“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.
Jesus said to Peter, Feed my sheep.” -John 21:17
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St Paul VI, Pope. Since I was a child I have been fascinated by the Papacy. A many years ago I had read three or four books on Pope John XXIII. Then a few years ago I was curious about the background of the Second Vatican Council and read about Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII. From my readings, I have come to realize the importance of the papacy in world history. Up until now, I had not considered reading about Saint Paul VI. From the short research, I have done for this reflection it has inspired me to read at least one book this summer about Paul VI.
The Gospel reading for today as well as for the Memorial both have Jesus giving Peter the message about the leadership of the Church. The Memorial Gospel is from Matthew where Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus then gives Peter the “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” showing that Peter has authority on earth and that as his vicar, extends to Heaven. In the daily Gospel Jesus asks Peter three times to feed the flock. Commentaries that I have read say that this is to redeem Peter from the three times he denied Jesus. Yes, and along with that an instruction as to how to lead the Church.
The Popes throughout history have helped to give spiritual guidance to the People of God as the events of the time dictate. Pope Paul VI was no different. June 21, 1963, he found himself leading the Church at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. He would spend the next 15 years focusing on World peace, social justice, World hunger, illiteracy, brotherhood under God and international cooperation. Themes that even speak to us today. We see John Paull II as a great world traveler but Paul VI was the first to visit India and the United States. He was the first to make an extended 10-day journey that included several countries in Africa. He wrote several important Papal Encyclicals such as Ecclesiam Suam (His Church) on concern for workers and the poor; Humanae Vita which addressed birth control; and Popularum Progressio (Progress of the People’s) on social justice; and many others. He looked to what was happening in the world and spoke to that just as any other pope has done. It is not until Pope Francis that I have become most interested in reading papal encyclicals. Pope Francis’ writings are very easy to read and use as a reflection. Their words are written for us to reflect upon and learn more deeply about our faith, our Church. How is Pope Francis feeding the flock these days? What words does he have for us that might comfort and console as we move through this pandemic? On the Vatican website, you can find his daily and Sunday homilies. They are there to feed us. Pull a seat up to the table and enjoy the feast.
May you and your families stay safe and healthy during this time.
Linda Schork is a theology teacher at Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky.