When he foretold that Peter would deny him, Jesus said to him, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” Tradition points to the Church of Peter’s Primacy on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where the risen Jesus said to Peter “feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.” When considering the role of the Successor of Peter, many point to the words of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,” which is accurate, but not complete. The role of the Successor of Peter does not exclusively consist of being the rock on which the Church is built, but also involves the essential tasks of feeing God’s sheep and strengthening others in the faith.
I recently attended a special Mass in Atlanta where the Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christof Pierre, presented the Pallium to Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv. This simple vestment worn around the shoulders of the Archbishop represents the unity of the Archbishop with the Successor of Peter and his role in strengthening his brother bishops. Made from the wool of a baby lamb blessed by the Pope, the Pallium also represents God’s people, the sheep, and the care the Archbishop must take of those entrusted to him. In the words of Pope Francis, it is a reminder that the Archbishop must “smell like the sheep.”
During the Pallium Mass in Atlanta, Archbishop Pierre reminded the Archbishop of his responsibility to “help his brother bishops in the province to be united because this is what the Church is all about. Especially in a society which is divided, the Church should be the sign of unity… but a unity which comes not just as a fruit or result of our own efforts, but because we believe in God. Because we try to be in our lives, in our society, in our families, an even in the political world, signs of unity. So we are challenging this world, but we do not challenge this world only because we want to do so, but because we have been sent for that. This is our vocation and our mission. So the Church is the sacrament of God’s presence in human reality.”
The Catholic Church has stood throughout the ages as a contradiction in a splintered world. Faith in Jesus Christ has gathered millions across different cultures, languages, times, political viewpoints, and ethnicities. The unity of the Church is a supernatural sign of the oneness of God granted as a gift and a sign to the world. We look to our bishops to pastor us into one flock, and to strengthen us in the faith. As we journey through a time of much division in society and the Church, we pray for the gift of unity, and for hearts that are open to be part of the one flock that is pastored by the one shepherd, Jesus Christ. The celebration of the Pallium Mass in Atlanta was a pertinent and beautiful reminder of the unity that exists among the baptized, and the role of our shepherds in fostering that unity.
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