“CALL TO BE A SHEPHERD TO ONE ANOTHER IN THESE CHALLENGING TIMES.”
16th Sunday Sermon Preached By His Eminence Charles Cardinal Bo., SDB, Catholic Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar
First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6 – The Lord promises to shepherd his people Israel.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23:1-3,3-4,5,6 – The Lord is our shepherd.
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:13-18 – Christ has reconciled us with God and united us in peace. Unity.
Gospel Reading: Mark 6:30-34 – His heart was moved with pity; because they were sheep without shepherd.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Peace and the blessings of the Lord be with you always.
May the healing touch of the Good Shepherd bless us all today. We need to be united in prayer for the country, our people. It is the Lord who can heal us all.
Today, the readings talk about Shepherding. God the Good Shepherd calls us today to his protection. The Lord who said, “I know the sheep and the sheep know me,” is calling us to seek his protection. Jesus who gave his life for the welfare of the sheep is now standing at every doorstep to shepherd us in these very challenging times. Let say: Come Lord Jesus.
How many challenges do we have to meet in the last five months? Enormous! Staggering! Three major challenges: COVID, Conflict and Collapse of the economy. But now every breath has become a challenge. Day and night, thousands are struggling to breathe. This deadly pandemic is stealing the basic gift of nature. Oxygen, which is freely available in the air, has suddenly become a precious commodity for which people are queuing up day and night.
These are very challenging times: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, needs to guide us to the green pastures of healing and hope. We understand life is fragile; the life-giving breath blown into the first man by the Creator is endangered by the pandemic. As a human family, we face an existential threat. Already wounded by months of conflict, death and displacement, COVID came as a merciless attack on our simple people. Starvation, anxiety and fear occupy by their hearts and as the Gospel bemoans: they are like sheep without shepherd. At least 20 per cent of our people could have been infected. Around 90 per cent of our towns are infected. Apocalypse not yet, but if there is no conversion of hearts, many thousands will be buried in the coming months. Cry, My Beloved Country! Only God is our saviour. Let our prayer reach out to you.
Those who wish to rule this land need to be first and foremost shepherds. Jesus says a true shepherd is even willing to give his life for the welfare of his sheep, not take it. We can just pray for that. Let all those who hold the guns, in the name of the Lord, we plead, drop all guns, bring medical care at once. In the name of the Lord we ask, give peace a chance. Unite to save lives. Our people need care, medicine and food. Let all doctors come forth to save lives.
We stand at the altar of the author of Life and pray. We raise our hands and plead: Mark not our guilts Lord; in your mercy, heal us: let this pandemic go away; let us breathe free.
Catholic churches across the Philippines will toll their bells next week in another show of solidarity with us. Thanks to you all.
The readings of today offer great consolation. God is our Shepherd. He knows our tears.
First Reading – Jeremiah: God will give them a shepherd.
Psalm – The Lord is my shepherd.
Second Reading – St Paul to Ephesians: In Unity, Christianity is shown
Gospel – Mark: Jesus was moved by human suffering with pity: they were sheep without shepherd.
One of the most compassionate portrayals in the Bible is God as the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd in the Old Testament is the symbol of God’s love (John 10). Who is a Good Shepherd?
The Bible gives three major traits of the Shepherd:
- The Shepherd takes loving care of the Sheep
- The Shepherd protects the sheep from all dangers
- The Shepherd gives hope to the sheep by leading them to new pastures
The image of Jesus the Good Shepherd is so consoling to us in these times. Unlike the Biblical times, when the danger came in the form of a wolf, we experience the danger comes in the form of a virus. Pastoral care is needed. The idea of shepherd has become the identity of priests and bishops and they are called pastor and expects them to have pastoral accompaniment. But now everyone can become a pastor, a good shepherd. As the virus wages a war against us, Pope Francis urges all of us to become Good Shepherd pastors to one another. How can be a Good pastor? A Good Shepherd today in Myanmar?
There are three ways we can render pastoral care as Good Shepherd:
- Be A Good Shepherd to oneself by proper self-care (Mt: 7:12)
- Be A Good Shepherd to those around us – by sharing (Mt 25: 21-40)
- Be A Good Shepherd to families affected directly by infection and death. (Mk : 2:17)
1. Be a good shepherd to oneself by proper self-care
The golden rule in the Bible is “In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Mt 7:12).
By taking care of ourselves, we take care of others. This sickness is so deadly and it can be only prevented by taking proper care of ourselves. Proper physical, psychological and spiritual health is needed, treating the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. As the pandemic rages, we need to pray to the Good Shepherd: Lead me to the green pastures of healing. We also need to follow all the prevention protocol.
2. Be A Good Shepherd to others:
“I was sick you came to see me” (Mt 25:30-40)
COVID can make us very selfish, fear one another. Social distancing means not distancing ourselves from the compassion for one another. Pope Francis urges the pastoral commitment of the church “to go to the sheep and come back with the smell of the sheep.” Though there needs to be caution in human interactions, COVID should not make us to forget human suffering.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows the way in compassion during human suffering, when people are “distressed and downcast”: Jesus’ humanity as “good shepherd” emerges from his ministry. Matthew, summarising Jesus’ exhausting labours among the people, explains that “he felt compassion for them because they were distressed and downcast, like a sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). Mark gives the same motive for the Jesus’ teaching and then feeding the 5000 (Mk 6:34).
Yes. The Pandemic has changed everything. Churches are closed, Communion has been a big challenge. But our altars are changing; our hearts become the altar where the bread of compassion is shared with our neighbours. Those of us who can, share food and medicine, those of us who cannot, at least pray for others and reach out in communications. A new church of compassion, the union of hearts and care for compassion is emerging out of this darkness.
3. Be a Good Shepherd to families directly affected by infection and death.
“It is not the healthy that need a doctor; but the sick” (Mk 2:17). Go to the lost sheep.
All over the country, the virus is spreading very fast. All the tests show 30 per cent infection rate. This is really alarming. Hospitals are full. Cemeteries have long queues of dead bodies. Many die without saying goodbye, without seeing the loved ones. It looks like apocalypse. The dance of death seems to challenge God’s gift of life and light. We lack medical personnel, we lack volunteers. The life-giving oxygen is a great challenge to many. A fear pervades. Anxiety of death and infection deters human sensibilities in reaching out to the infected and hospitalised.
Yet, all over the world, there has been surprising commitment to the seriously affected people. The frontline workers and volunteers who have brought Christian love. Praising them, the Pope said:
“Commendable is the effort of so many people who have been offering evidence of human and Christian love for neighbour, dedicating themselves to the sick even at the risk of their own health. They are heroes!”
St Paul in today’s reading says: In Unity with others, we bear witness to Christian love. Our preferential love reaches out to those who are victims of this pandemic. Those who are affected and those families that faced death. We need our words, our support. Let us rise up to that love.
The Church here is challenged to move there – the redemptive love of those in pain and fear. The Catholic Church in Myanmar gives witness to this love, despite all the challenges. Our Christian love is expressed in the past to our countrymen and women through various programs during the first and second waves. In this wave, in the changed political situation, we try our best to reach out to the most affected. We have offered our places to care for the people. Our own care centres are functioning in five places. Compassion has become the common religion.
In all these, Christian witness needs to be matched by compassion and generosity. It is true our people face great challenges in the recent times. They cannot be directly exposed to the virus. But their hearts can be opened. But these are times to hold on to faith. Bear witness to the Gospel of Love through our concerns for families affected, extending whatever we can.
These are also times of evangelising oneself: not to give into total despair but to be challenged by God’s calling to be caring for one another, have the mind of Jesus who, today’s Gospel says, had great compassion for the suffering people. He would feed five thousand later in compassion.
This is also a time of evangelising ourselves in true shepherding. Pope Francis points out what we can humbly learn from those who are directly affected and to be ‘infected’ by their experience of salvation:
“Faith, hope and love necessarily push us towards this preference for those most in need, which goes beyond necessary assistance (cf. EG, 198). Indeed it implies walking together, letting ourselves be evangelised by them, who know the suffering Christ well, letting ourselves be ‘infected’ by their experience of salvation.”
Let us continue our prayers in these times. Let us pray for everyone who is at risk. Let us pray that the Good Shepherd may save us from this ‘valley of death’ and lead us into the green pastures of healing. Let us have communion with our brothers and sisters through genuine love and concern for everyone. The measure we give is the measure we receive. Let us be generous as our heavenly father is generous.
Stay safe and stay blessed. Everything will change; for God is in charge.
Reproduced with permission from Cardinal Charles Bo SDB and the Catholic Archdiocese of Yangon, Myanmar.