Next week several of our parishioners will be taking the Bar Exam. The 7:00 PM Mass this Sunday will be celebrated for them with a special blessing for the day. We invite not only anyone who is taking the Bar exam but also lawyers who can give them encouragement and support. A wine and cheese reception will follow.
Classes for those who wish to become Catholic or for Baptized Catholics who wish to receive Eucharist or Confirmation will start in the Fall. Anyone interested is asked to see Father Smith after Mass or to call the Rectory. 718-625-1177 ext 409
We will be continuing to have individual or relational meetings between parishioners. This is neither an interview nor a request for parish feedback but an invitation to connect to Saint Charles Parish by connecting first with each other. Should you wish to participate please call Fr Smith at 718-625-1177 ext 409, email him at [email protected] or sign the registration sheet in the rear of the Church. A member of the team will contact you.
16th Week in Ordinary Time
Today we return to 6th Century Jerusalem and the commanding figure of the prophet Jeremiah. He was active from about 627 to 585 BC and saw the sputtering and fall of the Kingdom of Judea. As an aristocrat he was very visible in the city and this gave him some freedom to maneuver. Ultimately however this made him an obvious target and he escaped execution several times only because of his connections. None of this prevented him from speaking the word of God forcefully to high and low, native and foreigner.
In the 100 years following the fall of Israel in 721, the northern kingdom of the Jewish people, Judea, the southern kingdom, was subject to the Assyrians. Like all subject peoples they were looking for a chance to escape. In 627 disturbances following the death of the Assyrian King seemed to provide the opportunity. For a while they were able to carve out some space amid the warring parties, but then the Babylonians grasped so much power that the Assyrians made an alliance with the Egyptians, usually their great rivals. Josiah, the king of Judea, realized that this would effectively end any independence they could have and fought the Egyptians in 609 at Megiddo. He suffered a disastrous defeat and the Judeans needed to be rescued by the Babylonians. Things quickly fall apart. There were several kings in his period who tried both to satisfy the people’s desire for independence and the demands of their Babylonians overlords. They ultimately failed and in 597 the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem and began the first series of deportations of the leadership to Babylon. A puppet king was installed but he could not control his people and the Babylonians, deciding that this was hopeless, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple in 586.
Jeremiah was involved in all these events, and although passages in the Book of Jeremiah are notoriously difficult to date, today’s section is usually assumed to have been written between the first and final deportations. There may have been some editions later, but Jeremiah’s intent and prophetic word is clear: the job of a king is to protect the people and keep them together, and the Judean kings failed.
1 Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. (Jeremiah 23:1-2)
We should not be overly critical of the kings of Judah: they were between a rock and a hard place, and they needed to articulate a vision of sharing a “National” God without civil independence. This is difficult, but necessary, for as we read in the book of Proverbs: “Without vision the people perish” (29:18)
It was necessary then for God himself to bring the people back.
3 I will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. (23:3)
When he does he will raise up shepherd for them who will keep the flock together:
4 I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.
The chief shepherd, the king, will be from the House of David. He will share vison that it is God who leads the people and after their time in Babylon will know that the power of the Lord is everywhere and at every time. They are bound not only by a shared history but by acting justly and righteously, here and now.
5 Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security. (23:5-6a)
He shall be the way that God will use to be present to his people and thus his name will be “The Lord our justice”.
Although this may seem mere wishful thinking we know that it was the occasion of a great miracle. The Persians conquered Babylon and offered the Jews the option to return home and rebuild their capital and temple. Enough did that they were able to reestablish themselves, as if not an independent nation, but a people with enough freedom of worship to maintain their identity. But perhaps the greatest miracle was still to come.
It is said that history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Some of the same notes which occurred in the days before the deportations to Babylon were heard again in the generation after Jesus. Those who wished to revolt against Rome eventually attained power in Judea with predictable results. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD and after the mere hint of revolution a generation later Jerusalem was closed to Jews. This should have been the end of Judaism, but it opened a time of unparalleled intellectual and spiritual creativity. They had learned their lesson and realized that God gave them a promise, not a roadmap; they were a people because they shared a relationship with God and that relationship defies the limits of both time and space.
We are called to continue this song. It would be foolish to try to take direct lessons from the ancient Hebrew prophets. This was well before the nation state and the separation of church and state would have been incomprehensible. But there are insights which we could profitably examine. It was a commonplace that the taxes needed to pay the tribute to whatever empire controlled the region were unfairly leveled against the poor. This gave them little reason to accept a national vision of unity between God and the people. Gross unfairness destroys unity and the prophets saw this in “religious” terms and fought against it. If we share this belief, then we will not follow a shepherd who fails to lead us to the unity that comes from Justice and we as a nation will hold a vision that will never perish.