The first reading today from the prophet Jeremiah tells us about false shepherds who have shirked their responsibilities toward the people of Jerusalem. These false shepherds were the political and the religious leaders who lost sight of the law and all that God had done for them.
We have lots of false shepherds in our midst today. They are often well educated people who are in positions of authority. They may have power, money or fame. Because of their position in life, they often assume that they know better than Jesus or his church. Unfortunately, often these self-appointed shepherds just follow the latest fad to determine what is right or wrong.
The shepherd is meant to be a good leader, who protects his flock and keeps them out of danger. The sheep are dumb and, if the shepherd doesn't protect them, will wander off and die. The sheep know their shepherd and the shepherd knows his sheep.
In the Gospel, Jesus wanted to get off by himself for a little while. But a crowd followed him and he was moved with pity because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Today, we, as sheep, struggle in many areas of our lives, especially in our relationships. We want to do things our own way rather than God's way. We forget that God, who created us, who formed each of us in our mother's womb, knows what is best for us. We, like those with Jesus, are like sheep without a shepherd.
Several years ago, while we were in Gatlinburg on vacation, we went to Elkmont to see the synchronous fireflies. These are male fireflies who, during their month long mating season, all light up in unison to attract female fireflies.
So, we went to Elkmont just before dark and stood there and waited. We all had flashlights to light our way, once it got dark. But we had to put a red foil over our flashlight so that it didn't confuse the fireflies. Slowly, it got dark and a few fireflies began to light up. Gradually more and more of them lit until eventually the woods lit up and then grew dark as thousands of male fireflies attempted to attract a mate. It was truly an amazing sight. And, it caused me to reflect on our amazing God and his creative genius.
These fireflies were following God's plan for them. And since they don't have a free will or intellect, they always follow his plan with incredible results. We see similar things in nature all around us since God created all different kinds of insects and animals with unusual and incredible habits.
We, as humans, are made in God's image and likeness. Unlike the fireflies or other insects or animals, we have an intellect and a free will. God has designed us perfectly. We are made to love God and to love our neighbor. As men and women, he designed our bodies so that they are perfectly made for each other.
But, since we have a free will, we can decide to do things our way rather than God's way. We can follow our plan instead of His plan for us. We can ignore the fact that God is all knowing and all loving. We can forget that He wants and knows what is best for us.
Compared to God, we are sheep. We want to be happy and think we know what is best for us. Often, we follow the lead of dumb sheep instead of following the shepherd. This is especially true in our relationships. As a result, we often make a mess of things. And, worst of all, we often blame God for our failures.
We fail to realize how infinitely smarter the shepherd, Jesus is, compared to us. And we don't realize how much this shepherd wants to help us on our journey. He gives us scripture like the readings we read today to instruct us. He gives us a community of believers, his Church, to provide guidance. And, most importantly, he gives us food for the journey, his body and blood in the Eucharist.
Today, I would ask each of you to try following the shepherd. Acknowledge the fact that you are a sheep and that Jesus is the all knowing shepherd. Go do him whenever you face a difficult decision, especially those decisions which are related to those you love. In prayer, listen quietly to his advice for you. He will speak to you in the silence of your heart. Then, if you question whether this advice is truly from God, check to make sure that it agrees with the teachings of his church. Pull out your catechism, go to the index, and find the relevant topic. Read the paragraphs which relate to your situation. If the advice you receive in the silence of your heart contradicts Church teachings, ignore the advice since it comes from the evil one. If you still have questions, talk to a priest and ask him for guidance.
If you are able to follow God's plan for thirty days, you will find peace and joy. If you think that you need a prayer partner for this effort, send me an email or stop me after mass and ask me to pray for you. I'd be happy to do this. When we pray, God will always answer our prayers. He may not respond as we expect - remember we can be dumb sheep - but he will always give us what is best for us.
My prayers are with you. God bless.