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On the day after the inaugural mass
celebrating his installation,
Pope Francis gathered
with Christian and other faith leaders
in Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace.
The room reflected a certain breadth
of the human family,
its peoples and its faiths.
In a sense,
the whole world
had come to greet
the new Bishop of Rome.

The assembled leaders were seated collegially
in facing rows
along the edges of the room.
One among them,
seated at an honored interval,
and in a chair matching Pope Francis’,
stood to offer an historic greeting.

In fluent and articulate Italian,
his all-holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
addressed
his holiness Pope Francis of Rome:
“In the name of the Lord of powers,
we wholeheartedly congratulate you
on the inspired election
and deserved assumption
of your new high duties
as First Bishop
of the venerable Church of Senior Rome,
defined by the primacy of love.”

We could unpack that address for hours.
But it is the Ecumenical Patriarch himself
who points to what is most important
by returning throughout his address
to this theme of love.

He urged the new Pope
to exhibit a special concern
to “restore humanity to its ‘original beauty’ of love.”
“We fervently pray with all Christians
as well as with people throughout the world,” he said,
“that Your Holiness will prove effective
in this deeply responsible and highly onerous task.”

A task, a charge from Christ Jesus himself:
“Peter, do you love me?
Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
Feed the sheep.
On this day of Saints Peter and Paul,
with its hope for unity and witness and service
we hear Jesus’ charge once again,
and take it to our own hearts.

For if there is anything with the ability
to hold those two leaders together,
it is the ‘original beauty’ of love.
Feed my lambs.

If there is anything with the ability
to hold the church together
it is the ‘original beauty’ of love.
Tend my sheep.

If there is anything with the ability
to hold humanity together
it is the ‘original beauty’ of love.
Feed my sheep.

Sisters and brothers,
to say we live in a time of unthinkable hunger
would be an understatement.
Not only are many hungry,
but humanity itself,
and its original beauty of love,
is being starved.
Our global economy has an appetite
as untamed and as ferocious as a lion.
Ready to consume everyone
and everything in its path.
Those at the bottom of the food chain
are pitted against those in the middle.
We tear at each other.
Hunting for nothing other
than the almighty dollar,
and what those dollars can buy.
All the which is the ultimate distraction
hoped for by any predator
as we are all reduced to spoil.

The world is hungry.
At this rate,
humanity
may be the only thing to satisfy it.

Christ Jesus suggests a different way:
Feed the sheep.

Feed them with foods that are whole.
Feed them with hope.
Feed them with courage.
Feed them with a word of comfort and forgiveness.
Feed them with daily bread,
so that none go hungry.
Feed them with the bread of the eucharist.
The body of Christ.

Though Christ Jesus charges Saint Peter
with the task of feeding the sheep,
it is Saint Paul who takes up the task
most fervently in practice
and in theological reflection.

He who was not
around that breakfast fire on the beach.
helps the church at Corinth understand
the need to wait
for the least among them
to partake in a true sharing
of the body of Christ.

He who did not
sit at the table of the last supper,
passes on to the church
throughout the millennia
that on the night

in which our Lord Jesus was betrayed
he took bread.
And was not afraid.
He who had not the luxury
of an established church,
but traveled widely
as an itinerant preacher,
setting up communities
all over the Mediterranean world
takes up a collection in each place
to send back to the church in Jerusalem.
So that all can be clothed and fed.

Perhaps this is why
since the earliest days of Christianity,
Saints Peter and Paul
are depicted most often with one another.
For however cantankerous their relationship,
however distinct their ministries,
however different their perspectives,
they needed eachother
to feed the sheep.

A common meal.
Common bread and cup.
Shared.

Shared by people of all different sorts.
Rich and poor.
Those new to the land and those who have known it for a while.
People across the gender spectrum.
From every generation.
Some widely educated and others of more simple minds.

For at Christ’s table, everyone feasts.

In the prayer of the day,
we prayed that we might be inspired by
Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s
common martyrdom.

Unlike other parts of the globe,
ours is not a time and place where we are
martyred for our faith,
or for being ourselves.

The word martyr can also be translated witness,
which is what we become.
Witnesses,
each time we gather together at this table
to receive the body of Christ,
to be the body of Christ.
We are witnesses
to a way of feeding the hungry,
that does not devour humanity,
but feeds and satisfies
the need of every living thing
with a love that gives and seeks nothing in return,
a love that knows no bounds,
a love that celebrates every human person.
as grain one scattered on a hill
gathered to become one bread.
Bread that restores
humanity’s “original beauty” of love.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 87:1-3, 5-7
2 Timothy 4:6-7, 17-18
Saint John 21:15-19