TEACHING AND LEADING
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B July 19, 2009
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
There is no denying the fact that we live in a deeply fragmented world. We see a lot of suspicion, bias, and prejudice in the world. In the Philippines, Christians mistrust Muslims and Muslims are wary of Christians. With the proliferation of terroristic acts perpetrated by a few misguided zealots, the whole world tends to lump people, civilizations, and religious groups along clearly defined lines and categories. Owing to that old childish penchant for “universalization” even highly educated people fall into the trap of making sweeping generalizations, doing away with the finer – and, assuredly more difficult – nuances of moral discernment.
In many ways, people are uncritically led by certain prevailing views, especially those proffered and exposed – many times even magnified – by the Mass Media! Bombarded by endless reports and repeated subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to certain issues, in a manner that almost borders on propaganda, people are led, co-opted, and controlled by the prevailing commonly-held position. Very gradually but surely, the value systems, the mentality, and the attitudes of the masses are tailored to fit a common mold – that of modern-day purveyors of “culture.”
We modern women and men, all over the world, not excluding the Philippines, constitute the sort of crowd for which the Lord’s heart would be moved with pity. We are the shepherdless flock of sheep that catches the attention of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We are part of a clueless collectivity that actually feels lost in the welter of so many conflicting ideologies, caught in the mire of so much confusion that even goes so far as to become downright confrontation even – sadly – between religious groups.
The Catholic Church has learned her lessons so many centuries ago. There is no way she will go back to a mentality and attitude that says differences ought to be resolved by violence, by going to war, by killing, or the like! Sadly though, we are face to face with the undeniable reality that amongst us Christians, there are those who buy the commonly held doctrine that war still solves many problems, that there is such a thing as a JUST WAR, and that certain peoples need to be taught a lesson – of course, by the force of superior and high-tech military might! How many of us priests (and laity) secretly clapped our hands when Iraq was forcibly conquered? How many of us continue to defend the U.S. policy despite the fact that the so-called WMD (weapons of mass destruction) were nowhere to be found?
Prejudices, biases, commonly held positions … these are all values that are caught, not taught – values that we see, hear and discern in the myriad little things that we say, do or think anent certain issues. A comment here; an innuendo there. A smirk in the face now; a scowl later. How else explain the fact that for so many people, what is morally good is anything that leads to a good effect? How else explain the fact that for so many young people in the Philippines, certain behaviors that were traditionally frowned upon are now considered commonplace? There is a wide avenue for research as to what sort of moral values are being proffered by the current fad of imported and local telenovelas and chinovelas that hog our prime time TV networks by the day.
There is a reason for us to reflect a little more on the warning of Jeremiah the prophet: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord.” But there, too, is sufficient reason for us to be hopeful and at relative peace at the realization that this Sunday’s liturgy leads us to. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”
But there ought to be some kind of an investment on our part. The Gospel of Mark tells us that after the Lord was moved at the sight of the crowd, “he began to teach them many things.” No teacher ever gets the appellation “teacher” without students willing to be taught. No shepherd is worth his salt without a flock to follow him. I would like to think that the Church grew from that little “band of brothers” (the twelve) because they listened to their Master and were willing to be taught. They were not only taught. They caught all the Master’s values, attitudes and mentality, thus becoming in their turn, “shepherds after the heart of Christ,” their Master and Lord. They behaved like sheep who heard his voice, who were known by the Shepherd and who followed their Shepherd.
I know for a fact that you are here at Mass today because deep inside, you still hold on to that truth that we all need guidance; we all need shepherding. We feel lost. We feel misguided. And we feel many times confused in this highly pluralistic world. So many voices, each one espousing a particular position, confront our capacity for moral choices. The glitter of money, power and pleasure all but blinds us and renders our capacity for moral discernment a little clouded over and muddled. The siren song of a specie “autonomous morality” taken away from their moorings based on an objective moral order continues to beckon us to go on the side of utilitarianism, individualism, and merely personal good. The culture makes it so easy for us to agree with war-mongers who claim “common good” as the reason for them to invade, destroy and kill. The same culture makes it so easy for us to “hate” all those who think differently from us, who are plain “different” and “abnormal” from our point of view. Racism, regionalism, ethnocentrism … they all go under many guises, but they all point to prejudice and simple lack of that all-inclusive charity that the Lord teaches us.
I would like to believe that the basic reason why you are here today is that you would like to be guided. This, the Good Shepherd indeed does! He teaches us! He leads us! And he does so first of all, by reminding us to come to conscious awareness of the prejudices and the biases – all sorts of values – that we have caught, ever so subtly, unwitttingly, all these so many years.
There is a little need for reflection and “spiritual respite” for us to come to this form of what Paolo Freire calls conscientizacao – the coming into conscious and deep awareness of ourselves, of the world, and of the ways that society has made itself to be. The Lord told his disciples: “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.”
This coming away by ourselves and resting awhile is partly what you have come here for. All this reflection then ought to lead to conscientizacao. And the process happens because we have allowed the Good Shepherd himself to teach us, and lead us. It is time we gave him a hearing. Better yet… it is time we followed him, who is the Way, all the way, and for always!