What would go through your mind if you had the chance to kneel before Pope Benedict XVI? While I have had the honor of covering Pope John Paul II around the world for television, I had never had the good fortune to kneel down and kiss his ring. It was in 2003 that I had such a privilege, as my wife and three daughters traveled to Rome and found ourselves kneeling before the Vicar of Christ.
This fulfilled a dream of mine ever since my return to the Catholic Church -- to bring my family into the presence of Pope John Paul II. We now have a series of photos on our wall to remind our family of our visit and blessing from the Holy Father.
My family represents in a small form a flock of sheep in need of a shepherd. We need to find a place to be fed. The psalmist David's familiar Psalm 23 depicts the caring love of the shepherd as he leads the flock to still waters and green pastures. David as a shepherd experienced the routine of leading his flock along the many paths that led through the Judean hills. From a distance it's easy to see the endless zigzagging paths covering the hillsides, but leading a flock along the correct path is the job of an experienced shepherd.
As sheep all of us will seek for food. We will look perhaps at First Baptist, or Victory Outreach, or a home church, or the New Age movement or perhaps Oprah. However, we must answer the question, "Who has the responsibility to feed us and with what will we be fed?" Is it the man down the street leading a home group? Does he have the responsibility or the woman who went through two years at a Bible institute? Whoever it is, what will we be fed?
My heart goes out to Christians today. Set before us is an entire smorgasbord of options like the many paths lining the hills in Judea. Which one leads to true food and who knows which path is correct?
In the Sunday gospel Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. He has made provision for his flock even after his physical body has ascended to heaven. Knowing that his flock would need continuing care, Jesus left us the gift of St. Peter to oversee it.
The Good Shepherd sent the Holy Spirit to the Church to be her helper. Jesus told us he would not leave us orphans. What is an orphan? Someone who has to fend for themselves because no one has taken responsibility to care for them. Jesus said, "I will come to you." We must believe his words are true.
How many people I have run into who are searching endlessly -- this church, that church, this seminar, that Bible study. Jesus said, "I will come to you." Did Jesus just teach and say, "Figure it out I'll be praying for you?" No, he established his church as a place for his flock to go for food and guidance. Jesus said, "Upon this Rock I will build my church." Then he gave "the keys" of the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, giving him the power to establish doctrine, discipline and guidance. The Vicar of Christ has a special anointing upon him to lead the church. As I knelt in the presence of Pope John Paul II in his own library with my little flock for a blessing, I couldn't help but think I'm home, I don't need to go searching, the Shepherd has provided me with a shepherd.
For many years I wondered what does it matter if I follow the Pope? It all came down to do I trust that Jesus established his Church on earth before he left, and did he provide us with food to eat while he was gone? I came to see that the loving Good Shepherd had indeed done so. The Church provides us with the Body of Christ to eat and a shepherd to lead the flock of Christ.
If we as sheep leave the authority and covering of Peter, we open ourselves up to many paths, many choices. Jesus gave up his life not only for our redemption but for the unity of his flock. He wants us all to follow the path that leads to him.
1. Have you questioned the importance of the papacy in your life? Look upon it with the attitude that the Pope is a gift to you for your ultimate welfare. Make a point of reading one of his encyclicals.
2. Take some time this week to sit down and literally count your blessings. Write them down on a piece of paper and then prayerfully thank God for taking care of you.