Homily delivered by Cardinal George Pell,

Sunday 17 April 2005

Santa Maria Domenica Mazzarello, Rome

Todayís feast of the Good Shepherd is celebrated at an unusual time for the Catholic Church, the "sede vacante" period when there is no pope.

There have been periods when there were more than one cardinal claiming to be pope, but we could say there have only been about 264 such interim occasions in nearly 2000 years.

What is important is that Godís will be done, but we are entitled to pray that it will not take the College of Cardinals too long to identify Godís will; that we will not have a repetition of the situation in Viterbo in 1271 when the conclave lasted more than two years, provoking the local people to reduce the cardinalís rations, and when this did not produce the desired results, the locals took off the roof of the building which can still be seen today.

The readings for this Sunday, known as Good Shepherd Sunday, remind us of what is central ie the person and teachings of Jesus. All Bible Christians, not just the Catholics would agree that this is the central task for any Christian leader, who seeks to be a good shepherd.

Certainly that is one of the most important duties of a pope, as the successor of Peter, the rock-man on whom the Church is built, the one to whom was given the task of feeding the sheep. He has to preserve and defend the apostolic tradition, which tells us about Christ.

On the very day of Pentecost, Peter, supported by the other eleven apostles, announced to the people of Jerusalem that the man Jesus who had been crucified recently was in fact our Lord and the Christ, the anointed one who is the Messiah.

Many were so moved that they asked what they should do. Peter told them to repent so that their sins could be forgiven and to receive baptism. Through this they would receive the Holy Spirit, Godís presence among us. We are told that 3000 were baptised on that very day.

The person of Christ is as central and important for us today as it was in the time of St Peter. In Peterís first letter which we heard today, Peter explains the mystery and scandal of our redemption, that the suffering of Christ is an example for us too to follow in his footsteps. We too should not return evil for evil, but believe that our sins are forgiven through Christís wounds. Before conversion we were like lost sheep; when we follow the teachings of Jesus, we accept him as shepherd and guardian of our souls.

We who worship regularly in our parish churches understand this and accept it. To those outside, to those who are uncertain, this claim that Christ is central, is the only Son of God, and not merely another great teacher or prophet or poet Ė this claim is still provocative and indeed scandalous.

Some believe that the times have changed so much, that has been so much development of human knowledge and understanding that Christís message needs to be updated and improved.

One important function of the successor of St Peter is to assimilate what is good, indeed among the many wonderful insights of todayís world of learning, into the Churchís central claims. There are new situations not described in the New Testament. That is one reason why we have a teaching Church with the authority of the magisterium. Forms of organisation have changed over the centuries, religious orders have come and gone, new movements, like the charismatics have arisen.

But at the centre of all this change and inculturation is the Christ of the gospels; the Christ described in the great Councils of the Church, the Christ who will continue to be defended and explained by the successor of St Peter.

There is no Christ without the cross. Catholics and indeed all Christians are called to be salt of the earth, not the sugar of the world. Too much sugar gives us diabetes. Cut price Christianity does not provoke conversion, but only a mild interest, a passing sympathy.

We thank God that Pope John Paul II was such a good shepherd as Bishop of Rome, a vital duty for the Pope, but the Pope is also important for Catholics all over the world, for Catholics in far distant places like Australia, on the edge of Asia and on the edge of the Catholic world.

I ask you to pray, as Catholics are praying all over the world today, that the College of Cardinals will choose another Good Shepherd. I am sure that many other Christians will also be praying for us, so that Christian cooperation will continue and be strengthened. And we all seek the prayers of all people of good will, from the other great religious traditions, from all people of good will. In todayís gospel Jesus explained that he has come, not to rob or kill or destroy, but that all may have life, life in abundance.

And finally I ask the parishioners of this parish of Santa Maria Domenica Mazzarello to pray for their own priests here, Don Giuseppe and his assistants, their own good shepherds, and pray that many young men will follow their example in the priesthood.

+ George Cardinal Pell