Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Lenten message this year draws prominent attention to the theme of justice. He notes that justice is not simply providing to each person that which is demanded by law, or merely the provision of material assistance, as crucial as this is, but also providing for the spiritual needs of men, women and children. “Just as man needs bread,” says the Holy Father, “so does man have even more need of God.”
The Holy Father also notes that the root of injustice cannot be reduced simply to external factors, but is found in the human heart, which must be opened and liberated to love God and our neighbor. Justice, which responds to material and spiritual hunger, then, is always linked to and motivated by love. In this sense, the full dimension of justice is found in Jesus Himself.
We see this connection between love and justice in the Gospel of John. Soon after His resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples on the Sea of Tiberias. On shore, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus replies, “Feed My Lambs.”
A second time, Jesus asks him, “Do you love me?” Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus responds, “Tend my sheep.”
And a third time: “Do you love me?” Peter responds, perhaps a little exasperated at this point, “You know that I love you.” Then Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”
Peter’s three-fold affirmation of love for Jesus certainly is seen as a response to his denials of Jesus on Good Friday. But Jesus is saying something to us, too. He is first of all emphasizing the primacy of love: love for Jesus, of course, but also love for our sisters and brothers. At the same time, this love, Jesus tells us here, is connected to action. As disciples, we show our love for Jesus by caring for one another, with the same level of commitment and outreach as the shepherd in the parable who leaves the other 99 sheep just to find the one missing. As Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cares for us, we, in turn, care for his people, by tending to their needs, feeding them with the Good News, with our love and compassion, and with the material assistance that will enable all people to live lives worthy of their God-given dignity.
As you know, the House of Charity-Bishop’s Annual Appeal is the key source of funding for programs of outreach and services relied on by the most vulnerable men, women and children in South Jersey. The theme of the appeal this year is “Feed My Lambs, Tend My Sheep, Feed My Sheep.”
As we begin this Lenten season with particular attentiveness to the theme of justice, I invite you to take a moment to review the insert in this special edition of the Catholic Star Herald to find out more about this year’s Appeal and how your support can transform lives right here in our own diocese. May God continue to guide you and bless you.
Most Reverend Joseph A. Galante, D.D., J.C.D.
Bishop of Camden