Homily – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(The following homily is from Pastor Dick Dahl)

In last Sunday’s Gospel we heard Jesus instructing his disciples what to do when they went out to different villages to give witness to his message. Today we hear that they rejoined Jesus and were telling him their experiences. Jesus said, “Let’s go somewhere where we can be by ourselves and talk about how things went for you.” I can imagine their excitement. And we hear Jesus’s expressed wish to share it with them.

But what happened? People sought them out. In fact, even when they went some distance in their boats to get away, a large crowd found them. Jesus put aside his plans, and his wish for time alone with his friends. He took pity on the needs of the people and taught them at length. He saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd. He was their shepherd.

Today’s Scripture readings were selected to portray Jesus as the shepherd promised in Jeremiah, guiding his frightened flock in Psalm 23, teaching them out of compassion for their need in Mark’s Gospel, and gathering those who were far away and those who were near in Paul’s words so that, “We all have access in one Spirit to our God.”

Most of us don’t think in terms of sheep and shepherds today, but we can relate to a hunger for leadership. During his recent visit to South America, Pope Francis criticized the church for having put dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized. He said that many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God. Now, however, he says not only the poor but even the entire human race is in immanent danger because of policies driven globally, now not in the name of God, but in the name of money.

As important as domestic issues are–from immigration to health insurance–and foreign affairs are–from Iran to Cuba, one issue stands out above all others. It is impending environmental catastrophe. This is the message that Pope Francis, our shepherd in the 21st century, calls us to recognize through his recent encyclical, Laudato Si. He speaks not just to Catholics and even other Christians, but to all people in the world because what is happening affects everyone on this planet.

Francis piggybacks on the global scientific consensus, namely that humans are contributing to the exploitation and destruction of the planet in ways that are near to irreversible. He calls us to revere our mother earth which is being ravaged by a global economic order that has created a “new colonialism” of inequity, materialism and the exploitation of the poor.

Thomas Piketty, In his recently published study, “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century”, says history shows that “capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.” Pope Francis said to his fellow South Americans, “Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say ‘No’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality where money rules, rather than service.

Francis writes, “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet.”

Francis calls for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual life styles to confront social change. He acknowledges that this is a revolutionary call, but nothing short of such change will save the planet and life and civilization.”

He ended his encyclical with the following words: “Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to that is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.”


On pollution:

People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke  from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by  transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water,  fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked  to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves  incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others (Laudato Si, pp. 7,8)

On waste accumulation:

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth . . . But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and  consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. (Ibid.)

On the human impact of environmental degradation:

There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded . . . Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to  be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change (Id at 8).

On exhaustion of resources:

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. (Id pp 9, 10)

On the pervasiveness of psychological denial:

As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen. (Id at 17)

On economic inequality:

Yet it would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all.(Id. at 24)

Certainly, we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights. (Id at 27)