Last week, on the Feast of Saint Athanasius, I spoke of the great Shrine at the Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter’s Basilica. It was built by Bernini at the behest of Pope Alexander VII to act as a sort of reliquary for the ancient Cathedra on which it was believed Saint Peter and each Pope for the first nine centuries sat.
Bernini placed the chair at the center of floating angels and clouds, as if it were descending from heaven. And on the back of the chair is a relief depicting Christ’s three words to Peter from today’s Gospel: Pasce oves meas….Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)
And that is just what you are about to do. In your pastoral assignments this summer you will feed them. In response to Peter’s threefold confession of love for Jesus, the Lord gives you three different commands: feed my lambs, pasture my sheep, feed my sheep. All in the present tense!
So, is your love for the Lord so evident that with Saint Peter you could say, “Lord, you know that I love you!”?
Then feed his lambs this summer. Feed the littlest and most vulnerable, the marginalized and the forgotten. Feed them with his word, for, as the Good Shepherd tells us, “I know my sheep and they know me.” So when you speak in his voice, they will recognize him and run to you.
Feed them as Saint Peter reflects in his first epistle, feed them with “the pure spiritual milk” of his Word so that by it, they can mature in their salvation. (1 Peter 2:2) For, as Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 8:3) reminds us and as Jesus abjures the devil, (Matthew 4:4) we live not by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.
So seek out the little poor ones and remind them that Jesus says they are blessed and that, in the end, they will inherit the earth. Tell them the stories of when he knelt down and washed dirty feet, and then do the same for them. Explain how he used to seek after the last place and how he told us to give away our shirt as well as our coat and then do likewise for them. Feed the lambs with his consoling word.
There's a fourteen year old kid you'll meet this summer behind whose eyes is an aching void, hungering for meaning and purpose and truth amidst the chaos and contradiction which is his so-called life. For he's never really heard Jesus' voice until you will speak it, never knew Christ’s gentleness, humility and trust until you will live it for him. Jesus has set that kid up so that you can meet him and through you he meets the Lord who will change his life. Feed my lambs.
And pasture his sheep. The big ones, the fat ones, the ones all grown up and full of themselves. Shepherd them all, the forgetful and the slothful, the lost and the stubborn. Shepherd them, like the dear old woman I buried a number of years ago, who shepherded her kids in life and in death and even after her death.
You see, her son Michael no longer went to Church or prayed. He was lost. Oh his kids were baptized and they were married in the Church, but it had been a long time since he took any of this Churchy stuff seriously.
And then his mother died…and knowing his story, I was really surprised when he went to Communion, and went back and buried his head in his hands.
I went to Michael afterward and asked what happened. He told me that before they went to the wake they were going through his mom’s stuff. And he happened to pick up her old prayer book---the one he saw her take to Church every day since he was a little kid. And near the front of the book he found an old worn out holy card of a guardian angel helping a little kid over a dangerous bridge. And on the back of the card, in his mother’s unique scrawl, he read “MICHAEL, MY DARLING BABY BOY…June 27, 1948” Each day, for all those years, she had prayed for him…after every Communion, at every morning offering, and in every prayer at night…she had never forgotten to pray.”
“You know,” Monsignor, “he wept before his mother’s grave, “I’m not going to forget any more…I’m going to go back to Church and pray for mom and for my wife and for my kids and for all the poor and the suffering people in the world. I’ll never forget again what it’s all about!”
And since that day, I have prayed that God make me half the shepherd which that old lady with the worn-out holy card in her prayer book was.
So, after Eschatological Bocci, get outa here! They’re waiting for you. Go feed them. Feed the cuddly little innocent lambs and big fat smelly sheep…feed them with the Gospel of Truth, the Bread of Life and the sacraments which flow from this altar.
Go feed his lambs and shepherd his sheep!