Feed my lambs - 20th Anniversary of ordination of Fr Seraph Balmadres

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Feed my lambs - 20th Anniversary of ordination of Fr Seraph Balmadres


Fr Seraph has chosen as the Gospel reading for this anniversary Mass the scene which is very familiar to us: the conversation between the Risen Lord Jesus and Peter by the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus asks Peter the same question – do you love me? - three times. We immediately link this to the fact that as the Lord was arrested and being questioned Peter denied that he knew the Lord three times. At Peter met the Risen Jesus by the Sea of Galilee no doubt he was acutely aware of his moment of failure, just days before. He probably also wondered whether the Lord would continue to accept him as one of his apostles. He must have felt that the Lord had every reason to demote him as the leader of his apostles. But he didn’t.

The Lord’s response to Peter’s affirmation of his love for Christ, was clearly expressing that Peter was still to be an apostle: Feed my lambs. Peter was to have the role of being a shepherd, as the Lord had always intended. This must have been a wonderful reassurance for Peter. He knew that he had been forgiven of his moment of great failure. He knew that the Lord, despite his act of weakness and fear, still believed in him. He knew that he had not been rejected; that the original call by the
Sea of Galilee some three years before still held. One can imagine the relief that Peter must have felt in hearing these words, because he did love Jesus deeply and he did believe in him profoundly. He did at one time say: “to whom shall we go, you have the words of everlasting life”.

One immediate comment we can make on this passage that is reassuring for all of us as priests, is that the Lord does not revoke his call when we fall short of his and our expectations of what we should be as priests. Priests know only too well their own limitations and their failings. That the Lord still has confidence in us in most encouraging. It is he who originally called us and he does not change his mind. The Lord believes in us, even if we can begin to doubt our own worthiness to this high calling.
The second comment relates to the words used by the Lord. In his acceptance of Peter and his genuine expression of his love for the Lord is that he says, “Feed my lambs”. He uses an image that was very significant to the mind and heart of Jesus. Jesus had described himself in terms of being a shepherd, in being a good shepherd, one who was prepared to lay down his life for his sheep. He is calling Peter into this same role. Peter is to be a shepherd, a shepherd after the heart of the Good Shepherd.

This is one of the most important images of the priesthood. Priests are very aware that they are called to be pastors, to be shepherds. Priests know, too, that the standard for shepherds has been set by the Lord himself. In calling priests to be shepherds he is calling them to lay down their lives for the people entrusted to them.
In the heart of every priest is a pastoral concern for the wellbeing of those entrusted to him. A priest sees himself as devoted to the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people. This is his vocation, his calling, the purpose of his priestly life and ministry.

A priest then centres his life on the people he is called to serve. He is to build his relationships with them. He is not to be distant and uninvolved. Again, the Lord taught that the good shepherd knows his sheep. Thus, a priest needs to be out among the people. He is not meant to simply wait in the Church for them to come to him. He is to be engaged with his people at a personal level. He makes himself available for the people.

A priest knows, too, that he needs to know the situation of the people. He needs to know their joys and their anxieties. A priest shares himself with the people during marriages and baptisms, but also at times for funerals. He visits the sick in hospital to offer them spiritual comfort. A priest is a confidant and a fellow traveller with his people on their journey through life. He becomes part of their lives.

As a true shepherd he offers them the support of the sacraments. He shares the Word of God with them and offers his insight and reflections on the Word as he preaches and teaches. He prays with them and for them. He intercedes for their needs before the Lord.

Feed my lambs. This is the noble vocation of the priest.
Today Fr Balmadres celebrates 20 years as a priest. We congratulate him on this milestone in his life. We also pray that the Lord, the Good Shepherd, will continue to mould and fashion his heart and his ministry. Let us also take this opportunity to pray for all priests that they may be continually refreshed and inspired in their ministry.