Bottom line: Pope Francis is following Jesus' commission to Peter and in the process encouraging us to also take seriously those same words: Tend my sheep.
I'd like to lead into this homily with a joke. Maybe you have heard it: What do you get if you cross a Jehovah Witness with a Catholic? Answer: You get a guy who knocks on your door and then doesn't say anything! (smile)
Well, if Pope Francis has his way that Catholic stereotype will change. Our new Holy Father has won the hearts of people by getting out with the people. Someone has called this "shoe leather evangelization." Pope Francis has been to prisons, hospitals, parishes and out on the streets of Rome.
Pope Francis is living out what Jesus says to Peter, "Tend my sheep." Jesus uses those words to commission Peter in his leadership role: Tend my sheep. Strengthen your brothers. I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
For sure, Pope Francis cannot accomplish this role on his own. He wants us to join him in reaching out to others. Pope Francis has never been a "lone ranger." When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he said: "Today the place for Christ is the street; the place for the Christian is the street...He wants us walking the streets of Buenos Aires and carrying his message."*
I mentioned this at our pastors prayer meeting here in Monroe. One of the pastors asked me, "Father Phil, does this mean you will be out walking the streets of Monroe?" I don't know if I will be changing my routine, but when I do my shopping or walk my dog, instead of just thinking about my own problems, I am going to try to remember that the other guy also has problems - and he needs Christ as well I do.
This awareness seems to be bearing fruit. When I went to the prison, instead of only focusing on the inmates, I thought about the guards and said a prayer for their needs. I wound up getting into a conversation with one of them about what was keeping him from the church and about his desire to get back with the Lord.
Someone has called this "shoe leather evangelization." It's what the pope is doing and showing us how to do. It brings a surprising side benefit. When a person thinks and prays about the needs of strangers, it opens the heart to those right in front of him. I mentioned the Jehovah Witnesses. You know, they do not get too many converts by ringing on doorbells. Most come from their own circle of family, friends and co-workers. That of course is the hardest - to talk to friends and family about God.
We need to start with our own relationship to Christ. Before Jesus tells Peter to tend his sheep, he asks, "Do you love me?" Prayer has to come first. When St. Monica asked the Bishop Ambrose what to do about her pagan son, he told her, "Before you talk to Augustine about God, make sure you talk to God about Augustine." Great advice. Prayer - especially before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Hear him ask, "Do you love me?"
Something interesting happens when we pray. Sometimes Jesus opens a door for us to talk with a person we are concerned about. Or he may send someone else. It could even be a trade-off. Someone else may reach out to your child, but you are the one to reach another person's child. An invitation to attend Mass can be powerful. One study showed that 85 percent of those who don't go to church, would go if someone invited and accompanied them.
That's what Andrew did for Peter. The two were brothers, but Andrew met Jesus first. He then went to Peter and invited him to come and meet Jesus. Bringing Peter to the Lord was probably his greatest achievement. You and I can do something similar.
Invite and then put it in God's hands. Evangelization is ultimately God's work. Jesus says, "Tend my sheep." The sheep don't belong to Peter, they don't belong to Pope Francis. They belong to Jesus. And your children, you have them on loan, but they belong to Jesus. It's true that you and I belong to each other, but only because we first belong to God.
I would like to conclude with something that often goes unsaid: We can bring people to the Lord simply by doing the right thing. An amusing anecdote from the life of Pope Francis illustrates this. When he was an adolescent, he fell hopelessly in love with a girl in his class. He sent her a note saying he wanted to marry her. Later that week, she told young Jorge that she had talked to her parents and they said, "No way!" Jorge responded that if she wouldn't marry him, he was going to become a priest.
Well, that girl did the right thing. She talked to her parents and listened to them. I'm sure that's not the whole explanation of the pope's vocation, but it may have had a part. And you have to admit, the Church got a pretty good blessing - first, Padre Jorge, then Archbishop Bergoglio and now Pope Francis.
Today you and I have seen the example of Pope Francis. He is following Jesus' commission to Peter and in the process encouraging us to also take seriously those same words: Tend my sheep. Amen.
*This quote and the concluding anecdote are from Matthew Bunson's Biography of Pope Francis.
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