Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 21:1-19

In a scene that calls to mind Peter’s previously denying Jesus three times, the Risen Christ asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Peter responds with three declarations of love, and each time, Christ charges him to care for His flock.

St John Paul II reflected on the meaning of this exchange in Ut Unum Sint, his encyclical letter On Commitment to Ecumenism:

It is just as though, against the backdrop of Peter’s human weakness, it were made fully evident that his particular ministry in the Church derives altogether from grace. It is as though the Master especially concerned Himself with Peter’s conversion as a way of preparing him for the task He was about to give him in His Church (91).

As the heir to the mission of Peter in the Church, which has been made fruitful by the blood of the Princes of the Apostles, the Bishop of Rome exercises a ministry originating in the manifold mercy of God. This mercy converts hearts and pours forth the power of grace where the disciple experiences the bitter taste of his personal weakness and helplessness (92).

Associating himself with Peter’s threefold profession of love, which corresponds to the earlier threefold denial, his Successor knows that he must be a sign of mercy. His is a ministry of mercy, born of an act of Christ’s own mercy (93).

Saint Augustine, after showing that Christ is ‘the one Shepherd, in Whose unity all are one,’ goes on to exhort: ‘May all shepherds thus be one in the one Shepherd; may they let the one voice of the Shepherd be heard; may the sheep hear this voice and follow their Shepherd, not this shepherd or that, but the only One; in Him may they all let one voice be heard and not a babble of voices…the voice free of all division, purified of all heresy, that the sheep hear.’

The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the College of all the Pastors consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein), like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches…

This primacy is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church’s mission, discipline and the Christian life…He has the duty to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith (94).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord given me an opportunity to make amends?


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: Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul

Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles: Gospel – John 21:15-19 (Vigil); Matthew 16:13-19

The Gospel for the Vigil Mass and Sunday’s Gospel feature pivotal dialogues between Jesus and Simon Peter, each culminating in the Lord’s entrusting him with his unique mission in the Church.

In the text from Matthew, Jesus asks his disciples the pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Upon this profession of faith, Jesus entrusts to Peter a “unique mission,” as the Catechism notes, “to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it…The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church” (paragraphs 552-553).

In this context, it is significant that Jesus bestows upon Simon a new name — Cephas, “Rock,” which was rendered in Greek as Petros, in Latin as Petrus, as Pope Benedict XVI observes:

And it was translated precisely because it was not only a name; it was a “mandate” that Petrus received in that way from the Lord.

This fact acquires special importance if one bears in mind that in the Old Testament, a change of name usually preceded the entrustment of a mission…

Jesus responded by pronouncing the solemn declaration that defines Peter’s role in the Church once and for all…what the subsequent reflection will describe by the term: “primacy of jurisdiction.”

But “the ultimate meaning of this primacy” is in service to the love of Christ:

Thus, Peter is responsible for guaranteeing communion with Christ, with the love of Christ, guiding people to fulfill this love in everyday life.

Audience of June 7, 2006

In John 21:15-19, the Risen Christ asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Lost in the English translation is the fact that the Greek text involves different nuances in the words for “love.”

Benedict explains this “very significant play on words,” with deep implications for our own path of discipleship:

In Greek, the word “fileo” means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word “agapao” means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time:  “Simon… do you love me (agapas-me)” with this total and unconditional love (Jn 21:15)?

Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said: “I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally.” Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: “Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se)“, that is, “I love you with my poor human love.” Christ insists: “Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?” And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love:  “Kyrie, filo-se,” “Lord, I love you as I am able to love you.”

The third time Jesus only says to Simon: “Fileis-me?”, “Do you love me?”

In this way, Jesus asks us for the love that we can give. Even if we are incapable of giving Him the perfect love that He deserves, the Lord graciously accommodates Himself to our own frailties and limitations:

Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se).

This is to say that Jesus has put Himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level!

…Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus Who adapted Himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts Himself to this weakness of ours.

We follow Him with our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and He accepts us.

Audience of May 24, 2006

Question for reflection: How would I respond to the Lord when He asks, “Do you love me?”

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.  

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.

Four Marks of the Church

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 811-70:

  • The Nicene Creed describes the Church as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” – given by Christ, these essential characteristics are the “four marks” of the Church.
  • The Church is one because of her divine Founder; our visible bonds of unity are our profession of one faith, common celebration of the sacraments, and apostolic succession of bishops in communion with St. Peter’s successor, the Pope.
  • The Church instituted by Christ endures to this day in the Catholic Church; but sadly, our gift of unity has been wounded through sin, causing the splintering of believers into other ecclesial communities.
  • These other Christian communities have elements of sanctification, and varying degrees of imperfect unity with the Catholic Church; the Orthodox Churches are nearest of all to us, with their apostolic succession and ancient liturgical heritage.
  • We must never resign ourselves to the historical tragedies of division; urged by the love of Christ, and in fidelity to His will, we must pray and strive for the restoration of full unity among all Christians.
  • The Church is holy because of her union with Christ, who sanctifies her and empowers her to sanctify in turn; the Blessed Virgin Mary is the perfect exemplar of the holiness of the Church, while the saints reflect diverse patterns of sanctity.
  • Although the Church in heaven has reached the state of perfect holiness, the Church on earth is still made of sinners struggling on the journey; until the end of the world, the Church is simultaneously holy and yet ever in need of purification.
  • “Catholic” comes from the Greek for “according to the totality,” or “in keeping with the whole,” and the Church is catholic in two senses: she has the fullness of the means of salvation, and she is universal, with a mission to the entire human race.
  • The Church is apostolic because she is built on the foundation of the witness of the Apostles (from the Greek for “emissaries”), she safeguards and transmits apostolic teaching, and she is guided by the Apostles’ successors, the bishops.
  • The Church should not be seen as a federation of discrete local Churches with merely organizational ties to Rome; even as particular Churches contribute their own culture to the rich Catholic tapestry, they are truly one in the Mystical Body.

Live Your Faith

We can sometimes take for granted the incomparable gift we have been given as Catholics – the fullness of the means of salvation that Christ wills for us! It is not triumphalism to want to share this gift with others.

On the contrary, we would be lacking in love if we failed to appreciate our Catholic faith. Let us be ready to reach out to non-practicing Catholics, and people of other faith communities, and invite them to come and see.