Wednesday August 18, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 34:1-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:1-16)
In the first reading today, the shepherds of Israel are getting quite a tongue-lashing from the Lord. It is not a comforting thing for those who are called to the shepherding task to read such a reading, that the Lord is going to very harshly judge those who are called to be the shepherds of His people because they are called to serve and not to be served. And that is exactly what the Lord is condemning them for. They have drunk the milk, they have used the wool, but they have not shepherded the sheep. They want to get from the sheep but they do not want to give to the sheep.
The problem, in this case, is not a matter that they do not give anything but that they do not give the truth. We have lots of shepherds within the Church who are willing to tell people whatever they want to hear as long as they are going to get more money, as long as they can get something for themselves. And so we have some places, for instance, telling people that it is perfectly okay to practice things that are in complete opposition to the Church – abortion, contraception, homosexuality – telling people they do not have to go to Mass, telling people they do not really have to believe these various teachings of the Church, and so on. It is a feel-good sort of thing. Of course, they will have lots of people telling them that they are being a good shepherd because they are telling the people exactly what they want to hear. In the meantime, the shepherd is reveling in what he is getting from the sheep, but he is not shepherding them because he is lying to them. He is using them, and he is telling them things that are not true.
Now, on our part, it is necessary for us to pray for these guys because, as we see in the Gospel reading, the Lord in His mercy is going to give the same wage to those who come at the very end of the day into the field as those who work all day out in the field. Back a number of centuries ago, Saint Gregory the Great (he was the Pope) was preaching one day reading this reading, and he said, “There are many laborers who are called, but there are very few who are actually doing the work.” Not many shepherds out there that are shepherding the sheep. “Even though there are thousands and thousands of priests,” he said, “there are very few shepherds among them.” Well, we need to pray for them because even if they come around at the five o’clock hour, according to the Gospel today they will still be able to receive the full wage. If we can pray for their conversion, if we can help them to be able to be good shepherds, there is hope. That is what we have to be able to do.
We have to be able to acknowledge the truth that at this point they may not be very good shepherds, but that does not mean they cannot be. Somewhere along the line, they answered the Lord’s call. They wanted to be a good shepherd. They have been caught up in the worldliness; they have been caught up in the peer pressure; they have been caught up in the idea that you have to tell people what they want to hear or else they might not come to church; they have been caught up in the idea that money is more important than truth, and that mammon is more important than God. So we have to pray for them to help them understand the truth as God Himself wants it preached, that they themselves will look out for their own soul and in so doing they will look out for the souls of the people entrusted to their care. That is our task because without prayer we are not going to have any good shepherds; it is just that simple.
The devil, as Jesus told Saint Peter, wants to sift the shepherds like wheat – and he is doing a pretty good job of it. So, on our part, we have to pray for them. It is a necessity because if you do not have a good shepherd you are going to be led right out into the desert. There will be no water; there will be no grass; there will be nothing. It is not just about sitting there looking at somebody not doing his job and saying, “I hope the Lord gets even with this guy,” because each one of us has a vested interest in this. If we do not have shepherds who are going to shepherd us rightly, none of us is going to be able to flourish; none of us is going to be able to go to heaven because we are not going to be led along the path that leads to heaven. So we need to pray for our shepherds.
Thanks be to God for our Holy Father, who is a good and faithful shepherd. Certainly, we need to keep praying for him too. We need to pray for the bishops and for the priests. We need to pray for the consecrated people. We need to pray for the parents who are to shepherd their children. Whoever it is who has a position of authority, we need to make sure we are praying for them and that we are doing our part so they will shepherd the sheep rightly lest the Lord come and chastise the shepherds for being poor shepherds. The Lord will take care of His sheep; we know that. But the shepherds are also part of the sheep, in this case. The Good Shepherd is Jesus. We need to pray for all the shepherds that they will put their focus on Jesus, that they will follow Him and lead the sheep along the way that leads only to Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.