"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
May 15: Fourth Sunday of Easter
• Acts 2:14; 36-41
Peter obviously recognized many people in the crowd who had denounced Jesus on Good Friday. Instead of reacting angrily, however, Peter spoke to them with understanding and compassion. After all, he had denied the Lord. Peter invites them to repent so that they, too, could be reconciled to God.
As Christ’s chief shepherd on earth, Peter then leads them to the “restful waters” of baptism. In keeping with the Good Shepherd theme, the second reading exhorts us to return “to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” The Greek word that’s translated as “guardian”—episkopos—could also be translated “bishop.”
Through the Church’s bishops the risen Christ shepherds his flock, leading them to “verdant pastures and restful waters” while guarding them in the “dark valleys” of life.
Two things stand out in this week’s Gospel reading. First, the faithful hear and recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice and so follow him. Second, the Good Shepherd leads the faithful to “good pasture” where “they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
These two aspects of the Lord’s ministry help us recognize his activity in the Mass. We hear the Good Shepherd’s voice in sacred Scripture, which leads us to the “good pasture” of the Eucharist.
Key verse: “You have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (1 Pt 2:25).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Good Shepherd ought to be the model and ‘form’ of the bishop’s pastoral office. Conscious of his own weaknesses, ‘the bishop … can have compassion for those who are ignorant and erring. He should not refuse to listen to his subjects whose welfare he promotes as of his very own children. The faithful should be closely attached to the bishop as the Church is to Jesus Christ and as Jesus Christ is to the Father’” (No. 896).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Christ is the true Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep, for us, sacrificing himself on the cross. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him, just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father. This is not a matter of mere intellectual knowledge but of a profound, personal relationship: a knowledge of the heart, of one who loves and one who is loved; of one who is faithful and one who knows how to be trustworthy” (Homily, April 29, 2007).
Life application: As Catholics we believe that our bishops are divinely instituted to carry out the ministry of the Good Shepherd. This week say a special prayer for all priests and bishops that they may, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “deepen their love for Christ the good shepherd, pattern their hearts on his, be ready to go out as his image into the highways of the world to proclaim to all mankind Christ the way, the truth and the life” (“Pastores Dabo Vobis,” 82).
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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