Do you love me?

Photography © by Andy Coan

Photography © by Andy Coan

On many occasions I’ve heard non-Catholics object to the papacy.  Often, they say something like this: “I just can’t believe that one man on earth, the Pope, is holier than everyone else.”  So who ever said that being sinless is either a prerequisite or a consequence of being named Pope?

For the Pope, the bishop of Rome, is the successor of Peter, who spent the last years of his life leading the Christians of the eternal city.  And here is an interesting fact.  None of the four canonical gospels (not to mention Acts and Galatians) try to hide the fact that Peter sinned often and sinned big.  By the way, if the “patriarchal, controlling” leaders of the early Catholic Church altered the story about Jesus as the DaVinci Code suggests, don’t you think they would have “fixed” these embarrassing stories?

Yet while all agree Peter was weak and imperfect, they all also agree that he was given a unique responsibility.   Only Peter got a name-change from Jesus himself (from Simon to “Peter” meaning rock).  Only Peter was told by Christ on Holy Thursday night “I have prayed for you that your faith never fail and when you’ve repented, go and strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22: 31-32).  And when Jesus, after the resurrection, cooked a fish breakfast for the apostles (Jn 21), it was only to Peter that Jesus put the question “do you love me?”

But why did Jesus ask him the same question three times?  Perhaps Peter needed to atone for his three-fold denial of Christ by a three-fold profession of love.  Perhaps, given Peter’s track record of getting it wrong, the Lord really wanted to be sure he got it right this time.  Here’s the point– “Peter, your way of expressing penance for your sin and love for me will be to feed my sheep.  Remember, they are not your sheep, but mine.  Take care of them for me.  Do for them what I did for them.  Don’t just feed them.  Protect them.  Lay down your life for them if necessary.”

Peter’s role as a Shepherd is, in a way, unique because it is universal.  Despite his human frailty, he is given care of all the Churches.  And, if we take Lk 22:31-32 seriously, he is called to be the shepherd of all the shepherds.  That’s a big responsibility.  In fact, it is a crushing burden which he could never fulfill on his own power.  That’s why we pray for the Pope (meaning “Papa” or father) in every Catholic Eucharist across the globe – He needs the grace of the Holy Spirit to fulfill his role.  The bit about Peter stretching out his hands with others leading him where he does not want to go – it does not just refer to his crucifixion under Nero, but to the daily laying his life down for his flock, the “white martyrdom” that we can saw so clearly in the weary but relentless witness of John Paul II.

In another way, though, Peter’s role as a Shepherd is not unique.  It is exemplary for all of us sheep who are called to become ourselves shepherds and leaders, despite our own frailty and sinfulness.  Some are called to be bishops, successors of the apostles, entrusted with pastoral care of a portion of Christ’s flock.  Some are called to be priests and deacons, who assist a bishop in his apostolic mission.  Some are called to be catechists, youth ministers and teachers, who also play a role in the feeding of the sheep.

And most of us are called to be parents, shepherds of what the Second Vatican Council calls “the domestic church.”  Parents, say St. Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II, have a pastoral role much like that of a parish priest.  In fact John Paul II, in his letter Familiaris Consortio, says that the Catholic parent exercises “a true ministry of the Church.”

On whatever level, the call to feed and care for the sheep is a call to sacrifice, not privilege.  It has its moments of exaltation and profound satisfaction, but it has its moments of agony as well.  But if we’ve learned anything from the passion, it’s that suffering is the true and necessary test of love, as well as love’s most authentic and powerful expression.   So let us not be afraid to be shepherds.  The Good Shepherd will empower us with His Spirit.  And let’s pray with gratitude and compassion for those who shepherd us.

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Third Sunday of Easter (Year C) – Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19 or 21:1-14. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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