jesus appoints st. peter as his first pope, chief earthly shepherd of his mystical body, the (roman catholic) church
Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 5th, 2019:
One Scripture commentary I studied for this homily said this about today’s gospel: “The disciples bring this catch of fish (they are fishers of men) to a meal (Eucharist) prepared by the Risen Jesus.” What does that remind you of? How about this quote: “Jesus’s image is that of a servant and a giver of bread to His disciples.” What does that remind you of? These two quotes should remind us of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. Here is another story from this same gospel: Jesus’s challenge to St. Peter to profess his love for Jesus three times. Jesus gives St. Peter a public opportunity to “profess repentance through love, surely a striking example of what it is that reestablishes our relationship with Jesus Christ after sin.” That is a picture-perfect illustration of the sacrament of confession. Remember, last Sunday, Jesus breathed on the Apostles and gave them the priestly power to forgive sins. Jesus’s mission becomes their own.
All of these illustrations show sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and this Roman Catholic Church of ours in action. That is important to remember from this gospel.
Jesus requires St. Peter to make a triple profession of faith and love to Jesus. Of course, this reverses St. Peter’s triple denial of knowing Jesus early Good Friday morning. Jesus’s requirement of St. Peter to do this atones for St. Peter’s denial. Jesus and St. Peter are at-one again with each other. That’s important because St. Peter is the rock upon which Jesus says He will build His Church, this one. No other church can say that. No other church can prove that. Only this one can. The reason this church can assert this is because Jesus makes St. Peter the leader upon which this church is built. This is not just making St. Peter an evangelist who confesses faith. If that were so, then Jesus would have to ask the other Apostles there at that fire if they love Jesus too. He doesn’t. He only does that to the leader of the first Apostolic College, St. Peter. St. Peter has authority and primacy as an earthly shepherd of Jesus’s Church, this one. That is an important point to remember.
A second point to remember is that Jesus converts St. Peter’s love for Him into loving care for Jesus’s sheep. The entire flock (all the sheep possessed by the Good Shepherd) is committed to the loving, personal care of this chief shepherd of this church, St. Peter. So therefore, this act of reversal of St. Peter’s earlier denial is of utmost importance to the future of Jesus’s Church, this one. Jesus restores the Rock of St. Peter to its/his proper strength.
Remember that Jesus is going to ascend into heaven soon. So that brings us to the third important point from today’s gospel: There is a changing of the guard, so to speak. In Ezekiel 34, Yahweh Himself will shepherd His sheep. God passes that role of shepherd to the Good Shepherd, His Own Son, Jesus Christ. In today’s gospel, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, passes on the care of His flock to His first earthly chief shepherd, His first pope in this Church, St. Peter. The gospel shows that St. Peter’s shepherd-role is tied to love. Jesus tells St. Peter to “feed my lambs…tend my sheep.” To “feed” means “to furnish something essential to the growth, maintenance, operation, or sustenance” of something, or in this case, someone, us. To “tend” means “to develop, direct, or move one’s course in a particular direction.” Shepherds do these two things and the good ones do them very well. How well? St. Peter, the chief shepherd will have to reflect Jesus the Good Shepherd and be willing to give his life for his sheep. Jesus says that St. Peter will l be martyred. St. Peter will also glorify God by his death because life-giving, selfless love is God’s very own nature. Notice Jesus is lovingly helpful to a group of hungry fishermen. He sets a fire with one roasted fish and bread on the shore for them. That’s another reminder of Mass and Eucharist.
There is one more important point. It is the 153 large fish. I thought it was just St. John’s eye for detail. And notice the net was not torn. The Scripture commentary I studied says 153 fish symbolically show the catholicity or universality of Jesus’s Roman Catholic Church. The untorn net symbolically shows integrity and the unity of this Church. Jesus meant there to be one church, not 20-some-odd thousand ones.
So what should we know? We should know that St. Peter is established with primacy as the earthly representative and leader of Jesus’s Church, this one. Second, we should know that Jesus converts St. Peter’s love for Him into loving care for Jesus’s sheep, His flock, the people in His Church. We should know that God the Father and Jesus, His Son, intended to pass on the shepherd-role of this Church to an earthly representative, in this case, St. Peter. And fourth, the church St. Peter and today, St. Francis, leads, is this one. It has the integrity of salvation and it has the integrity of history, unity, universality, and teaching authority from the shore of the Sea of Tiberias to the Vatican in Rome, and to the church of St. Anthony of Padua here today in Fargo.
What should we do? We should remain faithful to this church and this faith for our benefit and for the benefit of others whom we must evangelize. Evangelize this church, this faith, to others. To share this is a critical requirement of us by Jesus Himself. Why should I care? Because Jesus is still present in this church through the sacraments which we need to be fed and to be tended properly for the salvation which Jesus Christ offers faithfully and lovingly to us until the end of time. That is important.
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