resonating in your hearts to ask yourselves how you can help relieve Jesus’ heart of that pity: by being open, being generous yourself in saying yes to just seriously asking yourself- is Jesus asking me to follow Him as a priest, as a religious, or, is He asking me to consider serving Him as a FOCUS Missionary. I know that just sitting with this scripture when I was in high school and college was challenging in many ways, and I didn’t always want to be challenged, but in hindsight, I’m so humbled and grateful to Jesus for inviting me to share in His priesthood…. so I wanted to say that outright, hopefully, this triggers some attention, prayer over that question of vocations- and again, there’s those of you who know who you are who need to hear this reminder and invitation again.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily given at FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) SEEK Conference 2022 given in New Britain, Conneticut for the students from campuses throughout the North Eastern US gathered for this annual gathering. I appreciate your sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
But the FOCUS SEEK conference always welcomes a great number of people and all of us are at very different places our faith lives right now:
+Some of you are really active bible study members, maybe even veterans of multiple SEEK conferences, and have the T-shirts from every one of them to prove it.
+Some of you finally started coming to Bible Study after some missionary harassed you for a few months and before you knew it there was a group of people coming to this and the lure of coming to Connecticut for the weekend was too hard to resist. (That’s not a dig at CT by the way. Coming from NJ I know better than getting into a state-to-state battle)
+Some of you may not be Catholic, may not have been raised in any faith…
And seriously guys, it’s so awesome that you are here. God has blessed and will continue to Bless you for being here. That you’ve taken this time, made this commitment, honored it: to pull away from our campuses and our busy lives and being here… To spend some time to acknowledge this interior desire that is SEEKING something more than what we find is satisfied in our busy lives… More than can be fulfilled in the endless alternatives being presented for consideration that capture our attention, maybe tap into our desires and passions, on our campuses all of which ultimately always will fall short of fulfilling that inner longing that is SEEKING.
What we as Catholic Christians have come to know as the truth is that in our heart of hearts what we are SEEKING is not something, but someone. One of my personal heroes, Pope St. John Paul II once said in one of his addresses: “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness.” For many of us, we’ve come to know that truth… But one of the amazing things people often don’t realize is that when Jesus dreams of happiness, what is it He seeks?
Each and every one of us. That’s another truth that so many don’t believe is possible, but is one of the amazing things that this Gospel passage speaks to us. Because the more I sat with this passage, something that stood out in a way that had never struck me before. This can be summed up in 3 words: Coming and Going.
This Gospel scene was right after the apostles had first returned after one of their missionary journeys and man were they beat, such that Jesus is looking at them and sees they are a big old mess. They are exhilarated from all that they experienced they were able to do in Jesus’ name, but they’re exhausted. So with love and care, He wants them to get away, rest, and recharge a bit. But right after Jesus lays that out as their plan, it seems like the crowds are so big, so numerous, so unrelenting that they can’t seem to getaway. We hear the phrase “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.”
Maybe the reason that this vast crowd is moving Jesus’ heart to pity isn’t that he’s short-handed, maybe the reason they are like sheep without a shepherd is precisely that the people were coming and going. What do I mean?
-They were coming to see what the buzz was about and then going looking for the next big thing.
-They were coming because they had heard about a particular miracle that Jesus had performed and were hoping to see one, receive one themselves but then going away looking for some other spectacular sight to capture their fascination.
-They were coming because news of an exorcism that Jesus had accomplished had them fascinated and they were curious if they might be able to see the devil is defeated, to see evil being conquered themselves, but then going because there were some sinful things in their lives they weren’t quite ready to give any attention to, let alone want to be confronted.
– They were coming and going – believing the lies of a world that finds itself repeating the same mistake of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden all over again. A lie that says I can’t trust God, or I’m in charge of my own destiny, or I can be like God himself by grasping what I want when I want – and so I can come and go as I please.
So maybe Jesus’ heart is moved to pity because in all that coming and going, they weren’t truly following Him, staying with Him, resting in Him, allowing themselves to be sheep loved by the Shepherd.
And that is a temptation that every one of us, no matter what place we find ourselves in our journey of faith can find ourselves in. As parish priests, we often struggle with reaching those who come by for big feasts like Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and Easter…. who come by to have babies baptized, children receive First communion, dragging their teenagers to be confirmed but then going . . . Disappearing in those days, weeks, months and years in between.
As a priest I’m ashamed to admit the times after coming to receive this precious gift of priesthood, (and understanding what an even more precious gift my Baptism, Confirmation and Communion, my Catholic faith brings me) coming to this intimate call into a deeper friendship with Christ that I found myself at times in my life going and going and going doing things that I was tempted into thinking were important and essential in fulfilling the mission and service I have been entrusted with and forgetting that first and foremost, Jesus wants me to be with Him and wants me to want to be with Him. Jesus simply wants me to stop my coming and going. He simply wants me and wants me to want Him.
What is it for you?
Of all the things that you have to do or that you tell yourself you have to do or others have told you, you have to do,
Of all the things that capture your fascination,
of all the things that are proposed for your consideration to bring you fulfillment in life,
of all the things that have you coming and going – SEEKING something more- what is it that the God who made you,
fashioned you in your mother’s wombs,
knows you better than you know yourself so would know best how to bring that happiness that each and every one of us desires, the God who SEEKS you trying to say to you right now?
If you don’t know where to start in that prayer, in delving into those questions, our first scripture reading from the Old Testament book of Kings today tells you you’re in good company. We heard about when a young man by the name of Solomon was at a key moment in his life. His destiny, his call in life were very clear – he was the next King of Israel to succeed his father, King David. As overwhelmed as he might have been at the task before him, you don’t see him coming and going looking for everyone’s opinion or advice on what to do, he humbly goes to God and asks Him simply and beautifully for an understanding heart to fulfill his mission in life. He humbled himself and waited on the Lord to speak into his life, his call, his destiny… which the Lord does as he pours out his graces, blessings, and favor upon Solomon. What we will always find is that when we bear our hearts and souls before God, He will never be outmatched in generosity.
The same is possible for each of us today. We find ourselves here with our God who simply wants us to encounter Him. Can we stop all our coming and going and simply be with Him, stay with Him. Learn He’s not some distant, disinterested God – but ever drawing near and close, desiring us to allow ourselves to be sheep in the caring hands of the shepherd. For us to come to know what as Pope St. John Paul II put so perfectly:
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness
He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you;
He is the beauty to which you are so attracted;
it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise;
it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life;
it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices,
the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives,
the will to follow an ideal,
the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity,
the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”