Shepherding the Church

In 1996, John Paul II issued the apostolic letter Universi dominici gregis, which laid down detailed procedures to govern the election of a new pope. Among the responsibilities of the cardinals, prior to the recent conclave, was to appoint two preachers “known for their sound doctrine, wisdom, and moral authority” who were to offer “meditations on the problems facing the church at the present time and on the need for careful discernment in choosing the new pope.” This requirement of prayerful discernment of spirits carries beyond the conclave and the election of the next pope and constitutes a continuing responsibility of the church gathered in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Had I been asked to offer recommendations on texts to guide the preachers’ presentations (and now, more importantly, the Catholic community’s ongoing reflections), I would have suggested two: the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, and the wonderful pastoral vision sketched by John Paul II in his Novo millennio ineunte.

John 21 is striking on many counts. It serves as the epilogue to one of the theologically most profound writings of the New Testament. It is a foundational text for the exercise of the Petrine ministry, based on the risen Christ’s injunction to Simon Peter: “Feed my lambs ... feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15, 17). It links this pastoral imperative to the unconditional...

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.