Sunday, April 18, 2010

Homily for Third Sunday of Easter Year C

This is the homily I presented for this weekend



Today’s gospel reading appears to be a followup to our passion readings where we hear of Peter’s denial. As we reflect back a couple of weeks we remember Peter denying Christ three times, “I tell you, I do not know the man.”

In today’s Gospel, we hear Christ asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. “You know that I love you” is the response we hear back from Peter with a response from Jesus to feed or tend the lambs and sheep.

Much is entrusted to Peter at this point. Not only is Jesus receiving an affirmation of Peter’s love, but he is giving Peter a mission.

On June 29th, 1959, Pope John XXIII, who would later call for the Second Vatican Council, released an encyclical entitled “Ad Petri Cathedram”, (To the Chair of Peter). In his encyclical, John XXIII tries to help us understand a bit more about this mission given to Peter and his successors.

That there is unity in the administration of the Catholic Church is evident. For as the faithful are subject to their priests, so are priests to their bishops, whom «the Holy Spirit has placed ... to rule the Church of God.» So, too, every bishop is subject to the Roman pontiff, the successor of Saint Peter, whom Christ called a rock and made the foundation of His Church. It was to Peter that Christ gave in a special way the power to bind and loose on earth, to strengthen his brethren, to feed the entire flock.

Pope John XXIII’s encyclical helps to understand a bit more clearly the hierarchical nature of the Church in passing on the faith and reaching out to the world. There is a sign of unity in respect to the relationship of all within the Church, the Body of Christ.

In the Second Vatican Council Document “Lumen Gentium” (Light to the Nations) we hear additional teaching in this regard.

Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

Later on, in this same document we hear,
But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church, and made him shepherd of the whole flock.

As we hear today’s readings, it is important for us to realize what a great privilege it is for us to be part of the flock of Christ, knowing that he has sent faithful shepherds to guide us on our pilgrim way. Christ also warns that there will be other shepherds who will try to take the flock. They will try to lead them away from the shepherd that he has entrusted to care for them. There are times when these shepherds even exist within the hierarchy of the Church. Most of them have good intentions, but have lost a sense of unity within the whole church.

Sometimes they throw out suggestions that the Church is moving backwards. If they follow the actual teachings of the Church and their development, they find that they have gone beyond what the Church teaches and when she tries to reel them back in, the rebel. When I am looking at books for reading about the Church, one of the first things I do is take a look at the footnotes, or endnotes. If they tend to quote magisterial documents, I tend to put more credence in what the authors have to say. This is one way to make sure I am staying in union with the Church established by Christ. Sometimes the texts make frequent use of other sources, some of them sources known for questioning magisterial teachings. These texts are often not useful in building up the true Church, but are divisive, causes of confusion.

Christ has appointed Peter and his successors to shepherd, feed and tend the flock entrusted to them. Let us have faith that He will fulfil his promise to Peter earlier in the Gospels. “You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the nether world will not prevail against it.” Tomorrow we celebrate the anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s election as Pope. Let us keep him, and our bishops in our prayers.
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