The rector of St. Meinrad, Fr. Denis, has been here many times. You’d know him if you saw him. He taught us by example a rather unorthodox homiletic style he calls “random thoughts.” It works well for those of us with ADD (mine is self-diagnosed). I have seven thoughts and I’ll call this thing successful if you remember one of them.
First, I was thinking about today’s Gospel in connection to last Sunday’s Gospel. Last Sunday Jesus sent the apostles out. Today he is calling them back to himself to rest. Isn’t that the Christian life? Sometimes the busy-bees among us can be tempted to stay out and about doing good here and there, while forgetting to come back to get refreshed from the Lord in the Mass, in adoration, in confession, in daily prayer. Others prefer to sit in the adoration chapel all day. To follow Christ is to do both: to be sent forth from him and then come back, and then go out again.
Second, today the readings are about shepherds. The readings remind us that Jesus is our Shepherd and that in his love for us he has given us many other shepherds…priests, nuns, parents, teachers, etc. He doesn’t leave us to our own devices when it comes to figuring out what we should do with our lives, whom we should date and marry, who our friends should be, etc. If we aren’t allowing Jesus to lead us through the church, through scripture, through prayer, then we are apt to go down a bad road. And nobody likes a bad road. Sheep are dumb enough to walk right off the edge of a cliff. We’re just as dumb sometimes when we try to escape the shepherd.
Third, I’ve been thinking about Fr. Noah Casey. We lost a really good shepherd in him this past week. He used to say the 6pm Mass here when Msgr. didn’t have an associate. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to prayer. Fr. Noah taught me a key lesson about prayer in a discernment group before I entered seminary. He said that when we are distracted in prayer, maybe that means we should be praying about what is distracting us. I owe part of my journey to the priesthood to his advice.
Fourth, July is the month of the precious blood. So many of our readings are about blood this month, like our second reading today. Thinking about the precious blood of Jesus has got me thinking about a particularly precocious young man I had in my religion class years ago. He was brilliant, and full of energy. The young man’s grandmother had dropped him off on the first day. She gave me a warning about him. She told me, “he’s got the blood of a tiger.” Now I’ve thought about the phrase a lot since then. I think she meant by it that her grandson wasn’t quite human, that he was full of some superhuman energy. She was right, he had some kind of crazy, awesome blood in him. I think we do, too. We don’t have the blood of tigers, but I submit to you that we also have crazy, awesome blood in us. We have the blood of Christ in us! It’s simple theology 101. You and I come to Mass, and we drink the blood of Christ. We have the blood of Christ in us! I want us to pause and contemplate the awesomeness of that! Because it means a lot. It means that the Precious Blood of Christ in all its majesty and glory circulates through our veins! It means that we have the power of Christ in us and it means St. Paul was right: we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. It means he floods our lives with his awesomeness. And it means that Christ continues to shed his blood, not only on the altars around the world but also through us. That is, Christ still sheds his blood for the salvation of the world—and he sheds his blood through you and me. The Christians dressed in orange suits who were killed for their Christlike faith and lives…the blood that poured out of their bodies was Christ’s blood. I think you and I also shed our blood more than we realize. My spiritual director recently told me that he actually enjoyed getting bloody fixing some broken pipe at the college seminary. That’s what I’m talking about. We shed our blood and give life to others in fixing pipes or mowers, we shed it in blood drives, giving birth to new children, getting paper cuts in making a card or sending a letter. We shed our blood when our hearts break for our loved ones, especially those who are away from the church or suffering. To be Christian is to shed our blood, sweat and tears…or to allow Christ to shed his blood, sweat and tears through us…for the life and salvation of the world.
This leads me to my fifth thought, about how Christianity is a blood religion. The line in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is one of my favorites. It says: “Now in Christ, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Christ shed his blood to bring you and me to the Father. I’m sure the shepherds in our readings today got plenty bloody going after their lost sheep. They probably shed their blood, sweat and tears. God knows we have been “far off” ourselves many times, and that we know many who are “far off” right now. We pray for them. He could have chosen any other way to save us. But he picked blood. Sometimes we prefer a sanitized religion, a clean religion, a comfortable religion. But the talk about blood in the readings this month and in the martyrs we celebrate this month is a reminder that Christianity is a blood religion, that following Christ gets messy and even bloody. It gets costly. And if it isn’t costly, then we’re not doing it right.
That leads me to my sixth thought. Following Christ the Shepherd may get costly, but it also is downright filled with blessings. David knew that. At the end of his life, he says that his life is a cup that God has continually poured his goodness and blessings into. It’s the psalm we sang today. “You prepare a banquet before me…you anoint my head, my cup overflows.” What he means is, God is unending and he fills our lives to overflowing. We’re like walking chalices and his Precious Blood comes into us and overflows and pours itself out upon the world. David felt most blessed when he was giving himself away—as a shepherd, as a father, as a husband, as a man of God. He felt most fulfilled when pouring himself out. And that is precious.
My last somewhat-random thought. The phrase “the precious blood of Jesus” comes from St. Peter. Now St. Peter was a fisherman. I hate to generalize, but “precious” not exactly a word you would expect a fisherman to use. But, like St. Paul who talks about Christ’s blood today, he had seen the power of Christ’s blood. He had seen it spilled upon the rocks and byways of Jerusalem. He had seen the ground that had been stained by it. He had seen it sprinkled all over, even in his own life. No, he had seen it showered upon his own life, like David. And he had felt its precious power after drinking it.
So, too, will we. Pray God we will come to taste and see and feel just how Precious Christ’s Blood is when we drink it at this altar, and when we shed it, when we pour it out for others…especially for the lost sheep.