Homily for April 17th, 2005.
Caution: Putting a Sunday homily on the Website is tricky business. All the viewer has is a written text. A homily, on the other hand, is "an oral event". It may not have been said or heard the way it was written. In addition, a roughly ten-minute homily is part of a roughly one-hour worship event in which God and God's people communicate with each other by means of ritual, symbol, song, proclamation, prayer. Not everything in these homilies is original. As a homilist, I rely on and at times borrow from other homilists and writers who are not properly mentioned in this format. I am often indebted to them.
Father William Marrevee, s.c.j.
4 th Sunday Easter A
Tomorrow the Cardinals will begin their task of electing our next Pope who is to succeed Pope John Paul II. In some circles they make much of the fact that any Roman Catholic male person can be elected Pope. Theoretically, that is true, but that is really a red herring. A R.C. lay person thus elected would immediately have to be ordained bishop.
What the Cardinals have to elect is the Bishop of Rome. Why the Bishop of Rome ? The Bishop of Rome has a unique place and responsibility in the world-wide Roman Catholic Church. This world-wide Roman Catholic Church is made up of all the local churches or dioceses in the world that each have their own local bishop. All these local churches profess the same catholic and apostolic faith. That is true of our own Church of Gatineau-Hull, but it is also true of the Church of Ottawa , of Chicago , of Lima ( Peru ), of Tokyo , of Johannesburg , of Sydney ( Australia ). All these Churches form a world-wide communion which is held together by the same catholic and apostolic faith they all profess. To maintain and grow in the unity of faith they all profess they have to be in communion with one another, and especially with the Church of Rome over which the Bishop of Rome as successor of Peter presides.
Why give such prominence to the Church of Rome and its particular bishop? That has to do with the fact that the two great apostles Peter and Paul have been martyred there. They have been martyred there as the two most authentic and authoritative witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the Christian faith. That makes us say that the Church of Rome is founded on the faith and blood of Peter and Paul. That makes the Church of Rome and especially its bishop as successor of Peter, the heir and guardian of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of the faith that all Christian Churches profess.
That gives the Bishop or Rome a special responsibility. Yes, he must provide the pastoral ministry to his own local Church, his own diocese of Rome . In addition, it is his mission to serve and minister to the communion formed by all the local churches. What sort of service? It is best described in the words that Jesus spoke to Peter at the Last Supper, words that the Risen Christ speaks to every subsequent successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome: “I have prayed for you, Peter, and when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)
It is the special mission of the Bishop of Rome as Pope of the universal Church to watch over and to safeguard the communion of all the local churches in the faith of the Apostles, in the charity between them all, in the mission that Jesus Christ has entrusted to his Church. So he will especially care for the unity and coherence between his fellow bishops. It is their task to watch over and safeguard the faith, the charity, the hope, the mission of their local churches whose shepherds they are. The ministry of the Bishop of Rome is one of being the servant of the servants of God, as a traditional title has it.
Considering what is at stake in the process that the Cardinals begin in Rome tomorrow as believers we cannot simply be spectators to it. We want to let our faith speak; and in that faith we pray that God may give the Cardinals his Holy Spirit in abundance, that they in turn will be open to the workings of the Spirit so that their choice will indeed be God’s choice for our Church. In addition we pray that the new Pope may fulfill his unique mission in accordance with God’s plan and expectations for his Church. We pray that the new Pope may confirm and encourage his fellow bishops and all of us as disciples of Christ in our faith, hope, charity, service of God and of our world. And we pray that through all this the entire human family may continue to be nourished and blessed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is our faith conviction that Jesus Christ is God’s gift for the true life of our world.
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