Engaging the Gospel – Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

Today’s Gospel is much more than just a description of historical events. Rather, it reveals a divine reality still at work in the world now — indeed, until the end of time.

Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples Whom He has chosen, and entrusted with His own power, endures through the ministry of the Church, governed by the bishops who are themselves successors to the apostles.

The Catechism teaches:

The Lord Jesus endowed His community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved…The Twelve [apostles] and the other disciples share in Christ’s mission and his power…By all His actions, Christ prepares and builds His Church (paragraph 765).

“The Gospel was handed on in two ways” – not only in writing, but

orally, by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received (76, quoting Dei Verbum).

In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church, the apostles left bishops as their successors…The apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time (77, quoting Dei Verbum).

As a result, “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church” (862).

Since the apostles (and disciples in today’s reading) were chosen together and sent out together, this ministry has ever had a “collegial character.”

Every bishop exercises his ministry from within the episcopal college, in communion with the bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter and head of the college. So also priests exercise their ministry from within the presbyterium of the diocese, under the direction of their bishop (877).

Question for reflection: How do I support those who dedicate their lives to the Lord’s service?

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Engaging the Gospel – Good Shepherd Sunday

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B): Gospel – John 10:11-18

The early Church cherished the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, melding today’s Gospel passage with Psalm 23 to reflect upon how the Lord tends and cares for us.

As Benedict XVI observed,

they recognized Christ as the Good Shepherd who leads us through life’s dark valleys…the Shepherd who also knows the way through the night of death and does not abandon me in this final solitude…The sheep that He lovingly carries home on His shoulders is humanity…In His Incarnation and Cross He brings home the stray sheep, humanity; He brings me home, too.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 285-86.

At the same time, the role of shepherd also had royal connotations in the ancient Middle East, where kings described themselves as shepherds of their people. For this reason, the Pope Emeritus explained that “this image of Christ the Good Shepherd is a Gospel of Christ the King” (p. 272).

The Lord established that His sheepfold, the Church, would be guided by human shepherds (Catechism 754, 862).

St John Paul II commented on this solemn responsibility:

As He did with the first disciples, Jesus continues to choose new co-workers to care for His flock through the ministry of the word, the sacraments and the service of charity…The priest [is to] become a living icon of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who gives himself for the flock entrusted to his care.

Homily of April 25, 1999.

Question for reflection: When have I felt the Lord’s special care for me?

Habemus Episcopum!

I have updated my sidebar to reflect today’s appointment of our new Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington — John Stowe, OFM Conv, the rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio. He becomes the third bishop of this diocese that was established by St. John Paul II in 1988.

Here are links to the announcement on the Vatican website, the USCCB site, and the press release from the diocese.

Bishop-Elect Stowe also currently serves as Vicar Provincial of the Conventual Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation.

Fr. Jim Kent, the Minister Provincial, lauded the appointment:

It is with great joy the Conventual Franciscans received the news that Pope Francis has appointed our brother, Bishop-elect John Stowe, OFM Conv., to shepherd the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky. He is a man of deep faith and integrity, with a sharp and inquisitive intellect, all rooted in a genuine pastoral heart.

It’s been nearly 14 months since Pope Francis transferred our well esteemed second bishop, Ronald Gainer, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That announcement was made January 24, 2014, and his installation took place on March 19, 2014.

What a cause for celebration that come this St Joseph’s Day, we know our new bishop! His ordination/installation Mass is scheduled for Tuesday, May 5.

Bishop Gainer welcomed the news of his successor, noting that the “appointment of a Conventual Franciscan Friar is especially significant as the Catholic Church observes the Year for Consecrated Life.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville said that “Bishop-elect Stowe brings a strong spiritual presence, evidenced in his leadership at the Franciscan Shrine in Ohio, and a wealth of pastoral experience, including his service to the Latino community in El Paso, Texas.”

After all of the prayers and sacrifices offered for this very special intention, thanks be to God and to St Joseph for taking care of our particular Church.

Thanks to Pope Francis and to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Papal Nuncio, for all of his diligent work.

Finally, gratitude to Fr. Robert Nieberding who served as our diocesan administrator during the sede vacante period.

I hope this calls for a Te Deum!

 

Engaging the Gospel: Ascension of the Lord

Ascension of the Lord: Gospel – Matthew 28:16-20

Christ ascended into heaven and “is seated at the right hand of the Father,” preceding us into His “glorious kingdom” (Catechism paragraphs 663-666).

But Christ still dwells with us in His Church, which He took care to establish as “the seed and the beginning of the kingdom” on earth (669). Because His kingdom is to embrace all nations, so must the Church be universal, literally “catholic,” a word which derives from the Greek term meaning “universal” (830).

Just as the Father sent Christ as His Emissary, so does Jesus appoint emissaries – in Greek, apostoloi (858). Christ empowered His apostles to continue His mission all over the world, investing them with the authority to teach, sanctify, and guide His flock (857). He “promised to remain with them always,” revealing that “their office also has a permanent aspect” and that this “divine mission…will continue to the end of time” (860).

As a result the apostles designated successors, bishops, to shepherd the Church (861-862). Thus began the unbroken line, from the apostles through the successive Catholic bishops for two millennia, down to our own very day.

The preservation of this precious apostolic heritage makes the Church “catholic” in a more profound sense. The Catholic Church receives from Christ “the fullness of the means of salvation which He has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession” (830).

Question for reflection: In what ways do I try to draw others closer to the Lord?

Holy Orders

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1533-1600:

  • When Christ endowed the apostles with authority, and commanded them to go forth and make disciples, He gave the Church an ongoing mission until He comes again; hence the apostolic ministry also continues over time, bestowed through the sacrament of Holy Orders.
  • Its name comes from the Latin ordo, “order,” referring to an established civil body, with a special connotation of governance; by ordination, one is incorporated into such an order.
  • There are three degrees of Holy Orders, each deriving from a Greek term in the New Testament: bishops, from episkopos (“overseer”); priests, from presbyteros (“elder”); and deacons, from diakonos (“servant”).
  • Christ is the supreme Priest, the one mediator between God and humankind, Who is prefigured by the priests offering sacrifice in the Old Testament: from Melchizedek and Aaron to those consecrated for worship in the Temple.
  • While this one priesthood of Christ is shared by all the baptized, the ordained priest is configured to Him in a profoundly different way; this sacrament confers a gift of the Holy Spirit, indelibly marking the soul, so that the priest receives the sacred power to act in the person of Christ, the Head of His Body, the Church.
  • The ministerial priesthood exists to serve the faithful by teaching the faith, exercising pastoral governance, and celebrating the sacraments, above all the Eucharist; by promising celibacy (in the Latin Rite, not in the Eastern Churches) the priest expresses his single-hearted commitment to shepherd his flock.
  • Priests who are consecrated as bishops receive the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders; as successors of the apostles, bishops are responsible for their own flocks, while also caring for the universal Church; they form the apostolic college in our day, in communion with the head of the college, the Bishop of Rome.
  • Bishops have the authority to celebrate this sacrament, ordaining through the laying on of hands and continuing the apostolic line; the priest is ordained as the bishop’s co-worker in apostolic mission, and so exercises his ministry in communion with, and obedience to, the bishop.
  • The ordination of deacons configures them in a special way to Christ, not as Priest, but as Servant; aside from performing some liturgical roles to assist bishops and priests, deacons are dedicated to charitable works and other ministries of service.
  • Holy Orders have been integral to the Church’s life since its inception; St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the early 100s, urged reverence for bishops, priests, and deacons, “For without them, one cannot speak of the Church.”

Live Your Faith

“If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love….The Priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.” So wrote St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.

Only through the ministry of His priests does Jesus give Himself to us in the Eucharist. No priest, no Eucharist – a reality that our persecuted brothers and sisters, and those in remote mission territories, know too well.

Let us be ever mindful of praying for our bishops and priests, that the Lord may protect and sustain them, and ask Him to keep raising up good and holy priests for His Church.  

Confirmation

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1285-1321:

  • As its name implies, Confirmation strengthens and completes the grace first received in Baptism, and empowers us in a special way through the Holy Spirit.
  • The rite of anointing with perfumed oil, or chrism, signifies the anointing by the Holy Spirit; hence the Eastern Churches refer to this sacrament as “Chrismation” or “myron” (another term for chrism).
  • Anointing plays a significant role in the Old Testament, consecrating kings, priests, and occasionally prophets; Messiah literally means “anointed” in Hebrew, and the equivalent in Greek is “Christ.”
  • The prophets foretold that the Spirit, Who anointed the Messiah, would ultimately be poured out upon all the people of God.
  • Jesus fulfills this promise, first at Easter and in a striking way at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples and empowers them for mission.
  • The Holy Spirit comes upon us in a similar way in the sacrament of Confirmation, which therefore perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the life of the Church.
  • As recounted in the New Testament, the apostles bestowed the Spirit through the laying on of hands; for this reason, the original ministers of Confirmation are the bishops, the successors of the apostles.
  • The bishop (or his designated priest) anoints the confirmand and pronounces, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” a seal that marks us irrevocably for Christ; because this imprints an indelible character, like Baptism, we receive it only once.
  • Through Confirmation, we are united even more firmly to Christ and His Church, equipped to carry out our responsibilities as members of the faithful, and commissioned to go forth and witness to Christ.
  • Confirmation is so closely related to Baptism that it was historically administered at the same time; the Eastern Churches have preserved this ancient custom, and still confirm infants, underscoring that the sacrament is about God’s gift of grace.

Live Your Faith

Confirmation is not a religious graduation, or a coming-of-age ritual. While it is excellent to prepare for this sacrament, so that we may be better disposed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we must not lose sight of the fact that God is freely bestowing His grace – we are not earning it.

And He fills us with His grace not merely for our own benefit, but for the building up of His Body, the Church. Have we used the gifts that God gave us in our Confirmation, or have we let them lie dormant?

The Gift of Ecclesial Ministry

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 871-96, 976-87:

  • Christ Himself is the source of ministry in the Church: ever since He chose the 12 Apostles and endowed them with authority, this sacred college has continued through their successors, the bishops, led by the Bishop of Rome.
  • Bishops, and their co-workers the priests, receive sacred authority from Christ through ordination, in order to serve the faithful; they serve principally by teaching the faith, sanctifying through prayer and the sacraments, and governing.
  • The Bishop of Rome has primacy among all the bishops because he is the successor of St. Peter, the head of the apostolic college; he is called the “Pope,” from the word “Papa,” in affectionate recognition of his fatherly role.
  • Christ entrusted the fullness of authority to Peter by giving him the keys of the Kingdom; evoking Old Testament imagery from the Davidic Kingdom, Christ made clear that Peter would serve as the chief steward in the Messianic Kingdom.
  • The Pope is the Vicar of Christ: he has universal jurisdiction over the Church and serves as the visible foundation of our unity.
  • His fellow bishops likewise serve as the visible source of unity in their local Churches, which they guide with the authority they receive from Christ; bishops are not vicars of the Pope, but are brothers in collegial communion with him.
  • Christ empowered the Apostles to forgive sins; thus He gave the Church a great gift of mercy, the ministry of reconciliation through the Sacrament of Penance.
  • To protect the Church from heresy, Christ has bestowed the charism of infallibility upon His shepherds.
  • This does not mean that Popes are perfect, for they sin and make mistakes in prudential judgments; nor does it apply to their routine statements.
  • The gift of infallibility instead prevents an erroneous definition of doctrine; this charism is exercised when the Pope proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine of faith or morals, or when the Pope and bishops in an Ecumenical Council declare a doctrine as divinely revealed.

Live Your Faith

While the world sees authority through the lens of power and control, Christ has taught the Church to view authority through the lens of sacrificial service.

The Lord could have constituted His Church in any number of ways, but He chose to give us shepherds. It is His will that our Pope, bishops, and priests serve us for our own spiritual good.

The Lord Himself will hold each and every one of our shepherds accountable for how well, or poorly, they upheld this sacred trust.